You guys. This episode. Oh lawd, just prepare yourself for this episode.
It begins in the ATL where all the divas meet for lunch. Faith informs the group that they’ve been invited by Sheryl Lee Ralph (of the original broadway cast of Dreamgirls) to all perform at “Divas Simply Singing,” a benefit concert in LA for raising HIV/AIDS awareness which is going on its 22nd year. While LaTocha and Angie Stone can’t make it, all of the original divas are on board and begin packing their bags. And when I say packing their bags, we’re talking clothes, three ounce bottles of lotion, and a whoooole truckload of emotional baggage.
Get ready for some real talk about AIDS, kids.
Let’s start with Monifah. As she prepares her fabulous purple suitcase, she talks on the phone with Terez. We learn that her brother, Kevin, died of AIDS in 1995. She feels she’s never done anything to honor him, so she’s excited for this chance. God. Mo!
We then move to Keke, who has a serious storyline coming up, but who we first see being silly at her house, hanging out with Michael, two of her sons, and one of her super gay brothers. She tells her sons they need to know about AIDS. They nod and say, we know, Ma. “Condoms!” Good boys! But she extrapolates on the point by nuking a hot dog in the microwave until it’s gross and exploded-looking and tells them that’s what their weiner will look like if they stick it in the wrong hole without preparing. Which pretty much wraps it up, I’d say. Oh, Keke Wyatt. You never disappoint.
Aaaand that’s AIDS, kids!
Now to Nicci, who has a heartbreaking conversation with her daughter Brandi in their kitchen before Nicci takes off for LA. She tells Brandi a little more about her uncle Kenny, Nicci’s cousin, who also died of AIDS some time ago. Kenny was really more like a brother and best friend to Nicci growing up, and when he was diagnosed with the disease, it was in the early early stages of the epidemic, when people still didn’t understand it and were simply terrified of it.
She continues telling the story to the rest of the divas when they all meet up in LA, that it’s the stigmatism and the way her family ostracized him that still haunts her. They would whisper: “He gay. He got that disease.” She wishes they had known they didn’t have to be scared of him, that they couldn’t contract it by being too close when he coughed. She wishes they would have hugged him more, kissed him more. Nicci!
Sheryl Lee Ralph is also at this lunch with all the divas in LA, looking classy as all get out, and after Nicci finishes her story, she shares this sobering statistic: the AIDS quilt is over 55 miles long. But less than HALF A MILE of it is dedicated to people of color.
Half. A. Mile.
She says the only reason for that is shame, folks not being willing to come out and talk about it. Keke says, “People like me.” And now Keke starts to cry, and cry hard.
I warned you about this episode, y’all!
While most of the table is bewildered, including Sheryl Lee, Keke finally comes out with the fact that a “loved one” of hers that she’s extremely close with is currently living not just with HIV, but full blown AIDS. And some of that talk about stigmatizing is striking a chord, because she clearly has a hard time talking about it, made harder by the fact that her family member doesn’t want anyone except close family to even know. As Keke says, people treat them differently once they know. Keke!
It seems shocking in a way that so many people in just this small group of women are so closely affected by AIDS. But in a much more sobering way, it’s actually not that surprising at all. Which is why we still have so much work to do.