Everything that playwright Donja R. Love creates is a love letter to the younger self who discovered he was HIV positive December 13, 2008. “There is someone in this moment who has him in that moment,” Love explains.
It’s that thought process that has allowed works like his The Love* Plays trilogy to reach out and inspire hope in others who might feel like they’re alone in the world with their diagnosis. “If I can be as specific as possible in my story, there will undeniably be other people who will say, ‘Me too. That is my journey, that is also my story; I thought I was the only one, I felt so alone in this thing.’” To them, he says: you are not alone.
Denial—along with numbness, depression, and anger—are all valid feelings, whether it’s the day of diagnosis or 12 years later. “Truly honor each emotion—if you deny them, essentially what you’re saying is you’re not real. Try to be soft [with yourself]...I know it can be incredibly hard.”
In order to get to this place of positive reassurance, Love says the answer is found in community—especially when encountering individuals who are “possibility models of where you can go and who you can become,” like Jamar Rogers, who is also featured in this video singing “Strength, Courage, and Wisdom” by India.Arie and the African-American hymn “I Know It Was the Blood.”
Jamar was a semi-finalist on The Voice in 2012 as part of Team Cee Lo and became close friends with Love shortly after the series, thanks to their shared experience as gay, Black, HIV-positive artists. The musician and advocate is signed with Tommy Boy Entertainment and released his debut album, Lazarus, in 2017. An independent EP, On God, I Got You, was released in 2019.
As for Love, the playwright is currently leading Write It Out!, a new workshop launched in July specifically for writers who are living with HIV. The program gives 10–12 artists the chance to partake in virtual workshops twice a week over 10 weeks and culminates in a virtual showcase of their work December 1.
Even with a strong foundation, Love admits there are overwhelming days because of the stigma—and lack of education—surrounding HIV/AIDS. “It’s an ongoing process...this isn’t me saying that I’m at this place and everything is wonderful and kumbaya. We still have days where the pressures of society and stigma and shame are incredibly real. But for me, it’s always about making a choice.”
Hear Love’s full story above—about discovering his passion for art, more about the day he found out his diagnosis, and the West Side Story adaptation he wrote in high school, warring hip-hop breakdance rivals and all—in the video above.