It was October 2008.

In one weekend, a best friend’s brother committed suicide, and I was rushed into surgery to have my appendix out.

And I was struggling with my identity as a gay man; I think at that point only a few people knew- my aunty and uncle, and a few new friends, as well as several people in the church I attended that certainly did not approve.

If you had asked me if I was depressed, I don’t know how I couldn’t have answered with a “yes.”

I needed something. I desperately needed something positive to do. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to participate in the church much longer if I came out, and there would go my musical outlet.

I had friend requested this man on Facebook, who for the past 8 years has been a best friend, mentor, fellow community leader, family- Thomas Warfield, a name well known in the Rochester area, and beyond.

Well as things happen, I saw that Thomas was organizing a benefit concert, and I reached out to him to see if he needed another soloist or pianist. I don’t have the original Facebook message, but his ultimate response was “Well, I have a 2 minute spot to fill.” Totally doable, right?

That December 1st, at Geva’s Nextstage, I met Thomas (and saw Darren Stevenson from Push Physical Theatre, and others perform) and performed an a cappella rendition of “When You Believe”, that amazing song Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey sang in Prince of Egypt.

That moment gave me a will to live on, a purpose; and I met a number of people who have become best friends.

And now, here I am, 8 years later, putting together the last concert, “Finale”. As is tradition, people from the Rochester community will be performing. It has always been important to embrace the diversity in our community, and unite, and provide HIV/AIDS education via this annual concert.

Statistically, we know HIV/AIDS affects us all, and raising awareness of this will continue to be key in ending the epidemic. With PrEP as a prevention option, and better treatment options for those living with HIV, along with vaccine trials, like what the Rochester Victory Alliance does, we don’t live in that same panicked fear that the LGBTQ community faced when the epidemic hit.

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing after the concert, but I’ve a feeling I’ll continue raising HIV/AIDS awareness still, just in different ways.

We all can do something to make our world a more positive place!