Alimi Ballard: Actor, Activist
In a weekly series about the Black AIDS Institute’s Greater Than AIDS ambassadors, Alimi Ballard is using his VIP status in Black America to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS and HIV testing and treatment.
What do parenthood, AIDS and an ex-girlfriend have in common? For Bronx, N.Y.-born Hollywood actor Alimi Ballard (NCIS, Numbers), all were a part of what opened him up to be down for the cause.
What inspired you to be a part of the campaign?
It was my children. It was something watching my daughter being born. I thought I had a grasp on the world. I thought I knew what was most important: I got married, picked a good wife, and had a good job; I was working. Everything was good. But seeing my daughter being born, my concern for the world and the people in it was born anew.
”There are other causes that you could be involved in, so why this one in particular?
”There is such a lack of information out there, and this is where you see the disparity in socioeconomic environments in the United States of America, where some people don’t get the information that they need: Half the new AIDS cases hap-pen among African Americans, and when you make up 12 per-cent of the population, that’s a big disconnect. So it’s about getting out the information. Talk. Talk to your girlfriend. Talk to your boyfriend. Talk to your mother. Talk to everyone and share the information”.
That’s part of the problem. People would rather not talk about HIV/AIDS. Why do you think that is?
”I don’t really know. For my mom, it was difficult for her to talk to me about sex. She’s an obgyn, and she very tactfully sat me down in the living room, and I was 10 or 12, and she opened a book showing very demonstrative illustrations of STDs. Thank you, Mom! [Laughs.] And I’m, like, in fifth grade, going, “Oh my God, what is that!” And she said, “This is what happens when you don’t protect yourself. And you’re not ready in the first place, but when you are ready, this is what can happen to you if you don’t protect yourself.”
Did your father not give you “the talk”?
”I didn’t have a dad, so I don’t know if he would have done it differently. Now that I have a daughter and son, I’m going to take the boy—I’ll leave my daughter to my wife—and we’re going to sit them down. But he’s a boy; I’m a man. I think I can really talk about what he should and shouldn’t do and why—and I will use that book”. [Laughs]
Why do you think more Black people aren’t getting tested?
”Can I be honest? I think the original association of AIDS being a disease among gay men, and even that being a taboo subject in the African American community—it bumps up against your religion half the time. It puts you at odds with the foundations of our community. And it’s so hard to even broach the subject of sexual orientation and its association with this disease, which is incredibly nondiscriminatory in how it’s transmitted. Even for people who are gay, sometimes to fess up about it that takes quite a bit”.
Did you know someone who struggled with a decision to come out?
When I was young, I had a girlfriend of mine come out to me. I’ve never told anyone this story . . . [Long pause.] . . . and I didn’t receive it well. I didn’t say the right things. It’s one of the things you wish you could rewind. I’m 39 with two kids, and sexual orientation for me is about as important as the length of my hair. [Begins to tear up] I wish I’d had that perspective at 21, and I didn’t.
What do you wish you could have said to her?
I would have told her: “I support your choices, and I don’t love you any less, even though we can’t date [Laughs], and I wish you the best. I wish you healthy relationships, and I’m glad you’ve come to your truth, that you know who you are.” I just wish I could have been able to tell her that.
Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, author and documentary filmmaker