Actor comes to Rutgers to commemorate World AIDS Day

<p>Cornelius Jones Jr., author of “Shadows&amp;Lights,” shares his experience as an HIV-positive gay man of color on yesterday at the Douglass Student Center, two days after World AIDS Day.</p>

Cornelius Jones Jr., author of “Shadows&Lights,” shares his experience as an HIV-positive gay man of color on yesterday at the Douglass Student Center, two days after World AIDS Day.

Cornelius Jones Jr. is a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and prides himself on the place he has reached today — a place where he no longer compares himself to others.

“I may not have gotten that gig or that boy … I may not have gotten that apartment, but things happen for a reason, and I’m in that place where [I’m] enjoying the journey and not thinking so much about the destination,” he said.

Jones’ narrative, a journey of self discovery that introduces sexual identity at the age of 15, inspired “Shadows&Lights,” his one-man show, which he performed last night in the Douglass Student Center in honor of World AIDS. 

In the show, the writer, singer, poet and activist excavates his personal history, speaking about the intersections of being a gay man of color and living with HIV, said Andrew González, the interim assistant director at the Rutgers University Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities.

World AIDS Day, which annually falls upon the first day of December, commemorates the memory of those who have passed, calls attention to those living with the virus today, and serves as a global health day dedicated to educating the public on preventative measures for HIV, González said. 

Jones, who made his Broadway debut at 22 years of age in a show starring Harry Connick Jr., has also appeared on four episodes of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and starred in a rendition of “The Lion King.” He opened his one-man show last night by singing part of the “Circle of Life.”

Though he may not always get the gig he auditions for, Jones did recently play a psychic storyteller drag queen tarot card reader on the CBS show, “Criminal Minds,” a role he described as “sweet.”

Jones has always been in touch with his masculine and feminine sides. He was fascinated with his mother, a “songstress” with a fashion business that markets clothing to the “full-figured woman of today.” His mother, a “gem” who always ensured him of her love for him, became his best friend and number one fan.

“Shadows&Lights” is a collection of poems, poetry and prose that Jones has been writing since 1999. His growing up gay in Virginia and eventual coming out inspired the show.

Throughout the show, which he described as more mature than his first one-man show, FlagBoy, Jones aims to give voices and shed light upon those living with HIV and AIDS. His goal is to represent the bright moments alongside the “not-so-bright” ones.

Jones has performed “Shadows & Lights” several times, ritualistically meditating and removing his shoes before each performance because it keeps him grounded.

Jones first wrote the show inspired by a young, gay black man who was facing challenges similar to those that he himself faced.

“I wanted us to be heard, to be seen, to be supported nationally, globally, in the whole grand scheme of things,” he said.

But as he began to perform the piece, he was shocked to find a wider audience, including white women, both within the LGBTQ community and allies.

“You put a piece out into the world, you release it from your world, and now the world has their way of interpreting it — their way of seeing themselves in it,” he said.

González, who took part in advertising for last night’s program, said compared to the lecture format, the art medium allows for an elaboration of ideas that could be further discussed after the show’s end.

“If we compare art to any medium, whether it be painting, music, film, [or] performances, [it] has a bit more [of a] gripping impact and also really incites the audience to have empathy and sympathy to the performer, but also what the performer represents,” he said.

Spoken word is performative, which gives Jones a chance to not be so serious and “play” – to have a little fun.

“Lectures can be so serious and a bit tense,” he said. “For those who are still in school, we’ve sat through so many lectures ... art, it saves lives. There’s a true human connection to that. It does wake up the senses.”

Jones is also currently developing a fitness yoga curriculum in Los Angeles to help people like recovering alcoholics and youths without the opportunity to attend college become certified instructors in their communities.

Nachi Patil, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, attended the event and said it is important to remind people that HIV and AIDS still exist, though they often fall to the wayside.

“No one’s talking about AIDS,” he said.

For college students who may be struggling to come to terms with their own identities, Jones said self love is vital, as well as surrounding oneself with people who are going through similar situations and finding a mentor.

Jones gave the audience the key to life: remaining hopeful. He had every audience member on their feet screaming “hope,” and told everyone that though we all have shadows and lights, it’s necessary to find the light in each day and smile.

“Hope, y’all, hope is why I’m breathing … hope is why I’m writing, hope is why I’m singing, hope is why I dance.”

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