Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dance Theatre Of Harlem At New York's City Center

As part of Dance Theatre of Harlem's 20th anniversary celebration, an all-Nijinska program has been scheduled for four evenings during the company's two-week engagement at City Center (June 21-July 2 [1989]).

These evenings will offer dancegoers the unique opportunity of seeing three Bronislava Nijinska ballets performed collectively; a first for an American company.

Although DTH has previously staged Les Biches, Les Noces and Rondo Capriccioso will be company premieres.

"When we did Les Biches five, six years ago," recalled artistic director/co-founder Arthur Mitchell, "Irina Nijinska"--the daughter of one of the greatest choreographers in Serge Diaghilev's Ballet Russes company--"said 'You know, I think it would be wonderful for the company to do Les Noces' and I said 'It's a nice idea.' This year her mother, who is the sister of [the late dancer/choreographer ] Nijinsky, is celebrating her, some say 98th; some say, 99th; some say, 100th birthday. I thought it would be a wonderful tribute [to her] to do that whole evening."

In addition, continued Mitchell, these works reveal "the diversity and the strength of the company" as well as providing balance to the repertoire by giving the audience "something historic and then something new."

One of the ballets--Rondo Capriccioso--has not been performed since its 1952 premiere. This season will mark its American debut.

Fortunately for DTH, Rosella Hightower, who originally danced the part of the Bird of Paradise, and, said Mitchell, "is one of the five great American Indian ballerinas," was able to reconstruct from memory the ballet, "a small piece for four people" that, further stated Mitchell, "even Nijinska's daughter didn't know [about]." Interestingly, she is the only ballerina to ever dance the role. (This time around, Stephanie Dabney, a DTH principal dancer, will be the new Bird of Paradise.)

Other ballets include Mitchell's John Henry, set to music by Milton Rosenstock, Dance Theatre's musical director and Balanchine's Allegro Brilliante, built on music by Tchaikovsky.

This article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News (June 24, 1989).

Saturday, December 28, 2013

BWMT'S Discrimination Documentation Project

Mitchell Karp, a 28-year-old white lawyer, is a member of Black and White Men Together/New York* and  its Discrimination Documentation Project is part of BWMT's efforts to fight racism in the gay community.

Karp is also a staff counselor at Good Old Lower East Side, Inc. (G.O.L.E.S.), a neighborhood preservation company that serves Lower East Side tenants.

Charles Michael Smith: What is your association with the Discrimination Documentation Project?
Mitchell Karp: As a member of Black and White Men Together [who] has recently taken on responsibility as co-chairman for the Political Action Committee, my affiliation is to oversee the Discrimination Documentation Project with the co-chair James Credle. But my other association with the [DDP] is that I serve as one of a number of attorneys that represent BWMT and the complainants  in litigation under the [DDP].

Anyone can be a member of BWMT and anyone can be a member of the project if they're willing to go through the procedure of coming to political action committee meetings. It's an open organization and we solicit input from all members of the gay community. People who call up to complain about racial discrimination are not solely members [of BWMT]. They've heard about it, they've read about it, their friends have told them.

CMS: How did the project originate?
MK: The project was originated by, I believe, the political action committee. At that time, the people that I know that were involved were Henry Wiemhoff, James Credle, and Glenn Rickles. Rickles is an attorney and I think he played a pivotal role in formulating a lot of the guidelines. It was modeled after the NAACP and HUD (Housing and Urban Development), I believe, housing testers. A lot of the same principles and practices were implemented. I was not involved when it was planned so a lot of my knowledge of the history of the project comes through word of mouth. It started in 1980, '81, I believe. The first documentation was at Circles which was a gay bar on the Upper East Side. Eight people were sent in sets of four couples. Two blacks, two whites, two blacks, two whites. All the blacks were stopped and told they had to fill out membership applications and while they were standing there writing out the forms which required information like bank accounts, three friends, names of other members, the four whites, both sets of couples, were welcomed in and asked if they wanted to be on the mailing list. And that was very successful because the first night that we set up the picket line the bar acknowledged responsibility, committed themselves to apologizing to the black members, made a five-hundred-dollar donation to the project and invited everyone in and went through the whole admission of discrimination. I think that was crucial to the success of the project. The bar then changed and became a straight bar called Gotham and then it closed. But we did follow up the project by returning to Circles about six weeks after the demonstration to test once again its policies and, sure enough, all the testers, both black and white, were admitted with no questions asked.

Note: The organization was later renamed Men of All Colors Together (MACT).

The above Q & A interview is an excerpt from an article that was originally published in the New York Native in 1983.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holiday Greetings

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all the readers of this blog!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Is Radio Drama (In The United States) Dead?

I recently received from HarperCollins a review copy of a paperback psychological thriller called The House on the Cliff by Charlotte Williams, a British author. The one thing that struck me was her back page bio which noted that Williams "works in radio drama, writing original plays and adaptations."

I love radio drama.It has for a long time been known as the "theatre of the mind" because it allows listeners to use their imaginations as they gather around their radios. Unfortunately, radio drama is a dying art in the United States. I hope some enterprising radio producer or broadcast station will make an attempt to revive it. The late radio producer Himan Brown in the 1970s tried to with the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre but failed. That was probably because the productions were too much of a throwback to radio as it was done in the 1930s and '40s rather than doing something innovative or experimental.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Farewell To 1600AM WWRL

A sad farewell to New York's AM1600 WWRL, which is changing its format from liberal/left wing talk to Spanish-language programming at the end of this month. More on this later.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tom Hanks, Typewriter Collector

According to Larry McMurtry, in his book, Hollywood: A Third Memoir (Simon & Schuster, 2010), actor Tom Hanks is a collector of manual typewriters. "I hear that he has more than one hundred now," writes McMurtry, whose novels and screenplays are entirely written on a manual typewriter.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

On New Yorker Cartoons

I don't know if anyone else has noticed this: at the bottom of the table of contents in each issue of The New Yorker, the cartoonists are listed in the order of appearance in its pages.

P.S. The New Yorker has the funniest, cleverest, and most thought-provoking cartoons that are worth clipping and saving or sharing with friends, neighbors, co-workers, and others.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

At Home With The Bronze Liberace

Embedded in the sidewalk in front of the Apollo Theatre in Harlem is a gold-colored plaque with Little Richard's name on it. It is part of the Apollo's "Walk of Fame," which includes other African-American entertainment luminaries like Ella Fitzgerald and Michael Jackson.

Among those who have walked past the theatre, I am probably the only one who has set foot in the Los Angeles home of the man filmmaker and author John Waters said referred to himself as the Bronze Liberace.

In the early 1960s, my mother and I lived in an apartment building in South Central Los Angeles. We had a neighbor named Millie, who had been in show business and knew Little Richard. One evening we went along with her, her husband, and their daughter to Little Richard's house, which was a duplex. My memories of the evening are vague because at the time I was about 11 or 12 years old. But I do remember seeing Little Richard sitting at the piano with people gathered around singing. I do remember going upstairs and seeing people inside a room watching television with the door slightly open. If I had been ten years older, I would have remembered a lot more.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

New Year's Wish

Let's hope that 2014 will be a prosperous and productive year for all of us.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

An Interview With Cicely Tyson, Part 2

Charles Michael Smith: Do you feel you've grown intellectually or emotionally as a result of the roles you've played?
Cicely Tyson: There's the question in my mind that I have which is the result of all the research I do when I'm getting ready to do a role. That always results in what I call "fringe benefits." I was talking to someone earlier today and they mentioned Jane Pittman and Sounder and Coretta King and I spoke of incidents that occurred in the process of my research which I would normally not have had if I did not delve into the lives of the people that I'm getting ready to project. Working with "Jane" was being able to talk to women who range anywhere from the ages of 97 to 105. If you want to know what living in America as a woman who happens to be born black is like, believe me, you find somebody in that age range and talk to them and they'll tell you what it's all about. That's something you can't buy. Those are things that enlarge one spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and every other way.

CMS: How have you been able to balance marriage and an acting career?
CT: In the course of one's life, you come to different levels and different stages. At [one] time I felt very strongly that I could not share myself or involve another person in my life at that time because I was quite saturated with my career. I think that anything that you want in this life you have to work on and work toward and marriage is no different. At the time I decided to get married, I felt that I had [reached] the point in my life and in my career where I could involve another person in my life. So I made the decision to get married based on that. [She is married to jazz trumpeter Miles Davis.]

CMS: Would you encourage anyone to go into show business?
CT: I wouldn't encourage anybody to go into show business but I wouldn't discourage them either. If one really wants to do something, no one can discourage you. I would not encourage anyone to go into the theatre because it's a very difficult profession, especially if your color is black.

CMS: Are you planning to start your own production company?
CT: That's a possibility. [However, funding for such a project] is very, very difficult. We, as a race of people, are highly successful in many other areas. But I don't think we're acclimated enough to having money to risk putting it in ventures such as producing our own plays. But we better start doing it because otherwise we don't have it. We can't wait for The Man to do it because he's doing exactly what he feels will be profitable to him. If he says blacks aren't selling except in musicals, well, that's what he'll do, he'll do musicals. Not straight plays. And why? We're a powerful race of people. We underestimate our power. We don't know our own strength. Why do we need to wait for somebody to hand us a crutch? We don't need that.

CMS: What is the responsibility of the audience to the artist?
CT: It's to support. Elizabeth Taylor, as bad as her reviews are, her theatre was always filled.

This is the continuation of an interview that was originally published on the Inquiry Page of USA Today in 1983. Part one was posted on October 7, 2013. The interview with Cicely Tyson was done via telephone. At the time of the interview, she was playing the role of Miss Moffat, a schoolteacher in 19th-century Wales, on Broadway, in the play The Corn is Green.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Blog Anniversary

This month marks the fifth anniversary of this blog. I hope that the next five years will be even more productive. I also hope to include other voices on this blog.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A New Debate Format

The following is an amazing idea for a presidential debate. In fact, it's an amazing idea worth trying out for debates for any elective office:

"I'd stage a series of three debates, so that if somebody screws up, there's  a chance to fix it next time. I'd hold the debates in an empty studio, nobody there but the two candidates sitting face-to-face and five cameras. No audience. No questioners. No moderator. I wouldn't even tell them who goes first, just turn on the lights and let them talk to each other. That's the debate that I'd like to see."--Roger Ailes, founder and CEO, Fox News Channel, from Roger Ailes, Off Camera by Zev Chafets (Sentinel/Penguin Group, 2013).

The only problem with Ailes's idea is that few, if any, candidates for political office would agree to participate in such an unstructured, risky debate format.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On Bisexuals

"In those days [the 1960s] we always assumed that a bisexual (especially, for some reason, a bisexual man) was really a homosexual in the closet. ....But as I learned a decade later in Paris, the world is full of genuine bisexuals, though most of them keep a low profile, not because they're ashamed but because everyone distrusts and fear them."--Edmund White, from City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and '70s (Bloomsbury, 2009).

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Bring Back The Western

Syndicated liberal radio talk show host Ed Schultz recently discussed the spate of cop shows on television and lamented the absence of  westerns like Bonanza. Like Schultz, I watch and like some crime dramas, but I too miss westerns, one of my favorite genres. (The closest thing to the genre was Deadwood, set in 19th-century South Dakota, which I watched on DVD and thoroughly enjoyed.)

According to novelist/screenwriter Larry McMurtry (author of Lonesome Dove and other western novels), in his slim book, Hollywood: A Third Memoir (Simon & Schuster, 2010), "The expense of using livestock, horses mostly, has risen so disastrously in the last twenty years as to have--for a while--virtually killed off a once popular and very profitable genre: the Western."

Let's hope that the film and TV industries will find a way or ways to resume making westerns, a genre whose stories are inextricably linked to the western expansion of the United States.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Note To Hollywood

If there was ever a book that deserved to be turned into a documentary, it is Christopher Bram's unputdownable Eminent Outlaws, a nonfiction book profiling such gay literary luminaries as Christopher Isherwood, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, and Gore Vidal. Such a film would be a perfect companion to another documentary, The Celluloid Closet, which was based on film scholar Vito Russo's classic (and equally unputdownable) gay film history book of the same name. Many of the writers discussed in Eminent Outlaws had a connection to Tinseltown (either as screenwriters or because a book or play of theirs was made into a movie). So Hollywood, please take note.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

All Comedy, All The Time

There are radio stations that are all talk, all news, all religion, and all sports. But in these times of economic crisis, when laughter is the best medicine, there are no all comedy radio stations, at least not in the New York metropolitan area. Not even a program devoted to comedy.

When I was growing up in the Los Angeles area in the 1960s, KNX, the CBS affiliate, on the weekends, had a show that broadcast comedy albums by Bob Newhart, Steve Allen, Bill Cosby, Mike Nichols & Elaine May, Stan Freberg, et al.

Every week, Time Out New York magazine has a section specifically devoted to comedy clubs around the city. You would think that some smart program director would get the hint that there is a market for all comedy radio.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A 50-Year-Old Television Discussion On Homosexuality

I have a TV Guide for the week of  January 25-31, 1964 (New York Metropolitan Edition). On Friday of that week (January 31), talk show host Les Crane was listed as the moderator of a live show on
 which "[t]he subject of homosexuality is discussed." The guests on that show included "a psychologist, a writer on homosexuality and a member of the Mattachine Society, a homosexual organization."

 I would love to see a video of that nearly 50-year-old program if only to compare and contrast the attitudes expressed on the air at that time with those of today. There's no doubt that we've progressed on the subject considerably. If I looked hard enough, I might find the show archived on YouTube.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bill De Blasio, New York's Next Mayor

Hooray! Bill de Blasio will be New York City's next mayor. Hopefully he will be able to make this city a little more affordable, especially concerning housing. Good luck to the new mayor! I'm glad my vote helped to get him in.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Election Day Reminder

Today is election day in New York City. Don't forget to vote.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Typewriters For Rent

In the 1970s, people were still using typewriters, manual and electric. My manual typewriter no longer functioned so I went to a storefront business near the Garment District in Manhattan that rented typewriters for use on the premises. (I don't remember how much they charged per hour).

I always brought my own supplies,including a dictionary, therefore making it unnecessary for me to purchase typing paper, carbon paper, correction fluid, ballpoint pens, etc. from the typewriter rental store.

That place was a forerunner to today's copy stores that rent time on computers.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Burnout: The High Price Of Success?

Are your goals eluding you despite ceaseless hard work and sacrifice? Are you always tired, quick to anger, constantly plagued by physical ailments, and always forgetting important appointments and deadlines? Without knowing it, you may be a prime candidate for burnout--a psychological/emotional phenomenon that usually afflicts the high-achiever. But no matter how long burnout persists, it is not irreversible. You can survive it.

Here's how Dr. Herbert J. Freudenberger, a New York psychologist, specializing in burnout,, defines the malady in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement (Doubleday/Anchor Books): "To deplete oneself. To exhaust one's physical and mental resources. To wear oneself out by excessively striving to reach some unrealistic expectation imposed by oneself or by the values of society" such as having a perfect marriage or being the most outstanding worker on the job.

Dr. Freudenberger, who has been a psychologist for more than 30 years and who has many black and Hispanic clients stated in a telephone interview that what high-achieving persons need to do to avoid burning out is to re-evaluate their goals. "They never take time out just to reflect, to think. So one of the things I do talk about [in 8-hour seminars] is a shift of goals. What else becomes very important is an awareness that as the burnout occurs, many changes take place in their behavior. The changing behavior ranges all the way from an emotional change to a mental change as well as physical changes."

"And those that are close to such a person whether that be a mate or an employee or a colleague or a friend are often the first ones to be able to call it to that person's attention by saying 'Hey, something's going on with you.'"

Among the things he recommends is that you acknowledge your feelings. "As soon as denial enters the picture," he writes, the "person's symptoms become enemies instead of allies." He adds "Denial intensifies that which is being denied." Tiredness is considered the best indication that one is burning out because it is a symptom that is easily recognized. You should become aware of your limitations. If your work is becoming monotonous and repetitious, ask your supervisor for a change in duties. Cultivate on-the-job friendships. This will encourage the exchange of ideas and viewpoints as well as offering each of you relief.Take a much needed vacation. It also helps to develop a sense of humor as insurance against burnout.

"Above all," writes Dr. Freudenberger, "never lose sight of the fact that you, as a human being, are more important than the task, no matter how crucial the task may be."

This article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News in 1982.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

James Baldwin, Author And Intellectual

In 1975, I took a 15-week magazine writing course at Hunter College's Midtown Branch, located on Lexington Avenue in the East 50s, in Manhattan. The instructor was an elderly woman named Camille Davied (pronounced Dah-vee-ay), whose late husband had been an editor at Reader's Digest. (I was the only person of color in the class.) My memory is a bit hazy about how James Baldwin's name got mentioned. Perhaps I wrote a class assignment that referenced him. Anyway, I do remember saying to her that Baldwin was an intellectual. She immediately and emphatically denied that he was. It was probably hard for her, a white person, to acknowledge that a black man could be that cerebral. Maybe the things that he wrote and said about American race relations touched a nerve, making her uncomfortable and self-conscious.

Had I known as much about Baldwin then as I do now, I would have pointed out to her that if Baldwin had not been an intellectual, his essays would never have appeared in Partisan Review, Commentary, and other intellectual journals in the 1950s.

Monday, October 7, 2013

An Interview With Cicely Tyson

Charles Michael Smith: How did you come to get the role of Miss Moffat in The Corn Is Green?
Cicely Tyson: It was offered to me by Elizabeth Taylor. I assume it was done primarily because she had this company that they put together and they had three plays to do. They made three choices, one was for Miss Moffat. She called me. I don't know if she called me specifically with this play in mind or not. She did say to me that she wanted me to be a part of the company and that I could make any choice I wanted but that she felt that The Corn Is Green would be a good vehicle for me to do. It had been offered to me several years prior to Elizabeth's offer before Katharine Hepburn  did [it]. Another set of producers were going to do it for Broadway and I rejected it at the time. I rejected it primarily because they adapted it for a black cast. I felt they were doing it to accommodate my color. I did not like the final results of the script. So I just assumed that when it came around again for the second time that there had to be something there or otherwise it wouldn't keep coming my way.

CMS: How do you perceive the character you play?
CT: I perceive the character [Miss Moffat] first as a human being whose primary interest is in the salvation of the minds of those children who are buried in a [Welsh] coalmine by the power structure. I consider it as timely now as it was then. [Author's note: The play, originally done on Broadway in 1940, is set in late 19th-century Wales.] She [Miss Moffat] is really no different than Marva Collins [the black Chicago schoolteacher]. The only difference between these two women is the color of their skin. Marva went after the children in the ghettos that were considered incorrigibles, retards, delinquents, et cetera. Miss Moffat goes after the children in the mines who never even had a chance or an opportunity to realize that they can develop a talent if in fact they have one.

CMS: Then the race of this character is totally irrelevant to you?
CT: As far as I'm concerned, absolutely. Because I'm dealing with the humanity of the person which comes first regardless of race, creed, or color. That's what I went after. My parents are from the British West Indies and just like slaves were taken from Africa to America and other parts of the world, they were also taken to Britain. So it is not inconceivable to me that the woman could have been black.
My main objective actually, and I think I have achieved it, is to get people to come to the theatre and after the first few minutes having seen this black woman who is Cicely Tyson, who is an actress, they completely forget about color and they deal with the piece. That's what's important to me. In addition to doing that, if that is successful and that has been successful, it will open the door for other black actresses to get work in plays that are not specifically written [for a]black.

CMS: What criteria do you use to select a role?
CT: Either my skin tingles or my stomach churns.

CMS: Do you read critics's reviews?
CT: I do not read reviews. I [don't] do that because I think I'm a better judge of where I am in relation to where I want to go when I'm working on a role and I don't let anything, anyone upset that judgment. It's mine. I think I am my staunchest critic.

CMS: Do you see yourself as a role model in the black community?
CT: Judging from the pile of mail that I receive, it's a tremendous responsibility. It's a responsibility I really respect and cherish.

CMS: Do you prefer to work in film or on the stage?
CT: It's the role that determines where I work. I go after the role. I get tremendous gratification from creating a role that's challenging and that determines where I go. I would have done any character that I've played during my career anywhere. I'd [have] done it off off off Broadway just to have the experience. I would not have turned down a role like Jane Pittman if it were done in a basement. Of course, being in front of a live audience is very stimulating. A live audience let's you know immediately whether you're accomplishing your goal. The response or the gratification is immediate. When you do film or television or for feature film, you have to wait until it airs which is sometimes a whole year.

This is an excerpt from an interview that was originally published on the Inquiry Page of USA Today in 1983. The interview with Cicely Tyson was done via telephone.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Exploring The Male Gaze

Backward Glances: Cruising the Queer Streets of New York and London by Mark W. Turner (Reaktion Books, 191 pp.)

Mark Turner's Backward Glances is not a memoir but a scholar's exploration and analysis of something all gay men do without a second thought.

Cruising is an age-old activity, not necessarily the exclusive domain of gay men. However, the particular ways and locales in which gay men do it are unique. And because gay men for centuries have been perceived as sexual outlaws, these rituals of cruising have developed as a way to protect oneself from persecution, imprisonment, entrapment, and scandal.

Turner, an American who is a faculty member in the Department of English at Kings College, University of London, looks at cruising through photography, letters, poetry, journalism, pornography, fiction, etc. as a way to show the reader that these media "all are part of the interrelated cultural production of the city and provide possibilities for understanding how cruising was imagined and how it gets reimagined over time."

He points out that it is not always easy to distinguish who is cruising and who is not, when individuals are sharing the same space that has multiple uses. Is the man standing in front of the department store window there to window shop or is he there in search of another man? This ambiguity is captured so well in the cover photo. A young man on the street is looking back at two other men with their arms around each other. They are unaware that he is observing them. If the photo was taken out of context, how would we read it?  Is he a gay man attracted to one or both men? Or is he a straight man astounded by such open display of affection? This photo underscores Turner's question, "[H]ow do we know our cruisers when we see them?" I think the answer has to be that we don't, not always.

It must be pointed out that cruising, like voyeurism and exhibitionism, are about the visual. However, the motivation differs. Cruising is a more reciprocal activity. Whereas voyeurism is more one-sided and surreptitious and exhibitionism is more self-centered, more transgressive, more confrontational (in other words, blatant). Although cruising might be considered transgressive as well because it involves something forbidden by society--male-male attraction--but it is much more of a sharing or mutual appreciation experience.

Turner makes it clear from the outset that his study is a limited one, focusing mostly on those who are white, male, and middle class. He understands that "cruising as a street practice needs to be far more fully considered in relation not only to issues of gender but also to race and ethnicity."

Even though Turner's view is mostly Eurocentric (he does devote two pages to the black science fiction writer Samuel Delany's Times Square porn theatre experiences), it is still important to listen to what he has to say because his observations have some relevance to gay men in general. For example, he states that "The cruiser positively longs to be seen, but not by everyone, and not in all streets." I think that description can apply to all gay men of whatever race, ethnicity, or social background.

I did find one passage that was particularly noteworthy. In Turner's view, bathhouses are places that "have the potential to level out social determinants such as class." To some extent this is true, but then there are other considerations that may come into play such as race, age, looks, physique, mannerisms, etc. Elsewhere in the book, he quotes another writer who says cruising is "a type of brotherhood far removed from the male bonding of rank, hierarchy, and competition that characterizes much of the outside world." To say that rank, hierarchy, and competition are absent from cruising is a misstatement. Anyone who has spent any time in a cruising area knows that there is a pecking order. The ones who are young, good looking, and have a muscular build are the most favored. If a person doesn't meet the criteria, rejection is usually the result.

All in all, Backward Glances is worthy of our attention, if only to give us some insight into what lies behind the male gaze and how that gaze has transformed the urban landscape.

This is an excerpt of a book review that was originally published in the Gay and Lesbian Review (July/August 2004).

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Thomas Glave's Fight Against Homophobia

Words to Our Now: Imagination and Dissent by Thomas Glave (University of Minnesota Press, Illustrated, 280 pp.)

Thomas Glave describes himself as "a Jamerican," a term reflecting his Jamaican and American backgrounds. As a result, Glave often has difficulty reconciling this dual identity. Traveling back and forth between the two countries, he often "[wonders] which passport to use on this trip or that one, Jamaican or U.S.--which citizen will I be this time (re-)entering 'my' country?"

The 17 essays in Words to Our Now, many of which were previously published in literary journals like Callaloo, deal with this vexing identity problem from the standpoints of race, identity, and sexual orientation. Glave, who teaches at the State University of New York at Binghamton, offers many disturbing examples of challenges to and attacks on a person's or a group's sense of identity. These attacks have taken the form of torture, rape, lynching, and homophobic murder.

One's self-worth and self-image, as well as how one moves through the world, is inextricably linked to culture, a social construct composed of customs and beliefs out of which a person's identity is formed. Historical and social circumstances also have their part to play in further determining how one sees oneself and those inside and outside the group.

Glave's lead essay, "Baychester: A Memory," is partly a remembrance of his Bronx childhood. In it he discusses his quiet, reflective Jamaican-born father, who lovingly tends to his vegetable garden. Glave reveals his love and reverence for the older man, but unfortunately he does not explore their relationship in any depth. His father sounds like a fascinating individual, who deserves more attention than is offered here. I wanted to know more about the roots of his tolerance of his son's sexuality, if he had himself developed a friendship with any gay men in his early life, and how he came to live in the United States. What we get instead is an essay that digresses to a discussion of black gay literature and a trip to Latin America.

Because of Glave's academic background, the prose is often overly ornate and convoluted. It's too bad that the notes in the back of the book are more straightforward and reader-friendly than the texts they are linked to. His two essays about gay murder victims, one of them written for a newspaper audience, are more readable, if a bit too graphic for the squeamish. In his tribute to his friend, Brian Williamson, a Jamaican activist and a founding member of J-FLAG, a local gay group, Glave describes Williamson "as a laughing man: a man with 'a head of silver coins' as I sometimes joked with him about his head of curly silver-gray hair."

Among the most interesting, thought-provoking and possibly controversial, essays is "Regarding a Black Male Monica Lewinsky, Anal Penetration, and Bill Clinton's Sacred White Anus," in which Glave offers a hypothesis, from a gay perspective: "[H]ow would the U.S. public feel about the possibility of a black penis entering President Clinton's (or president George W. Bush's, or any president's) white, presumably exclusively heterosexual anus?" What if the White House intern had been a black gay man instead of a white heterosexual female? In Glave's view, it would have undermined the popular notion of the U.S. presidency as "icon/symbol of white heterosexual maleness 'unpolluted' by either blackness (or any other color darker than whiteness) or homosexuality/queerness."

Throughout Words to Our Now, Glave hammers at the insanity of homophobia, in Jamaica and elsewhere. He sees it as fueling gay self-hatred. To persecute and kill gays and lesbians is to attack individuals who are a vital part of society and who daily "serve your food in restaurants, clean your streets, fix your cars, and bury your dead." In the end he prophesizes, "[t]he future world will rightly view Jamaica's hatred of homosexuals as the equivalent of Nazis' hatred of Jews...."

He also doesn't mince words when critiquing American foreign policy, which he sees as representing "the vicious neoimperialistic militarism of 'president' George W. Bush, a successful election thief and warmongering, would-be despot."

I share Glave's disdain for the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, but Glave would have been better off focusing on the lives and concerns of gays and lesbians in Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean region. There is a dearth of material about this population. And Glave, who is also a fiction writer, could have provided us with a book of creative nonfiction, illuminating the lives of gays and lesbians using fictional techniques. That would have made the book much more valuable to general readers and scholars alike.

With that said, the most impressive and memorable essay in this Lammy-nominated collection is "Again, the Sea," which depicts African slaves throwing themselves overboard rather than be in captivity: "they knew once they jumped they would awaken back there, over there again from whence they had been taken/the sea provided them the chance.... We will not live forever in chains...." [Glave's italics] The Caribbean Sea "speaks" as the bodies splash into its waters: "One of you bobbed upon me with the strokes of a cruel whip upon your naked back, the scars of manacles on your wrists, and did I not slowly pull you into the nothingness that is utter calmness, the complete tranquility of nonbeing?" If there is ever an anthology celebrating the Caribbean Sea, I believe this would be one of the selections, which reveals Glave's love for and fascination with this part of the world.

Despite the aforementioned flaws, Words to Our Now, with some forbearance, yields a gay-positive, uplifting message. And that's something we can always use in these homophobic times.

This book review was previously published in the Gay City News (June 22-26, 2006) and the Gay and Lesbian Review (July/August 2006).

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013



I plan to post an interview I did with actress Cicely Tyson in 1983 for USA Today. At the time of the interview, she was appearing in the Broadway production of The Corn Is Green.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Friday, September 6, 2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Beauty Of Black Women

I'm the one responsible for getting Washington, D.C. filmmaker/writer Michelle Parkerson's article appreciating the beauty of black women in the New American (formerly the Black American), a weekly newspaper, where I worked as a proofreader and copy editor. I edited out of the manuscript* she sent me all references to her girlfriend and the word "lesbian"  because of the paper's past homophobia. I gave the piece to Mayo, the art director, who had it typed and pasted up for the printer.

 Mrs. Offord, the office manager and wife of the owner, was upset that we hadn't cleared it with her. I immediately pointed out that  Parkerson was a good writer, she reluctantly agreed. So even though I tried to camouflage the homoerotic aspects of the article, the lesbian  slant was still there, between the lines.

My goal was to see how successful I'd be in slipping in subliminally gay content. Parkerson became a Trojan horse.

The following is the brief article by Michelle Parkerson that ran in the New American (April 25-May 1, 1991):

An Open Letter To African Women Everywhere

I confess.

Last night, I was mesmerized by the September issue of Essence. The pages overflowed with vibrant images of sisters with everything on the ball and all of their clothes on. Each one varied in skin shade or circumstance, but everyone of them was gorgeous and giving it to the camera. I flipped through the photos, feasting on our particular beauty: dark and fair, dread and silky, abundant, angular, Black.

Undoubtedly, women of color are God's most fascinating creation. And undoubtedly, we are the most impoverished. I thrive on the fierceness, the borrowed magic that sustains us through generations of adversity. I know the future belongs to us.

We are the lineage of African women who lavished in their own brilliance, women who struggle now  on every frontline. When Black women come together and touch, it is a measure of bravery, a testament to the distance traveled.

*Note: I believe Parkerson originally submitted this manuscript to me for inclusion in the black gay and lesbian supplement I guest edited for the New York Native in 1984.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Obama, Savior Of American Newspapers?

Voice of the People
New York Daily News
November 10, 2008

To The Editor:

The day following Barack Obama's historic victory, it was hard to find a newspaper. Maybe Obama will be a godsend for the ailing newspaper business.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

This letter-to-the-editor was submitted via e-mail and was published November 14, 2008.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Army And The Air Force Want A Few Good Recruits

"...[W]e live with certain socio-economic realities in this country and for some people going into the military is a step up. I wouldn't subscribe to the military but for some people it's the only way out of the situation. We can't judge other people's decisions. We can only support them in their choices."--Virginia Apuzzo, executive director, National Gay Task Force.

Today's Army is looking for the best and the brightest recruits it can sign up. Those with a high school diploma who score 50 or better on the Army test have any of 300 jobs from which to choose. Many of these jobs require a considerable degree of intelligence, especially those involving technical skills (something minorities will have to master, if they want to compete in our increasingly technological society).

Black Enterprise magazine for September 1982 states that "The US Army is presently one-third black" and that "a significantly greater number of black recruits over whites graduated from high school."

No longer is the Army a refuge for those unable to make it in civilian life. "If you can't do anything else," says Capt. Alvin K. Phillips,the former area commander for recruiting, Manhattan, "we don't want you. We can't use you." The captain, who is black and a University of Arkansas graduate, adds: "If you can't read or write, if you can't do basics, we don't need you because we're not a social agency."

However, if you're what the Army needs, you can sign up for the Army College Fund, which came into being in January of 1982, says Capt. Phillips, as a new "incentive for people to join the military." (It replaced the G.I. Bill which ended in 1976.)

Anyone in college or considering a college education these days knows how expensive it can be. But by enlisting for a minimum of two years, you can accumulate as much as $15,200 toward college. If you decide to enlist for three or four years, the amount increases to $20,100. The Army College Fund is a voluntary program.

Let's say you enlist for two years. As a private (or E-1), you earn $573.60 a month, plus a $213.60 bonus if you have dependents such as a wife and child. (Starting January 1, an E-1 will earn $596.40 a month.) From that amount each month  you can contribute to the fund no more than $100 and no less than $25. If you decide to put aside $100 monthly by the end of your two-year enlistment, you will have saved $2,400. The Army which will put in two dollars for every one dollar you put in the fund will add $4,800 to the pot giving you $7,200. Add to that the eight-thousand-dollar bonus and you have the grand total of $15,200. Even if you receive an educational grant or loan, you still get every penny in your fund account. If you choose to go to school while  in the service, the Army will pay 75 percent of your tuition.

Like the Army, the Air Force is quality-conscious. In its desire to keep up with the latest technological advances, the Air Force places great emphasis on education and encourages airmen to go to their base Education Services Center to inquire about the various educational opportunities available. However, the Air Force is not quite as liberal as the Army (which has been working very hard to change its negative public image) as far as money for eduation is concerned, despite the fact that it provides more of a variety of educational programs. (Ninety-seven percent of Air Force personnel are high school graduates.) As in the Army, an airman can contribute $25 to $100 from his salary each month but only to a maximum of $2,700. The government will match every dollar put in with two dollars thereby bringing the maximum of the government's contribution to $5,400. At the end of your stint, you will have a grand total of $8,100. (In order to qualify for financial aid, you must sign up for at least four years.)

This is an excerpt from an article about the Army and the Air Force that I wrote for the National Scene magazine's special Armed Forces issue published in 1983. The National Scene was an African-American publication that appeared as a monthy supplement insert in African-American newspapers such as the New York Amsterdam News.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mrs. Ralph Ellison's Gay Blind Spot

In Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray (The Modern Library, 2000), I came across this startling passage in a memo from Fanny McConnell, Ralph Ellison's wife, to Albert Murray*, dated June 9, 1952:

"We caught a glimpse of [filmmaker/anthropologist Maya] Deren Friday evening strolling along a [Greenwich] Village street with five men. I use the word 'men' euphemistically."

No doubt the five men she referred to were gay and probably effeminate. In 1950s America such homophobic statements could be uttered without the fear of censure or ostracism. Today, in our more enlightened (we hope) times, such language would be frowned at.

Ellison's wife was probably a very nice person but in this one area she had a blind spot.

*NOTE: Albert Murray, an essayist and a novelist, died in his Manhattan home on August 18, 2013, at the age of 97. Ralph Ellison, also an essayist and a novelist, died in 1994.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Two Must-Read Websites

Here are two websites that I highly recommend--theroot.com, a site that deals with African-American history and culture and is a joy to read and pophistorydig.com. I recently learned about the latter site in an hour-long interview that host Brian Lamb did with the founder, Jack Doyle, on C-SPAN. If, like me, you love history, you will definitely love this site as well as theroot.com (whose editor-in-chief is historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. of Harvard University).

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Committing Bullycide


I'm planning to post a short essay in this space regarding author Anthony Heilbut's use of the word "bullycide," in his lengthy essay about black gay men in the church which appears in his fascinating book, The Fan Who Knew Too Much.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

On Working At Mount Morris Baths

I frequently past the now-defunct Mount Morris Baths in Harlem. When I do, it's usually because I am on my way to do some grocery shopping at Pathmark three blocks farther down 125th Street.

I worked at Mount Morris for two and a half years, first as a towel attendant, then as a cashier. So whenever I pass what was once the bathhouse (now vacant for ten years), the customers (mostly black gay men), the coworkers, and the experiences, good and bad, instantly come to mind.

Of the two jobs I held there, the cashier one was undoubtedly the most dangerous and nerve-wracking, because the cashier's booth (often referred to as the office) offered no protection from criminals. Subway booth clerks have more protection than we did. Only plywood separated us from the customers. Since we handled money and kept customers's wallets and other valuables in various index card file drawers, there was no protection from a bullet. There was a closed-circuit monitor that let us see who was coming down the outside stairs and what was happening in the two TV lounges. But there  was no panic button to press or phone system in the office to use in case of trouble. The only phone available was a few feet away, outside the office, in a coin-operated phone booth. Not very convenient if one needed to summon help.

The nerve-wracking part of the job included being on the lookout for phony bills a customer would knowingly or unknowingly hand us, checking people in and out, notifying patrons to renew their time when they stayed past 8 hours ( or 12 hours on the weekend), refunding money lost in one of the vending machines, distributing condoms and lube, etc. At the end of the shift, I had to tally the money received from customers and deposit it in a drop box behind me for later pickup by Walter, the owner of the bathhouse. As you can see, the job required me to be on my toes at all times.

Despite these headaches and the rundown condition of the bathhouse, I still miss Mount Morris and its interesting, sometimes, bizarre cast of characters fit for a TV sit-com.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Malcolm X And Homosexual Rumors

I found the following unpublished letter-to-the-editor in a folder. It was written on June 11, 2005. Unfortunately, I neglected to indicate to which publication it was intended.

To the Editor:

The British newspaper writer who said that Malcolm X, a heterosexual, should be a role model for black gay and lesbian youth writes as if there are no such models now. Has this guy ever heard of James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, Billy Strayhorn, to name a few?

Although Malcolm X is a formidable icon in the black community, it is not too far-fetched that as a young man he had had homosexual experiences in and out of the prison system. If Chester Himes, a noted black writer, also heterosexual, can admit to being in a homosexual relationship in prison, why not Malcolm? The admission doesn't seem to have tarnished the reputation of Himes.

The  main trouble with cultural icons is that people begin to view them as if they are godlike and above  reproach. Before his iconic status, any revelation about his homosexual experiences would have been shrugged off. But now he is put on so high a pedestal that any mention of homosexuality is considered beyond the pale.

If homosexuality is common in prisons, why is it so unthinkable that Malcolm did not avail himself of the opportunity? The same people have no trouble acknowledging that he had been a drug dealer, a pimp, and a street tough.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

Thursday, August 1, 2013



Watch for new content on this blog.

Saturday, July 27, 2013



See a blog post I posted April 2, 2013 re: the lack of respect shown to freelance journalists by one editor at the Amsterdam News in 1989.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Celebrating The Diversity Of LGBT Literature: A Talk With Charles Flowers

The 19th annual Lambda Literary Awards have come and gone. And it is anyone's guess as to which of the winners (books published in 2006) will eventually make it into the gay canon. But for the authors, publishers, and readers that is a judgment for another day. The focus of the event was solely on celebrating the breadth, depth, and excellence of contemporary LGBT literature.

In the wake of the presentation of the awards in 25 categories (Gay and Lesbian Fiction, Romance, Poetry, Erotica, Anthology, etc.) held this year in New York City on May 31, Charles Flowers, the executive director of the New York-based Lambda Literary Foundation, sees the awards as "giving readers an annual 'reading list' of what books to read, in case they're looking for suggestions" as well as serving as a guide for librarians and booksellers.

Plus, since, "it is a community-based award, coming from one's own 'people,'" continues Flowers, himself a poet and author with an MFA from the University of Oregon, "I think authors really love it and appreciate it." As the E.D., Flowers sees his main role as "directing the programs that Lambda has established--the awards, the [Lambda] Book Report, and now the writers retreat." The writers retreat is described in a published announcement as a one-week program of "intensive immersion in fiction, nonfiction, or poetry" that will run from August 5-12, 2007. The retreat will provide 22 participants with "workshops and a community of peer groups and mentors." Whereas, continues Flowers, in an e-mail interview, retreats like the famous Yaddo in upstate New York "are more individually focused in that you're not in workshop with other people or with a more established writer--you're there to work on your own."

To date, $10,500 has been raised for scholarships to the retreat. An additional $4,500 is needed.

For Flowers, these efforts "in some way try to connect readers and writers or help writers to improve their craft. A larger role would be to advocate for our literature, both its legacy and its future, and to build audiences for LGBT books."

When Flowers was selected as the E.D. in October 2005, Katherine V. Forrest, the president of the board of directors, stated in a press release that "[u]nder his leadership the Foundation will expand its role, becoming the dynamic and highly visible service organization our entire literary community deserves."

After a long period of financial hardship, which prompted suspending publication of the Lambda Book Report and the James White Review, the LLF, previously located in Washington, D.C., is now getting back on track. The move to New York made "a lot of sense," says Flowers, in view of the fact that the city is a hub of publishing and "because of the variety of literary culture [that it provides] such as readings and book signings. I try to go to as many as possible." In addition, there have been talks with one of the gay cable channels about televising the awards event. However, there is "nothing final yet," cautions Flowers, who served as a co-chair of the Publishing Triangle, an association of gays and lesbians in the publishing industry.

Without a doubt, the electronic smorgasbord available to media consumers these days--digital TV, the Internet,satellite radio, iPods, etc.--if used capably would go a long way toward improving the name recognition of the Lammys to LGBT and non-LGBT people alike. It would also encourage people to become readers and to explore worlds previously unknown to them.

To Flowers, who "didn't begin to read classic gay lit until college," it is "reading [that] is a richer experience than most of what other media offer." It was through the works of the novelist/essayist James Baldwin and the poets Adrienne Rich and Mark Doty that he discovered that as a gay person "I was not alone and could desire who I wanted to desire--[bringing about] validation, affirmation, celebration, a lot of what reading can offer" to the reader.

As far as what constitutes a gay or lesbian book, Flowers points out that "a book's eligibility depends on its content rather than the [sexual] orientation of the author. If a gay writer wrote a novel with no gay content, then it wouldn't be eligible for the awards."

Today's LGBT literary landscape has become in Flowers's estimation, "a reader's paradise," in which one can find books that are "excellent, thriving, inventive, entertaining, varied."

This article  was originally published in the Gay City News (July 5-11, 2007 issue).

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

An Art Gallery Blooms In Harlem

The current gentrification of Harlem has been labeled as "the second Harlem Renaissance." But it is a misnomer; the first Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s, was an artistic movement out of which came such luminaries as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Countee Cullen. What's happening in Harlem today is all about real estate, not art. If there is a second renaissance in the making, Casa Frela, a new gallery located on West 119th Street in the Mount Morris Park Historic District, is helping to spearhead it.

Casa Frela, which means "your house should be a walk in the park" (containing one word from Spanish and one from the language of the Yaqui Indians of Mexico) is in a brownstone designed by the Gilded Age architect Stanford White. Lawrence Rodriguez, an openly gay man of Mexican descent (both parents were Yaquis), owns the four-story building in a neighborhood with many gay and lesbian artists in residence. When he moved to Harlem more than three years ago, the Fashion Institute of Technology graduate's intention was to buy a building, not start a gallery. But when he showed the work of an artist who lived down the street, that exhibit put the gallery on the map. That first year, Rodriguez did one show a month. This year he plans to have three large shows and six small ones.

Rodriguez, who receives a 30 percent commission for each artwork sold, says that his gallery can sell anything that's priced under three thousand dollars. But because of his location and the state of the economy, Rodriguez does not deal with anything priced above that. He explained that galleries on 57th Street and in Chelsea were more established and that Harlem is an up and coming art venue. Plus, the other galleries were more centrally located in Manhattan, making them easier to get to from the jobs of art lovers.

Rodriguez, despite being openly gay, does not plan to handle gay-themed artworks exclusively; he envisions Casa Frela as a place where Latino artists will get a chance to be represented.

Another vision of his is to open a smaller gallery in Houston, Texas, to be called Casita. He wants to open it in about two years.

In October of this year, Casa Frela will be the starting point of the annual open house in which Harlem artists turn their apartments into mini-galleries and allow visitors to view their artworks.

During this event, Rodriguez will conduct a five-minute lecture on New York architecture in which he will reveal to visitors such things as how they can find a picture of their buildings, how to look up a deed, how to find out who lived in their apartments, and other useful and interesting information.

Whenever Rodriguez opens a show, which requires months of preparation, it turns into a major learning experience for him. Or as he terms it, "a Cliff Notes version of an artist's work."

For Rodriguez, the foremost goal of Casa Frela is to act as "a vibrant magnet for the art enthusiast."

This is an excerpt from an article that was originally published in the Gay City News (July 17-23, 2008 issue).

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Ups And Downs Of Being A Black Architect

"Architecture in its concern for the creation of human environment, must deal with physical, psychological, social and economic needs of its clients."--Robert J. Nash, black Washington architect and fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

Black architects comprise a very small percentage of the total number practicing in the United States. But despite that fact and despite a few drawbacks to pursuing an architectural career, ""the numbers of blacks studying architecture has increased drastically since the late '60s," says J. Max Bond, Jr.

After serving 14 years on the faculty of Columbia University's School of Architecture, he should know. He is also the chairman and a partner in the architectural firm of Bond Ryder Associates in New York City.

"The changes reflect the changes in society," continues Bond. "There have been attempts at special programs, pre-architectural programs, things like that. Right now one of the really great inhibitions is that architecture is not one of the most secure professions. Nor is it one of the highest paying professions because it is subject to the shifts in the economy."

Roger Roberts, who has been a project architect for the past six years with the firm of Richard B. Dempsey, also in New York City, does not think now is a good time for anyone to consider a career in architecture.

"Perhaps by the time they got through school and got a little bit of learning, things might pick up. Right now we are oversaturated [with architects] The overall picture is that things are  slow but if blacks become more successful businesswise then black architects would become more successful. [When the economy is bad] we're the first ones to feel it. The housing market is very bad."

As a project architect, Roberts's job is "to oversee the production of a job. To see that everything gets drafted correctly and properly and all the necessary details that are required for the job get done, to coordinate with the engineer and to oversee the project when it goes into construction.

The design work that comes into Richard Dempsey's office is, according to Roberts, "through referral or else you get published and someone may see it or if you've done a job and they're happy with it, they come back again or recommend you to someone else."

On the other hand, Max Bond's work is mostly in the public sector. "Most of the commissions in the last 10 or 12 years come from public agencies and generally related to the black community. We as a group have not been extensively employed by private industry. It's beginning to happen. Nor have we in many ways been employed as much as we feel we should by the federal government."

This is an excerpt from an article that was originally published in the Baltimore Evening Sun (October 25, 1982).

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Giving The Black Press Praise When It Is Due

80 Varick Street, Suite 3E
New York, NY 10013
April 7, 1992

Attn: Cookie

Dear Cookie:

I am one of the Amsterdam News's contributing writers. Last year I wrote 17 articles for the Am/News, the majority (approximately 10 to 12) of which concerned someone or some issue that was gay.

My reason for writing this letter is to state that I feel that GLAAD has devoted a lot of ink to either praising or condemning gay coverage in the major media while ignoring what is going on in the ethnic press, especially the black press. There was a time the Amsterdam News would not have considered printing anything about gays. The fact that they carried such a large number of such articles from the pen of one writer is worthy of praise. That is not to say that there is no homophobia at the paper, but these articles show that they have matured in their thinking about this subject which is a very volatile one in the black community.

I have enclosed one of my recent articles in the paper. It is about Audre Lorde's appointment as New York State Poet. Other gay-related articles include: a profile of singer Blackberri (8/15/91); an interview with poet Vega (3/16/92); and an interview with Reggie Williams of National Task Force on AIDS Prevention (3/28/92).

Praise by GLAAD would let them [those at the paper] know that the [gay] community appreciates their willingness to print gay articles and it would encourage them to continue along that path.

Sincerely yours,

Charles Michael Smith

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Creating A Shelter For Those With AIDS

"...AIDS is a terrifying disease in several respects. One of the most terrifying elements, however, aside from the fear of disease, infection and death, is the specter of utter loneliness that accompanies AIDS. For one who is in the grips of such threatening disease, to have no home in which to recover, in which to feel safe or in which one can die with dignity magnifies this terror considerably."--Mark S. Senak, AIDS Resource Center (from his testimony before the Committee on Health of the City Council, New York, January 4, 1985).

"If you know someone who is sick with AIDS, do not be afraid to touch them. And being silent is not being kind. Call them up, visit them, hold their hand, touch them, let them know you care. Hope is important to us. Because of this health crisis, gay people are beginning to see that we are more alike than we are different. That we have to help ourselves. Let us be a family for each other."--David Summers, Gay Men's Health Crisis and People With AIDS (from a speech he delivered at the Jerry Falwell protest outside Town Hall in New York, December 10, 1984).

Mark S. Senak, a 29-year-old lawyer, is the vice chairperson of the New York-based AIDS Resource Center, Inc. (ARC), described in its literature as "a non-profit, charitable organization dedicated to serving ambulatory men and women who are in need of resources and/or shelter in an AIDS crisis situation on a case by case basis, without regard to race, creed, or sexual orientation." ARC, in collaboration with the Gay Men's Health Crisis, is attempting to establish New York's first shelter for homeless people with AIDS. (A number of fundraising events have been held in gay-frequented establishments, such as Ty's bar in Greenwich Village, to help ARC and GMHC realize their project, including benefit performances of City Men, a romantic comedy with gay characters, by Philip Blackwell and Laurence Senelick, which drew in over $11,000.) "The first residence will be, among other things," says an ARC flyer, "the direct manifestation of a community's love and care for the afflicted."

Senak, a native of Granite City, Illinois, graduated from Brooklyn Law School. He previously worked as a lawyer in a large investment firm. In August 1984, he started his own law practice on lower Madison Avenue, handling mostly civil cases.

Charles Michael Smith: How did ARC get started?
Mark S. Senak: Actually it was almost two years that a group of people started thinking ahead and thinking about the housing issue and actually sort of planning for the future and seeing that the health crisis would probably produce a lot of homeless people in that it costs so very much to get one's medical care and because of the fear that families are going to have and things like that that they decided to get together and start ARC. One of the principal people to start it is named Buddy Noro. He was the first chairperson of ARC. They began it and began fundraising.
In the last year, we gave away $30,000 to individuals who were having financial difficulties. Some of the people involved initially were ministers. One of them in particular, Mead Bailey, was a principal starter of ARC and a real heartbeat of ARC.

CMS: ARC has three goals. One of them is to establish a shelter for the homeless.
MSS: Right. That's our primary goal. The other is to continue with our direct funding of persons with AIDS. The grants that were being given were grants of $500 and could be used to pay rent or medicine or sometimes even utility costs, if they had not been paid and they were turning off the electricity or some such thing. The third one is the religious advisory committee which is this committee started by Mead Bailey. He began a program of spiritual and pastoral care for persons with AIDS so that if someone's in the hospital with a life-threatening disease, they're often thinking about perhaps dying and what that's going to be like and maybe begin to turn back to some sort of spiritual thinking. Given the nature of relations between gay people and the churches, generally it isn't too good. So Mead started this program whereby if a person wanted to see a minister of their faith or priest, he would be able to put them in touch with somebody who wouldn't be telling them they're damned to hell and that this is God's angry judgment on them. There would be somebody who would be sympathetic and understanding and, in fact, very, very good for the person to talk to as opposed to somebody that they would be afraid of or [who would] begin dredging up any of the reasons for bad relations between gay people and the church.
Mead's program was expanded so that now there's a speaker's bureau that travels to different churches.
Mead died subsequently [from] a heart attack. Of the principal people that started ARC, three are now dead--two with AIDS and Mead with the heart attack.

CMS: You testified recently before the New York City Council's Committee on Health about the need for this shelter. What was the committee members's reactions?
MSS: It was very discouraging. I was discouraged by the whole thing because I sensed a certain hostility from the chairman of the health committee to many of the speakers and in particular to the issue of housing. One question that was asked of me was "What makes your minority so special?" I didn't say it at the time and I'm really upset that I didn't. As soon as I walked out the door, I thought of what I wanted to say: "What makes us special is that we're dying." It astounded me that he would say something like that. I was rather dumbfounded when he asked that.

This is an excerpt from an article that was originally published in the New York Native in 1985.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Darnell Williams Gains Success On A Daytime Drama

For actor Darnell Williams of All My Children, the popular ABC-TV daytime soap, television stardom can be at times a heavy crown to wear. Especially when overzealous fans recognize him in public or go out of their way to seek him out.

While interviewing him in his dressing room at the ABC Television Center on West 67th Street [in Manhattan], I asked Darnell if he was by nature a private person. "More private now than I was before. I like to be outside now. I live in Brooklyn and it's a black neighborhood and black people are overenthusiastic. There was a time when they were at my door and knew where I lived and that kind of stuff. I can't deal with it. A couple of people got my phone number. My roommate was at the butt of all that attention  because I'm  hardly ever there. He works a different shift. One week he works a night shift, one week he works the day shift. He'd be sleeping. Ding dong. Twelve, fifteen girls."

"The visibility of an actor," explains Darnell, who plays Jesse Hubbard, the 17-year old black streetwise kid, "is just incredible. Even more so than movies because there are so many people that watch soaps and see it every day. [They] see me two or three times in a week. I'm on often enough to be recognized constantly. In the beginning, it's great. Me and my brother were trying  to go out and count how many people recognized me. But after awhile, after a year, it just gets to be a pain in the ass. A regular person can't deal with that stuff [excessive recognition] and they [the fans] don't understand. I wish there was a way that they could understand." But despite the agony of being "recognized constantly," whenever a fan approaches him for an autograph, "I usually smile, show my teeth, and sign," says the 5-foot, eleven-inch actor who was nominated for (but did not win) the Daytime Emmy for Best Supporting Actor.

Darnell, who describes  himself as a "nice, easy-going, soft-spoken" person, was born in London, England on March 3, 1954, the second of eight children. And because his father was a career Air Force officer, the family moved all over the globe which offered Darnell the chance to experience and appreciate other cultures. (This probably explains his liking for Japanese food.)

Darnell appeared in several school plays and in 1974 he began acting professionally, a decision he came to after watching the old TV series Lost in Space. (Although as a kid he dreamed of becoming a teacher.)

The year 1975 found him studying under the tutelage of veteran black actor Glynn Turman who "was my first acting teacher. He had a great impact on me. To me, he was great."

Darnell believes that acting study is a way of "sharpening your craft. It's like keeping your car tuned. Some people feel they don't need it. I felt that way for awhile, too."

The one thing Darnell had prior to acting study was confidence. "I just knew it was a matter of time, a matter of a vehicle, a national vehicle before everybody would say 'Hey, this guy is great.'"

During this early stage of his career, Darnell felt and was told by others that he "had the instinct for an actor."

This instinct and skill led him to play roles in such TV productions as The White Shadow and Rich Man, Poor Man. And eventually All My Children, which was conducting a routine audition. "Fred Hudson down at the Frederick Douglass [Creative Arts] Center produced a play I was doing, Maurice Hines's Reach for the Sky, and some months after the show had closed he called me and said 'Listen, they're looking for Jesse.'" And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

"This soap opera," says Darnell, "has a tremendous black following. It's probably even doubled since I've been on the show. Jesse has caught on like wildfire. It's time for them [network brass] to sit up and check out the demographics."

The Jesse character and storyline has caused a lot of controversy in spite of Darnell's comment that all of his "feedback has been positive," which would include his fan mail. The controversy arose, writes Linda Yearwood in the Amsterdam News (August 8, 1982), "for reasons ranging from his [Jesse's] overt, anti-white militarism to his quelled love affair turned platonic, with a local white maiden (the rumor flying around the daytime circuit was the viewer response was so vehemently opposed to this romantic entanglement, that the writers were forced to find Jesse a soulmate." Says Darnell: "The more controversy the better. I'm here for awhile, it can't do me any harm." (Williams has a three-year contract with AMC.)

Has his popularity on the show resulted in any movie offers? "I haven't been offered a wet sock yet," he replies. "If someone offered me a movie and it was pretty much like Jesse, [but] there was no positive growth, then I wouldn't do that."

Williams has not yet reached the point in his career where he can pick the roles he wants to do--"It's about getting whatever is there"--but he hopes some day he'll be able to do so.

One goal he has in mind once he's finished with AMC is to "produce and direct eventually." If black actors and actresses want to bring about change in the entertainment industry, says Darnell, "they have to stop acting and start producing and directing." He does feel, however, that the image of blacks on TV is "changing a little bit but not as quickly as it needs to."

Money coming in is certainly not a worry for Darnell Williams anymore. Being on All My Children, says Darnell, has made him "a little sure, able to pay [my] bills on time and [able to] buy a few things for [myself]. It just makes [me] a little more positive, a little more secure."

This is an excerpt of an article that was originally published in the Harlem Weekly newspaper (February 16-22, 1983).

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Finding Summer Jobs For Low-Income Youth

If Norberto Ellemberger has anything to say about it, the devil will find fewer hands--and minds--to lead astray this summer. That's because Ellemberger is the executive director of the Summer Jobs '86 Program, sponsored by Coopers and Lybrand, an international accounting and consulting firm.

Since 1981, the program, a brainchild of the New York City Partnership, Inc., has found employment for more than 100,000 low-income students between the ages of 16 and 21. Each year, a different company spearheads the program, bringing with it an increase in job offers. For example, last year when the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company was the sponsor there were 31,500 jobs filled, This year, Coopers and Lybrand, says Ellemberger, has pledges of 35,000 jobs from companies all over the five boroughs, with the majority of them in Manhattan.

The slogan for this year's campaign is that the city's youth are its "Greatest Natural Resource." And the fact that these are low-income youths has nothing to do with their capacity or willingness to do a good job. "I don't think the public perception of youth," says Ellemberger, a C & L general partner, "especially [those] coming from low-income families, is close to reality. [The public] always thinks about drugs, alcohol, pregnancy. I've been around these kids this year, and I'm impressed by the quality of the kids. Many of the ones I have met I can see running their own businesses in the future. Some other ones will be working for small businesses or large corporations."

"If you look at [the job situation] on a long-term basis," he continues, "there will be a significant shortage of labor in the future. The other day, the Port Authority [a joint government agency of the states of  New York and New Jersey] came out with a report saying that the 18 to 24 age bracket is going to be reduced by 25 percent by 1995. We'll be dealing with a labor market that will have fewer people available [to it]. The fewer people that we have had better be trained and skilled. Otherwise, we're going to have problems. Also, keep in mind that an unemployed kid of today may become the unemployed adult, therefore putting more pressure on the government for social services and the like. There are all sorts of ramifications."

So it is in the self-interest of the business community to provide jobs to qualified and motivated youth. However, Ellemberger is quick to point out that the Summer Jobs '86 Program "is not a charity program. We're offering tangible benefits to the kids, to the businessmen. Everybody benefits all around. The kids have an opportunity to establish more credentials in these companies, and the employer can use the kids in such a way that they can increase the productivity of their regular, full-time employees."

The companies participating in the program represent a wide range of the private sector, from general service industries to professional services. The size of a company is of no importance; if there is a job to be filled, a student will be placed in a mom-and-pop operation as quickly as he or she would be in a Fortune 500 corporation.

The name of the game is matching the right student with the right employer. That is done by one of the five public agencies receiving and processing student applications. Only those students who meet the hiring requirements of a specific employer are sent to the interview. The students hired by the employer receive no less than the current minimum wage of $3.35 an hour (although the hourly rate can go higher depending on the job duties), must work a minimum of  20 hours per week, for a period of at least seven weeks. The employer upon entering the program must agree to those terms.

Ellemberger, as the commander-in-chief of this awesomely massive endeavor, spends "most of my time carrying the gospel throughout the boroughs and to organizations, letting them know what they have available to them. Once they know, they take advantage of the program. Another obligation I have to this program is to show the kids that there is a lot of opportunity available. If they study, if they work hard, those opportunities will materialize."

This is an excerpt from an article that was originally published in the Harlem Weekly newspaper in 1986. This article deserves a follow-up piece.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Police, Protectors Or Victimizers?

One of my favorite scenes in the 1995 French film La Haine [Hate] is the one in which a plainclothes cop tells Hubert, a black youth from a Paris housing project that the police are there to protect him and his friends. "Who protects us from you?" asks Hubert. A great question in light of the stop and frisk policy of the New York Police Department which targets mostly African-American and Latino young men.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dance Theatre Of Harlem's Financial Woes

The Dance Theatre of Harlem announced January 31 [1990] that it has canceled its May concerts in New York because of a $1.7 million budget deficit. It is the first such cancellation in the company's 20-year history.

"We have had financial crises before," said Arthur Mitchell, DTH's artistic director and co-founder, "but never to this extent."

The current crisis, involving the layoff of the 55 dancers as well as technicians and a few administrative personnel, is linked to a series of domestic and foreign cancellations of performance dates. "Many of the sponsors that we are dealing with," explained Mitchell, in a telephone interview from Pasadena, California, where the troupe performed January 29-February 4 [1990], "are not private, commercial bookers. They are usually funded organizations themselves. They just weren't able to raise the money that they thought they would raise."

When the Dance Theatre of Harlem finishes up its tour--which will conclude in Washington, D.C. in March--the dancers will go on hiatus. At that point, they and other company personnel will be eligible for unemployment benefits. "If they can get other work," said Mitchell, "they are free to do that. They can teach, they can go to school, they can work in other areas. That's part of what Dance Theatre is about--preparing themselves for post-dance careers. But right now, the most important thing is that they should be dancing because that's what they are."

Despite DTH's financial situation, there are still long-range plans in the works, such as the building of office and dormitory space in the area surrounding the company's headquarters on 152nd Street, a project Mitchell calls "an Olympic Village of the allied arts here in Harlem." (The money, partly provided by the city, can only be earmarked for the capital expansion program.) And Mitchell still has his eye on the 1991 New York season. "Our fiscal year starts October 1. I hope that by that time, the monies will be available for us to continue. But you just don't stop planning."

This article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News (February 17, 1990).

Monday, June 24, 2013

AIDS: Finding Out What Turns Off The Body's Immune System

"The most important thing that has happened," said Dr. Alvin E. Friedman-Kien of the New York University Medical Center, in a recent newspaper interview, "is that the medical community and the world community have become aware of this illness [AIDS] as a  major threat to the health of all people, people of all backgrounds. The disease is no longer seen as restricted to only homosexual men or intravenous drug users." (Dr. Friedman-Kien was among a team of physicians and researchers at NYU who recognized the beginning of a new health crisis we now call AIDS, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.)

The disease, believed to be caused by an unidentified virus, has been called an epidemic because it has struck more than one percent of the population. According to the Centers for Disease Control, as of July 2, 1984, 5,037 AIDS cases have been reported since 1981 nationwide (most of the cases are in New York City). Of that number, 2,274 are now dead. Dr. Friedman-Kien has said that "...[W]e're recognizing cases now that we'd previously missed, or misdiagnosed due to either the patient or the physician who just didn't know what the manifestations of the disease were. The reporting is better.... And there is an increase in cases seen in New York City. My impression is that AIDS is in fact not going away at all but is perpetuating and continuing." (New York Native, July 2-15, 1984) Those who are most at risk for the disease are gay or bisexual men, IV drug abusers, hemophiliacs, and Haitians. (Those in this latter group are thought to be included in the other risk groups.) "My suspicion," said Dr. Friedman-Kien, "and it's only a guess, is that, aside from an agent which causes the ultimate disease, an individual must be predisposed in some way by being immunosuppressed."

One black doctor in Harlem who has shown interest and involvement with AIDS is 36-year-old Donald A. Dayson. He is connected with Harlem Hospital and shares a private office in the Riverton Apartments with Dr. John Holloman. Dr. Dayson, who graduated in 1979 with a medical degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, is presently treating a former IV drug abuser for AIDS, a black man in his mid-thirties. Dr. Dayson's patient is among the 26 percent of people with AIDS who are black.

Charles Michael Smith: Do you see AIDS as a major health threat to the black community?
Donald A. Dayson: That's a difficult question to answer because we don't really know the extent of AIDS here. AIDS is something new that we don't quite know how to care for.

CMS: How did you become interested in this disease?
DAD: First of all, I trained at Harlem Hospital which sees a lot of IV drug abusers. More than any other hospital within the city. The first person I ever saw who had immune deficiency was not diagnosed as [having] AIDS. It was a woman who didn't use drugs. She was not related to a gay male. I still don't know what the woman died from but her immunological defenses were totally absent. We didn't do the studies that are now being done with patients who have AIDS such as lymphocyte studies. These [lymphocytes] are different types of white [blood] cells. A lymphocyte is a special form of white cell that is used by the body to fight off infections. A lymphocyte study would be a study of a special type of white blood cell called a lymphocyte. She did not fit the criteria for AIDS.

CMS:You are presently treating an AIDS patient.
DAD: Yes, a former IV drug user.

CMS: At what stage of the disease is he?
DAD: He's in one of the early stages. The diagnosis was just made. I actually suspected the diagnosis in July of 1983. That was when I first encountered the patient. [ Note: His symptoms were weight loss, fatigue, and swollen lymph glands--CMS.] The diagnosis was actually confirmed to the point where we could speak to him directly within the last few  months. We were telling him that he should be careful of who he gets in contact with because there is all kinds of problems out there. AIDS being one of them. I didn't want to tell him that he had AIDS until I was pretty sure that we could rule out any other reason why he was sick. It was during the height of the [AIDS] hysteria [when people thought] that once you got AIDS, you're dead. We didn't want him walking around feeling like a dead person, if he had something else. We were looking at other diseases that could give him this problem, other diseases where there was a hope of some cure. He had asked early on if he had AIDS. We said it could be AIDS, it could be this, it could be that, it could be all these other things.

CMS: How does a doctor treat a person with AIDS?
DAD: You have to understand a little bit about the way we defend ourselves against the ocean of germs that surround us. On everybody's skin there's a germ called staphylococcus which once it gets into your bloodstream, it can kill you very quickly. Once it gets past the skin, we have a good antibiotic for it that can kill it. The skin is one of our major defenses [against germs].

CMS: Do you feel the medical establishment is doing all it can to solve the problem?
DAD: Yes. People in this country tend to think of the medical health system as being well-integrated, that is, all of the different parts of the health system working in unison. It's not.  Sickle cell anemia is a well-known disease because it was a bio-chemical breakthrough that led to the knowledge that we have about sickle cell. We're still a long way from treating that [disease]. And that's from 1948 that we identified the bio-chemical link in sickle cell. We have no cure for [it]. The only thing we can do is treat the disease symptomatically. The only way we can prevent it is to tell someone with the sickle cell trait to be aware that if you marry someone with the trait that you can end up with a child who has sickle cell.

A lot of money has been put into [sickle cell research]. Not because they wanted to see black people treated for their sickle cell but because there was money to be made in it. All of the knowledge that we have, on a scientific basis, we can bring to bear on it. AIDS, scientifically, is a fascinating disease. What is it about the human body that's been turned off with a patient with AIDS?

CMS: There have been stories reported in the media about AIDS patients being mistreated in hospitals by health care workers. Have you found this to be true at Harlem Hospital?
DAD: It varies. The way the media has handled AIDS, I think, has been somewhat irresponsible. Because it has produced a level of fear that makes it difficult to treat some very sick people and also created a fear that might hinder some basic research. I know about the recommendations of the CDC[Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta]. If you're treating someone with AIDS, you have to treat them as if they have hepatitis, an infectious disease. Initially, they [AIDS patients] are placed in isolation. The hepatitis patient is placed in isolation when a question about shedding the virus [arises]. When someone first contracts hepatitis, the virus is still active. When I say isolate them, I don't mean we're really isolating them. What we take is called hepatitis precautions. As long as you wash your hands after seeing them, don't come in contact with their secretions by wearing gloves, and try to avoid people spraying their droplets on you, there's no problem. By shedding [the virus] we mean that the patient is still actively producing the hepatitis virus that can affect someone else.

I don't think it [AIDS] is highly infectious. We don't recommend reverse isolation where everyone coming into contact [with the patient] has to be gowned up. That's because the infections that would wipe out an AIDS patient are ones most people's bodies can control.

The treatment of an AIDS patient [requires the physician] to control the infections, to watch the infections. If you had AIDS, and you have the sniffles, rather than just listening to your nose and describing some symptomatic vindication, I'd make sure I'd get an X-ray and make sure that the sniffles are not a harbinger of something more acute.

CMS: What are your thoughts about the Haitian connection in the AIDS mystery?
DAD: I attended one of the conferences of the New York [City] Department of Health. A member of the panel raised the issue that for Haitians coming to this country, you're asked two questions: "Are you a Communist and are you a homosexual?" If you answer yes to either one, you know that you won't get your visa approved. And something that's not talked about much is that Haiti, while being a very poor country, also seems to have an influx of gay men vacationing there.

This is an excerpt from an unpublished article that I wrote on August 8, 1984.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

AIDS Forum For Black Gays Slated For Black History Month (1984)

An ad hoc group of black gay and lesbian activists is sponsoring an AIDS forum to be held February 1 [1984] at Hunter College [in New York City]. The group was formed, said DeWitt Hoard, a social worker and group member, because they "had attended several symposiums and noticed that there was a lack of blacks in the audiences and among the symposium participants." This lack of participation is attributed by many to a widespread belief among black gay men, as well as the black community in general, that AIDS is a white disease, a perception fostered by the exclusive media attention given to white gay men with AIDS. The fact that 26 percent of those with AIDS are black is an indication that "we've been hit just as hard by this epidemic," said Isaac Jackson, another group member, "and it is vitally important that information be disseminated throughout our community."

The group decided  to hold this forum on the first of the month because it is the beginning of Black History Month, a date which becomes "quite significant," said Gwen Rogers, the forum's moderator, "when you consider that we, as black lesbians and gay people, certainly are concerned about all aspects of our oppression. This will be the opportunity for us to raise the issue of the struggle against AIDS, to raise the issue of AIDS as a health concern, to raise the demand that health care is a right, and to highlight the fact that as lesbians and gay people, we've certainly been a part of the struggle and this is a way to be very visible and active."

The ad hoc committee see the AIDS issue as being part of the overall concern for better health care delivery with the total black community. They also see the socio-economic ramifications of the AIDS epidemic. "We have seen a number of attempts," said Rogers, a psychologist, "either by people who are talking about funding for AIDS research or by other anti-gay people to say 'Why should there be funding for AIDS research when there isn't funding for sickle cell?'"

"Gay issues for blacks," said Hoard,"take a third stand and maybe even lower on the totem pole." There are people, he further said, who see this attitude as an indication of black homophobia, however Hoard sees it as more of "a prioritizing situation wherein the black community is many times focusing on employment and housing. I think," he continued, "it's important that somehow we begin to put all of the problems that we have within the black community together under an umbrella situation. Somewhat like under oppression because oppression certainly gets involved in unemployment, in housing, and it also gets involved in a situation like AIDS."

The forum, which is being co-sponsored by the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of Hunter College, will deal with the following topics: "The medical Facts on AIDS," "AIDS and the Crisis in Black Health Care," "Social Services for People with AIDS," "The Impact of AIDS on the Haitian Community" ("There's been a great deal of racism," said Rogers, "that's been whipped up in terms of our Haitian sisters and brothers, primarily by the government and the press."), and "Personal Reflections of a Person with AIDS." There will be four panelists at the forum. A question-and-answer period will follow the presentations.

The forum is free of charge and open to the general public. It starts at 7 p.m. and ends at 10 p.m. in Room 615 of the West Auditorium at Hunter College, located at Lexington Avenue and 68th Street, in Manhattan. The school is accessible to the IRT Lexington Avenue line.

Note: I wrote this article on January 15, 1984. It was subsequently published in the New York Native.

Friday, June 14, 2013

An AIDS Forum At Hunter College (1984)

An AIDS forum for black gays, sponsored by an ad hoc group of black gay and lesbian activists, was held on February 1 [1984] at Hunter College [in New York City]. One of the purposes of the forum was to counteract the widespread belief among black gay men, as well as the black community in general, that AIDS is a white disease, a perception fostered by the exclusive media attention given to white gay men with AIDS thereby causing blacks to take less of an interest in AIDS forums.

The first of the month was chosen because of its significance as the beginning of Black History Month. It would show, said Gwen Rogers, the forum's moderator, that black gays and lesbians were "concerned about all aspects of our oppression." The forum, she continued, provided "the opportunity for us to raise the issue of the struggle against AIDS, to raise the issue of AIDS as a health concern, and to raise the demand that health care is a right."

The audience, numbering between 90 and 100, some of whom were white, heard the following panelists: Leonard Brown, MD ("The Medical Facts on AIDS"); Raymond Jacobs, resident recreation therapist at Beth Israel Medical Center, New York ("Psychosocial Issues"); Jessie Cadet ("The Impact of AIDS on the Haitian Community"); and Bruce Hall, a black person with AIDS ("Personal Reflections of a Person with AIDS"). Also Diego Lopez, a social worker, who was called to speak at the last minute, expressed his concern for quality health care and asked the audience to help him and others to reach the black community with AIDS information.

The ad hoc committee while planning this forum, said Rogers, a psychologist, did "not view the AIDS crisis in isolation" but saw it as being part of the overall concern for better health care delivery within the total black community. They also saw the socio-economic ramifications of the disease, which, according to Dr. Brown, has a 40 percent mortality rate. Rogers saw the forum as something that will help unify the gay as well as the black community.

Much of the medical information given has been around awhile. Jessie Cadet's presentation was short and to the point: there is an urgent need for more money for AIDS research and the oppression of Haitian immigrants by U.S. officials must end.

The two speakers who gave the most interesting presentations, in terms of information, if not style, were Hall and Jacobs.

Hall, a 29-year-old ex-New Yorker, now living in Chicago, was diagnosed as having AIDS in September of 1983. He felt, following the diagnosis, that it was unfair for him to have come down with this disease, especially after several years of abstinence from drugs, alcohol, and sex with multiple partners. He is presently involved in a monogamous relationship and, although he and his lover have not refrained from having sex, they do not exchange body fluids. Hall is also in a self-imposed program of hypnosis, weight lifting (two 40-pound dumbbells), and bicycling (18-30 miles a day). It's part of his battle against AIDS, although he's not sure if any of it works.

Jacobs spoke of the isolation and psychological crisis AIDS people endure, leaving them feeling angry, guilty, and ashamed. There is the tendency to moralize and believe the disease resulted from the wrath of God.

Jacobs placed AIDS people in three categories: those with the disease who have not contracted  major illness, those with a major illness who are working their way towards death or dying, and those, like Hall, who have recently been diagnosed.

Hall told this reporter in a later interview that he visits AIDS people in the hospitals so that they know that someone out there cares and that there are people with AIDS who are functioning. He felt that these visits "might give them some hope."

A question-and-answer period followed the presentations.

Note: I wrote this unpublished (?) article on February 9, 1984. An earlier version was written in January of that year, probably for the New York Native.