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.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bruce Hall Fights To Regain His Airline Job

Before Bruce Hall was put on what he calls "forced medical leave of absence," he had been a flight attendant for a major U.S. airline. Management made the decision to relieve him of his duties when they learned of his AIDS diagnosis not because they believed AIDS is spread by casual contact--they don't--but because, says Hall, in a telephone interview, "They're worried about the public perception should the public find out that this airline is flying people who have AIDS." The fact that the airline informed its 8,200 flight attendants "that there's no reason for them to fear someone with AIDS on board the airplane," he continues, means that "they have destroyed their own case."

Hall wants his job back. And he is putting up a courageous three-prong fight: against AIDS itself, the perception that the disease makes those it strikes vulnerable to all viruses and bacteria instead of specific ones, and job discrimination toward people with AIDS.

His battle with the airline is quite involved. Simply stated, it consists of complaints filed with the following organizations: the union (his case is tied to a similar one in Los Angeles with the same airline), the state human rights commissions in New York and Illinois (New York, he learned later, rejected the complaint after he told them about the Illinois complaint; a complaint, explains Hall, filed in one state is binding in all other states. He filed in both states because "I'm between both addresses."), and the U.S. Department of Labor, Division of Federal Contract Compliance "because the airline flies the U.S. mail. I gave them the background story the other day." And, according to Hall, the department agreed that discrimination did exist in this case.

If these complaints are "resolved unfavorably," Hall intends to go to the state courts, and if necessary, to the federal level.

Regarding his condition, he vigorously and enthusiastically reports that he is "feeling healthy as a pig."

This article was originally published in the Boston-based Gay Community News on December 8, 1984.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Learning To Live With AIDS

September 1983. The date may not have much significance to many people but to Bruce Hall, a 29-year-old black gay man, it had profoundly changed his life, perhaps forever. That was when he went to his doctor with a temperature of 103 and throat thrush and was diagnosed as being among the 3,210 people with AIDS, a disease, says Leonard Brown, MD, of New York's Community Health Project, with a 40 percent mortality rate.

To Hall, a native of New York City, now living in Chicago, the diagnosis was unfair. Especially after years of abstinence from drugs, alcohol, and multiple sex partners. He had even quit smoking cigarettes. (Although during the interview in a Greenwich Village restaurant, Hall bought a pack of cigarettes and chain-smoked four of them. he attributed his smoking to nervousness caused by the interview. He later left the pack of unsmoked cigarettes on the table.) But none of that seemed to matter. He had to learn to live with a disease that not only debilitated its victim but also intensified homophobia and mass hysteria. These last two cost Hall his job.

He had known about AIDS for a long time. He just didn't think that he would get it. His black gay friends deluded themselves by thinking of AIDS as a white man's disease. They don't anymore.

However, Bruce Hall is a fighter. He says he doesn't want to live his life in a bubble, being afraid of everybody and everything. To counteract that feeling, he has put himself through a self-imposed physical fitness program involving bicycling 18 to 30 miles a day, lifting two 40-pound dumbbells up to one and a quarter hours a day, and much walking. He is also undergoing hypnosis, although he is not sure of its effectiveness against AIDS. In the past few months, Hall has seen a vast improvement in his weight and he has not caught any colds, he says, since the diagnosis.

Hall graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut in 1977 with a B.A. in sociology. He is presently attending Loop College in Chicago where he is studying for a certificate that will enable him to counsel alcohol abusers.

Recently Hall delivered a presentation, with three other panelists, among them Dr. Brown, at an AIDS forum for the black gay community in the West Auditorium of Hunter College [in New York].

This excerpt is from an article about the late Bruce Hall. It was originally published in the New York Native in 1984.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

David Rothenberg, A Marathoner For Gays And Ex-Offenders

David Rothenberg, the openly gay founder and executive director of the New York-based Fortune Society, a self-help organization for ex-cons, was praised in Village Voice writer Jack Newfield's annual honor roll as "a marathoner for two of this city's most discriminated-against minorities--ex-prison inmates, and gays and lesbians." Many of Rothenberg's constituents could fall into both categories quite easily. And, in this society, to be black, gay, and an ex-con is to be triply stigmatized, triply persecuted.

The Fortune Society, says Rothenberg, reflects the population of the prisons, 80 percent black and Hispanic. Each year nearly 2,500 ex-inmates cross the Fortune Society's threshold in order to utilize its services: a job placement unit, a vocational training and educational program, and a juvenile unit, all run by a staff of 26 persons.

Rothenberg, 53, who grew up in middle-class comfort in New Jersey, and gave up a lucrative career as a Broadway press agent to run Fortune, has, writes Newfield, "continued to explain the casual relationship between crime and poverty."

Charles Michael Smith: Are prisons as they exist today anachronisms?
David Rothenberg: Yes, of course, they are anachronisms. But because they're old isn't why they're bad. They're bad because they don't work. The word "penitentiary" comes from [the word] "penitence." The idea of the penitentiary began with the Quakers who thought that if people had done bad or evil things, you lock them away. Then they would contemplate what they did. They would come out and be better. We've never really changed that concept. They don't become better, they become acclimated to that unnatural surrounding.

CMS: You've made the statement that there are bad acts, not bad people.
DR: I say that because i don't know who is to judge and rule out people from coming back into society. We have people who have come to the Fortune Society who have all the labels--beyond help, beyond redemption, incorrigible, career criminal--all of those labels that have been imposed on them by society. In a support system we've watched them change and grow, accept themselves and what they can do in society. Most of the people that work here are people who were written off by society at one point.

CMS: What about the relationship of poverty to crime?
DR: There are many poor people who don't commit crime. It's not the poorness, per se, that causes it but it creates the situation of child abuse, of neglect, of rage, of hunger, of denial, of resentment. Those are all the ingredients that work together. If you go through the prisons and you talk to people who are doing time there, you'll find out that overwhelmingly they are poor people. Which has a lot to do with the cost of justice as well. Street crime and person-to-person crime gets more severe punishment. That tends to be poor people. Whereas, what is called white collar crime tends to be more white people, more middle class and wealthy people. The reason for that is poor people don't have access to the books to do the embezzlement. A lot of our guys couldn't forge checks because they can't write. So they steal or what they mostly do is sell drugs.

CMS: Where do you stand on the death penalty issue?
DR: I'm one of the most consistent and frequent spokespersons against the death penalty. The simple fact is that 99.9 percent of the crimes that take place, the death penalty wouldn't be an issue. In fact, when people commit violent, horrible crimes, they are irrational, violent acts. To think that a logical deterrent which would affect reasonably thinking people is going to deter the irrational is absurd. If you're really offended by murder, then you can't be in favor of the government being in the business. If people are really concerned about reducing victims, we should spend a little more energy on gun control and the manufacture of guns. That's the real issue.

This is an excerpt from an article that was published in the New York Native in ca. 1985 or 1986.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Leap Into Eternity

In the introduction to For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Still Not Enough (Magnus Books, 2012), the enjoyable anthology edited by Keith Boykin, he ponders about Tyler Clementi, the gay young man who leaped to his death from the George Washington Bridge. "As I drive across the George Washington Bridge one night from Manhattan to the CNBC World Headquarters in New Jersey, I looked down over the bridge and imagined what it must have felt like to jump 212 feet into the raging Hudson River below."

Fifty years earlier, James Baldwin no doubt had the same thoughts about his friend Eugene Worth who leaped from the same bridge in the late 1940s. Baldwin recreated that act in his 1962 novel Another Country. In that book, Baldwin had the character Rufus leap from the GWB at the end of Chapter One. Boykin could have put himself in the shoes of Clementi and Rufus as he read the following description by Baldwin: "...and then the wind took him, he felt himself going over, head down, the wind, the stars, the lights, the water, all rolled together, all right. He felt a shoe fly off behind him, there was nothing around him, only the wind,...."

I wanted to include these passages in my online review of For Colored Boys, but I couldn't see how to fit it in seamlessly.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Fifteen Minutes Of Fame

Gary Morston
XXX West 141st Street
New York, NY 10031
May 10, 1995

Dear Gary:

I guess Andy Warhol was right--everybody will be famous for 15 minutes. That article about you in the June issue of Essence was your 15 minutes of fame. I was glad to see it. All these years I've been wondering what happened to you. The last time I remember seeing you, you were living in Brooklyn and working the counter at the Oscar Wilde bookstore.

You may remember that we first met through a personal ad your friends placed in the New York Native. That was in 1983. I later ran into you at that year's Gay Pride Parade on, I believe, Weehawken Street [in Greenwich Village].

The strange thing about the article is that it never mentions you as a gay man, which is how I remember you identifying yourself. In the article you're quoted as saying "not many women have shied away when they learn I'm a single dad." Maybe you were bisexual all the time. Maybe you didn't want to out yourself in a national magazine. Anyway, I'm glad you're alive and well and parenting.

I hope we can stay in touch (my number is on the reverse side, which is a copy of a call for submissions flyer for a book of essays that will be published in the fall of this year. I started editing the book two years ago. [The book was Fighting Words, which was published in 1999 by Avon Books.] I always enjoyed our phone conversations, especially about education. [Gary was a schoolteacher.] The name Piaget (correct spelling?), the guy who was an education theorist, always brings you to mind because you were the first one who told me about him.

Say hello to your son Corinthian for me.

Sincerely yours,

Charles Michael Smith