Archivists Founder Discusses HIV Vaccine Awareness Day–May 18th

18 05 2011

Today marks HIV Vaccine Awareness Day. As many know, HIV/AIDS is still a public health concern and it affects and infects far too many. Watch this video, featuring Kevin Trimell Jones, as he talks about his work and interest in the development of a safe and effective HIV vaccine.


Free Screening of ‘NO!’ with Aishah Shahidah Simmons (2/8/11)

8 02 2011

From the University of the Arts

Student Development & Activities welcomes Documentarian Aishah Shahidah Simmons for a viewing and discussion of her film No! The Rape Documentary. This groundbreaking award-winning documentary explores the international reality of rape and other forms of sexual assault through the first person testimonies, scholarship, spirituality, activism and cultural work of African-Americans. Winner of a Juried Award and an Audience Choice Award at the 2006 San Diego Women’s Film Festival and the juried Best Documentary Award at the 2008 India International Women’s Film Festival, NO! also explores how rape is used as a weapon of homophobia.

Location Information:
Main Campus – Dorrance Hamilton Hall  (View Map)
320 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Room: CBS Auditorium
Contact Information:
Name: Steve Scaduto
Phone: 215.717.6615

At Least We’re Not Dying From AIDS: A Retrospective by Michael Hinson

7 02 2011

Grant, MICHAEL HINSON, Smith, Haskins and Carson

Today marks the 11th annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Community leader Michael Hinson offers this incredible reflection on how far our communities have come since the first cases of HIV/AIDS were recognized. It includes an original piece by Arnold Jackson (August 25, 1957 — May 3, 1998).

Today, February 7, 2011 is National Black AIDS Awareness Day, a day of reflection about HIV disease in Black communities all around the world. As I have reflected over the past couple days (knowing this day was coming), I m reminded about my own journey from not knowing about the disease to knowing and at times cycling back to not knowing again and then back to knowing.  I am reminded about my cousin’s, two black gay men and two heterosexual black mothers who lost their lives to HIV in the prime of their life. I am reminded that we are not only reflecting on tragedy of too many Black lives lost or on the lives of Black Gay Men hanging in the balance, but we are also reminded about the bravery, the triumphs and successes in our communities that inspire us to be liberated from our own fear, that we might inspire the liberation of others as referenced by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inauguration speech.

Personally I am reminded about Rashidah Abdul Khabeer, about David Fair, about Tyrone Smith, about Arnold Jackson and so many others who inspired my liberation. I am reminded that without their nurturing, their tough love, their gentle nudging, I too might be the subject of a hushed conversation in my southern hometown, as Arnold’s 1992 piece entitled “At Least we’re Not Dying From AIDS” suggest.

In their unique ways, this Philadelphia based herstorian and historians inspired the greatness that I humbly acknowledge and accept as my own personal destiny for which I am thankful. I am thankful for Rashidah’s gifts of strength, bravery and consciousness. I am thankful for David’s intellectual, strategic and unwavering commitment gifts. I am thankful for Tyrone’s “I’m Black, Gay and Proud” and “Hey, baby it is gonna be okay” gift’s. I am thankful for Arnold’s gifts of wisdom, communication and retrospect.

The theme for this year’s National Black AIDS Awareness Day is one we all know very well—”It Takes A Village to Fight HIV/AIDS!  As the Centers for Disease Control’s press release states “it is a call to action for a collective and integrated approach at the individual, community and national level to prevent the spread of HIV in African American communities”. I am thankful that my “village” understood this notion some twenty years ago and that I understand it today. I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the solution.

I am also reminded in my reflection today that African Americans who represent 14 percent of the population, account for 52 percent of the diagnoses in 2008 representing almost half of those living with and dying from HIV. I am reminded that African American men are 9 times more likely to have HIV than white men and I am reminded that African American women are 18 times more likely to have HIV than white women.

Today, as you reflect on what this day and this disease means to you, be encouraged. Many of us are also reflecting. Many have joined the “village” to fight this disease. Many are living with, not dying from this disease.   Many are opening the doors of opportunity and closing the doors of inadequacies in our health care system, the high incarceration rates, low income, low educational attainment, racism, stigma, and homophobia.

As I have been encouraged by my mentors, I encourage you to mentor — to be an encouragement. Tell someone today, they matter.  Tell someone today that HIV is preventable.  Tell someone today that HIV doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Tell someone today that their future holds a greatness that was given first as a gift from God. Tell them that their life never has to be a hushed conversation, emblazoned in the stigma that my friend Arnold wrote about almost ten years ago.

Below is the article my dear friend Arnold wrote in 1992, which reminds us of the HIV stigma still present today in many Black Communities. Thank you Arnold for reminded us to be the solution!

At Least We’re Not Dying From AIDS

by Arnold Jackson (August 25, 1957 — May 3, 1998)

It’s early 1992 and we African-American men and women, children and youth are dying at an alarming rate. This is not news. Everybody knows that, comparatively speaking, we don’t live as long as whites. And we all know why: disproportionate rates of poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, intra-racial violence, homelessness, hunger, lack of access to medical treatment. The list goes on.

But I’m happy to report that one thing we’re not dying from is AIDS.  Excuse me? You don’t believe me?

Then ask Rev. Jones, who funeralized Mrs. Brown’s 35-year-old son Jeffrey last week. Ask the neighbors and relatives who turned out for the service. You can even ask Mrs. Brown herself. They’ll all tell you the same thing. Jeffrey died from cancer.

Then there was Damien. He died four days ago. He was 23. Leukemia, that’s what his sister said. Go ahead, ask her.

Sherman, he passed two weeks ago. A fantastic designer. Everybody in the neighborhood loved him. He made a lot of clothes for a lot of people and all for free! I read his obituary in the paper. He died of a long illness.

Vanessa was 28. She used to shoot up. She got pneumonia.

Mr. Harris still can’t sleep too well these days and it’s been a year and half since his 40-year-old daughter who was married to that addict Maurice died of the same thing that killed Vanessa–complications from respiratory disease. At least that’s what the funeral program said.

I know a lot of other young black people who’ve died recently. Their parents, brothers, sisters and friends miss them a lot. They get depressed but don’t, want to talk about it too much. It’s painful when you lose a loved one.

But at least they didn’t die from AIDS.

A Voice for All People, Kwanzaa Celebration 2010

5 01 2011

A Voice for All People, Philly’s radically inclusive gospel choir, performed during the annual community Kwanzaa celebration at the African American Museum of Philadelphia (12/29/10). The community celebration was organized by 24 LGBT organizations;over 400 attended the celebration.

The quality of this video is not great, but listen to their voices. Philadelphia is lucky to have A Voice for All People.

Philly’s Adopted Daughter, Marsha Ambrosius, Does Part to Tackle Homophobia

5 01 2011

If you aren’t moved by her voice, you’ll love her message. Marsha Ambrosius’ new video release “FAR AWAY” provides an all-too-true tale faced by some urban gay men–particularly those who are willing to disclose their same-sex attractions even in the face of bullying.

Marsha Ambrosius has performed and lived within the Philadelphia market since 2000. In an interview with Philly 360, Ambrosius shares of Philly: “More so than any city I’ve ever been or traveled to, Philadelphia feels like a home to me… it’s somewhere you can sit down and drink your hot apple cider and feel at home. I love New York, but I come back to Philly and I can let my hair down.”

Have you met R. Eric Thomas–blogger, playwright, storyteller?

11 10 2010

While surveying the web for local black LGBT Philadelphians, I came across the likes of R. Eric Thomas. According to his bio, R. Eric Thomas is a “playwright, storyteller and essayist. He is the author of at least three plays, “Lost Boy”, “The Spectator” (Run of the Mill Theater Company, 2005), and “The Affair” (LateNite Theater, 2001).”

This man is history in the making. Visit his blog often: enormously awkard.

Out Philadelphian Actor, James Ijames

11 10 2010

A few weeks ago, R. Eric Thomas interviewed James Ijames for You can also visit R. Eric Thomas’ blog ‘enormously awkard.’

Actor/writer James Ijames has a busy year. The out Philadelphia transplant and Temple University grad appeared in a number of regional theater productions, including a celebrated staging of Tony Kushner’s epic Angels in America, in which Ijames played Belize. Later in the year Maukingbird Theater Company premiered The Threshing Floor, his one-man show about out writer James Baldwin. In August, he was announced as one of 5 finalists for the F. Otto Haas Award for Emerging Theater Artist. The recipient will be announced on October 4 at the Barrymore Awards. He was gracious enough to talk with me about his year, his play and what being gay and a person of color means to his art.

Q: You had a really busy year! How much of that is plain luck and how much is by design?

A: I don’t particularly believe in luck as a thing. But I certainly didn’t set out thinking, Oh, I want to win this thing. I was very much aware of [the F. Otto Haas Award] but I don’t know that I put down tracks to move in that direction.

Q: How did you find out that you were nominated?

A: I was very much aware that I was in the running—you’re invited to apply and be interviewed. They announce the Barrymore nominations in August. So, I got a call from my roommate, who is also nominated this year and she told me. I knew that it was coming and I knew that they were going to be announced at 4 o’clock. So I went to see a movie at, I think, 3:50, so I’d be thinking about something completely different.

Q: Let’s talk about the big piece of this year, your play The Threshing Floor. What was your impetus for writing it?

A: I have always loved James Baldwin as a writer. I read Go Tell It On The Mountain when I was 13 and I had this feeling of, “Wow, this is someone who understands this thing that I don’t have language for.” And then I read it again in college with completely different eyes and being a bit more open about my sexuality and who I was. And then I read it again in preparation for the show and every time I read it it brings something new to the table. It started out as just a project that I was working on in undergraduate. I continued to work on it through grad school, continued to write it and rewrite it… I gave it to Peter Reynolds, the director of Maukingbird [Theater Company] and he called me one day and was like, “Do you want to do this?”

Q: What is the future for this piece?

A: No clue. The tricky thing is that my primary mode of work is regional theater so my life doesn’t always belong to me. I would love to see it have a future outside of me, just as a piece of dramatic writing. It was never something that I was writing with my particular strengths as an actor in mind and I found that out when I was doing it. So, it’s something that I want people to feel like they can do. This is a life and a story that I feel like is important, that has become a bit obscured. There’s not a lot a lot of people talking about or looking at Baldwin as much as I would like.

Q: I was reading an article about Billy Porter, who is playing Belize in the revival of Angels in America Off-Broadway. He said that Belize is the only character that has ever spoken to him as a gay person of color. This year you played Belize and James Baldwin, two prominent representations of gay men of color. What do you feel like is your part in representation on stage, as a gay person of color and do you feel like there are opportunities there?

A: There’s totally an opportunity. It’s a tricky thing because in my writing I never approach anything with the mindset of “I have to do a certain thing because I am a certain thing.” No matter what play you read that I write, it’s clear that it comes from me as a black person. No what play you read that I write, there’s something in it that is clear that I’m gay. I don’t have an agenda. But it is who I am, and it comes through in the work. I do wish there was more that spoke to the black gay experience in theater. There’s very little. There’s Terrell Alvin McRaney [author of the Brother/Sister Plays and Run, Mourner, Run]—he’s really looking at that stuff in his writing… I think what was awesome about playing Belize was that I got to infuse him with a nobility that I don’t know is totally in the text. You could play him just for the snaps, if you will. But he’s the conscience of that play. He is the most together person in that world. He has his journey in Perestroika, but it’s not a journey that’s about figuring out who he is; his is journey that’s about righteousness and justice. So, yeah, I do feel like there’s a responsibility that I have and that I should continue to work toward really letting myself show in my work and not writing for a particular audience.

Q: Do you feel there’s a sort of tug between that ambition and writing to be commercially viable?

A: I’m very much the artist and very much the purist, but make no mistake: I am ambitious and I’m a businessperson. I totally write things where I’m like, “This will never see the light of day.” But, I also make sure to write plays that don’t have 19 characters and I make sure that I write plays that are relatively accessible. I do look at what people, perhaps, would be comfortable with. But I also try to open up a discourse about that, as opposed to just giving people the same thing. I do think about that and I think it would behoove any artist who wants to make a living at this to think about that.

Q: Speaking of discourse, what sort of reaction did you get to The Threshing Floor? Was it what you expected?

A: It was overwhelming—more than I’d expected. I felt like it would be something that would interest a segment of the community but I didn’t expect it to do as well as it did. Not because of its craftsmanship, but because of people’s interest. It did extremely well. It did a lot for me in terms of allowing people to see a versatility that I don’t necessarily get to show. It was great in that respect.

Q: Right now you’re appearing in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the People’s Light Theater. What’s next for you?

A: I am doing Around the World in 80 Days at Delaware Theater Company. It’s going to be fun. Then my spring is pretty wide open, which I’m sort of looking forward to. This past year has been pretty jam-packed, so this spring I’m looking into some fellowships and some training stuff. I might even go on vacation. It’s high time. Then again, I auditioned Tuesday for a play that would go right into the spring. So, you never know. You never know.

R. Eric Thomas is a playwright, storyteller and essayist. He is the author of the plays “Lost Boy”, “The Spectator” (Run of the Mill Theater Company, 2005), and “The Affair” (LateNite Theater, 2001). He frequently participates in First Person Arts Story Slams and recently won Best Presentation at the Summer Grand Slam. He is currently working on a collection of non-fiction entitled “Enormously Awkward: (Mostly) True Stories + Things That Are Better Left Unsaid” and workshopping a new play.