An Epic Return to the Crystal Ball (Sat, June 4, Philly) FREE

4 06 2011

The community is buzzing about the return of the Crystal Ball–an effort by the COLOURS Organization to creatively incorporate HIV prevention messages within a free ball. The first Crystal Ball took place in 1997. Tonight’s return is historic.

Check out this great coverage by the Philadelphia Gay News.


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.

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.”

Obituary of Harry W. Boston (1934-2010), One of the Last West Setters

6 10 2010

Harry W. Boston

Harry W. Boston (photo from

Harry W. Boston was an original member of The West Set. The West Set was founded in 1957, and provided opportunities for brotherhood, socializing, travel and volunteerism.  He was an ally and friend to many of Philadelphia’s diverse communities.

Click here to learn more about The West Set.

Harry W. Boston, teacher, ‘super role model’ dies at 85

HARRY W. BOSTON, a teacher in Philadelphia public schools for more than 30 years, an Air Force veteran of World War II and a devoted churchman whose lusty voice was raised in praise at Miller Memorial Baptist Church for more than 70 years, died Thursday.

He would have been 86 tomorrow. He lived in Mount Airy.

Harry taught at Kenderton Elementary, Lingelbach Elementary, the Eleanor C. Emlen School and Benjamin Franklin High School.

Even after he retired in 1984, he continued as an educator, teaching for four more years at the Sanctuary Christian Academy, founded by Bishop Audrey Bronson.

Harry was born in Philadelphia one of the five children of Arie and Bertha Boston. He graduated from Central High School and enlisted in the Air Force in 1943.

He served in the 477th Bomber Wing, 616th Bomber Squadron, the famed Tuskegee Airmen, at Tuskegee, Ala.

He was a company clerk and served under the legendary Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the first black general in the Air Force and commander of the Tuskegee Airmen.

After his discharge, Harry attended Howard University and later transferred to La Salle, graduating in 1951.

He was baptized in 1934 at Miller Memorial Baptist Church. He sang on the Fellowship Choir directed by Sister Irma B. Brown Coleman, and had many solo performances.

He took special pleasure in singing “When Jesus Comes” at Good Friday services:

The time is nearing when we’ll be hearing

That trumpet blow when Jesus comes.

In January 1995, the Rev. Wilkins O. Jones Sr. organized the Chancel Choir, of which Harry was a member until his health failed.

He also was a member of the church trustee board and held the office of financial secretary for many years. He was a member of the scholarship committee, and was instrumental in organizing the church’s first summer camp.

Harry loved taking cruises to the Caribbean, where he visited just about every island open to tourists. He also enjoyed local theater, jazz and gospel concerts.

“He was a friend, mentor, counselor, super role model and supporter of young people,” his family said.

Although he never married, Harry was devoted to his many nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.

Services: 11 a.m. Friday at Miller Memorial Baptist Church 1518 N. 22nd St. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Mount Lawn Cemetery, Sharon Hill.

Click here for the original article published on (10/6/10).

Phila Celebrates its Pride with Flag Raising Ceremony above City Hall

6 10 2010

The month of October has been dedicated to LGBT history, and the city of Philadelphia is ready to celebrate. Mayor Michael Nutter is hosting the first Rainbow Flag Raising Ceremony at City Hall. The ceremony will include remarks from Mayor Nutter and other community leaders, and performances from the Philadelphia Freedom Band, Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus and Philadelphia Voices of Pride.

Come out and celebrate. The Flag Raising is TODAY, Wednesday, October 6, 2010, at 1:30pm. It will take place at City Hall. Look for the gays and our allies in the northeast corner!

Two Great Local Archival Finds: Mox Nix, and Convo with Original West Setter

3 09 2010

This week, I had the most fortunate opportunity to interact with two men in Philadelphia. Each provided great details about Philadelphia’s early Black LGBT community.

Community members preparing to leave for Mox Nix's annual Halloween Party

Gary Q. Hines, host of The Catacombs online radio show, first told me about the first collector and his collection of five photo albums depicting notable Philadelphia socialites and images from the Mox Nix organization. Mox Nix provided a social outlet geared towards Black men and women of Philadelphia’s LGBT community. There are a lot of people in the photographs who we were unable to identify (sounds like its time to organize an “Archive Viewing Social”).

He tells me that when he was growing up, the original owner of the albums would tell him stories and experiences about the community. After the owner of the albums died, this collector went to his home to collect these important relics from the trash. Without judgment, the family of the owner possibly did not understand the significance.

This collector also has early photographs and books that first depicted black gay-oriented porn in 1970s. He even has an almost complete collection of Black Inches, and other magazines geared to Black LGBT communities throughout the US: Kick, Clique, SBC, as well as others). I actually held a Sierra Domino photo of the 1970s, as well as correspondences from the photographer and this collector. He also collects baseball cards.

The second great find of the week included a telephone conversation with one of two living members of The West Set. While going through the personal collections of Tyrone Smith, I noticed that one of the West Set members served on the Board of Directors of an early HIV/AIDS service organization in Philadelphia. Smith confirmed that this member was still living, and within two hours arranged a phone call. Gerald J. Lewis confirmed important information about the composition of the group, and the origins of the group’s name. He told me that he first got involved at Lincoln University, and that that is where the connections were first made.

In a few weeks, I will post an interview with Lewis, as he’s agreed to sit down and talk and share other items that he has featuring members of the West Set. I hope to also share more of the collection from the first collector. I AM EXCITED.

If you haven’t, please check out the online exhibit of The West Set posted on this blog; and if you’ve viewed if previously, new information and photos have been added.

I believe that history is a connection/collection of stories from those in a network. The more I do this work, I am thrilled to see networks of stories crossing and intersecting. In this way, we are all connected. I thank Gary Q. Hines and Tyrone Smith for adding these important contributions to our history.

The Archivists Society encourages your participation and sharing.

Online Exhibit – History of The West Set: The Gentlemen’s Social Club of West Philadelphia (founded 1957)

21 08 2010

The Black LGBT Archivists Society has installed its first online exhibition, The West Set: The Gentlemen’s Social Club of West Philadelphia. The West Set was founded in 1957 as a social club for men. The name reflects the residence of many of the clubs’ member–West Philadelphia. As a fraternal club, they traveled the world, held social gatherings and contributed to social causes. Each year, they held the Miss West Set Competition. PHILADANCO Founder Joan Myers Brown held the title from 1972 to 1973. The Archivists Society is honored to present this history.

Online Exhibit: The West Set.