Buffie Realene Gibson passed away January 23, 2000 from complications due to AIDS. She was 30 years old. For the past 2 years, I had the privilege of her friendship, her support, her Love, her Smile. She was my Princess. I ask for your prayers. She is at Peace now.
-- Jay Alan Ransom
Rich Starr died on May 8, 2000. He died unexpectedly. The fact that he is no longer walking this earth in the Birkenstocks he wore every day has bruised the hearts of hundreds of us who were touched by his presence.
I loved -- no let me change this, I love -- Rich Starr. I watched his big fat heart, and wonderful ability to just be there and listen to clients who were struggling emotionally with having AIDS. Rich was a volunteer at LA Shanti. He received the first Volunteer of the Year award way back in 1990. Then I watched how he worked as the PLUS program assistant and volunteer coordinator at Shanti (Rich did everything else in that job -- except type and file and do all the organizational things I hoped he would do). I watched him as he trained those who wished to be of service in HIV/AIDS with a gentle firmness, being at once outspoken and accepting. How he was so present to hundreds, I mean hundreds of clients, not only at Shanti but also at AIDS Healthcare Foundation where he worked as a case manager, and at the Weingart Center where he worked in the HIV services department. I watched him facilitate groups and do volunteer work at APLA, and I watched him help start up the PLUS Seminar in San Francisco.
That's what he did publicly. Here are some things many don't know about Rich Starr. When someone was dying, Rich was there. Holding hands, being present, and connecting with family and friends. When I had my own life-threatening circumstances, I knew I wanted Rich to be there in case something bad was going to happen. I don't know anyone who I'd rather have waving goodbye to me. He was there. He was there for hundreds, as they exited, with love.
Looking at Rich, you could imagine an extra from a Mad Max film (complete with rings hanging from everywhere -- and I mean everywhere -- and orange hair, and a gnarly stare) -- savvy, present, filled with humor, character, and most of all heart. Buddha in Rich, Rich in Buddha.
Personally, Rich was one of my best friends. We were probably married in another life. Few people know about the snarl in me because I only let those whom I trust see the wolverine inside. But Rich and I danced as fellow wolverines. Snarling at each other, always loving each other. He made the toast at my wedding, he helped organize the healing circle that was made for me when I was about to go in for major surgery. And he called me every day, I mean every day, when I was diagnosed with cancer. With words like "wishing you lavender mornings filled with soft golden light, and be-u-tiful (high pitch in the "u" of beautiful!) afternoons surrounded by gossamer green!" Now, you have to know that Rich was saying this because he was sending me a loving message, but he was also making fun of my new age woo-woo approach to things. So, I could have hugged and killed him all at once.
No one was like Rich Starr. When he and I worked together at the PLUS Seminar, I would introduce him and say, "And this is Rich Starr -- you remember this name -- just think of the opposite of Poor Moon." And Rich would wave in the background, snarling and smiling all at once.
The night after he died, I went out to the half-moonlit garden in our front yard. There was a lump in my throat as I looked up and cried, "poor poor moon, there is no more Rich Starr on earth." And then I began to cry, and I realized that I am the poor moon, sad to lose such a beautiful star. You will not be forgotten, we love you so, Rich Starr.
This column was written by Barbara Crawford.
There are two kinds of public figures in terms of abstract groupings of them. There are idols and there are heroes. And they serve two different functions. An idol is something that really exists beyond the people. It does their living for them. It teaches people what they cannot be. For example, Kurt Cobain. There are millions of teenagers who idolize him because they know that they can never be him. And in a sense idols negate the lives of the people who worship them.
The other kind is heroes. And a hero teaches people what they can be. A hero is a tangible and available model. A hero doesn't exist as something that's impossible to reach, but really exists as the embodiment of what everyone else can be.
Kiyoshi is a real hero in every sense. He showed us what we could be; by his actions, by the way he lived his life . . . by not only what he said but by what he did.
Kiyoshi had a rare and clear comprehension from birth (as a political prisoner in a U.S. Japanese concentration camp) that we live in a society that is driven by fear, and that fear makes people blind, and that a society that is blind to itself is blind to the world. And the overlying factor that transcends all movements for social justice is that we live in a society that is not only full of fear and not only blind, but synonymous with death itself.
A basic human principle continues to be violated on a world wide level. And that is that people's lives are not their own. That our lives are somehow the property of "the state" and governed by laws not necessarily of our own choosing. But Kiyoshi taught us that beyond all other things, the life of a person belongs to that person and that beyond all else, we have an indigenous right to live and to exercise life and to assert our rights and take control of decisions that affect our lives. That is our birthright on this planet. And political oppressors continue to try to take that away from us. But Kiyoshi was a living example that they cannot, if we don't let them.
If there's one thing that I think Kiyoshi would want us to say it's this very simple message: "There is no direction to go except forward, there's no place to run, there's no place to hide and there's only one way that you and I will see the things that we want to see happen, and that is to build them. And that may be a longer and more painful process than any of us thought. And it may be a lifelong process in which any number of people may have to expend any amount of energy and it may be a process in which you and I will have to endure things that don't seem to us to be pleasant. But it must be done for a very simple reason, and that reason is that life is sacred."
For me Kiyoshi will be ever-present. It takes more than AIDS to kill an Activist. From Philadelphia to California and beyond, in every picket line, demonstration and rebellion, where disadvantaged people defend their rights, it's there we'll find Kiyoshi; as big as life, smiling with his eyes and standing right beside us. He will live forever in our hearts and with us in our struggles.
Please give generously to the political change agent of your choice.
Dead from AIDS · May 10, 2000