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Bishop Kwabena Rainey Cheeks

January 2006

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Bishop Kwabena Rainey Cheeks 

About Bishop Kwabena Rainey Cheeks

Table of Contents

Personal Bio

Tell us a little about your life.

I have lived my whole life in Washington, D.C. My partner died three years ago next month. I have no biological children, though I do have a godson whom I've helped raise since birth.

I have an eclectic community, which I love. It is males and females, predominately African American, but I have Latino, white and Asian friends. We always talk about creating heaven on earth, and we do it. I'm not waiting to die to go to heaven. I don't wait for your birthday to let you know I love you. I will give you something just because. I'm really interested in my friends, and I let them know that. We do not operate out of fear or jealousy. We're able to be excited for each other if we accomplish something, like buying a car or a house.

I am a bishop of the Inner Light Ministries, which celebrates at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. I preach what we call "the radical inclusiveness of Jesus Christ" -- seeing Jesus as a radical person who did not differentiate or segregate, who had women and children around him, who touched everyone, from the haves to the have-nots.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

It's interesting that I ended up in ministry, because that was not on the plate when I was young. In my early years, I wanted to be a sports player, like many kids. I soon discovered, as good as I thought I was, I wasn't going to make pro basketball. So I became a professional watcher. I also studied tae kwon do from the age of 14. I was rated in the top ten in the country in the '70s. So my goal was to become an instructor. I was on the first U.S. team that went to Korea for the world championships and was a silver medalist. Somewhere in the middle of my training, I started practicing yoga, and studying theosophy and spiritual science, which led me into ministry. I was ordained in 1982.

What kind of work have you done?


First, I was a steam fitter -- air-conditioning and heating work. I did construction -- I was in the union, Local 602. Then I went back to school. I studied business and psychology. From there, I managed a club here in the District [of Columbia] called the Club House. It was a large dance club that held about 1,200, but we had no alcohol. The police raided us and never found anything. This policeman looked at me and said, "You've got to be doing something illegal for people to come line up outside like this when you don't have any alcohol." I said, "We're dancing away the frustration of people like you who mess with us all week long." I formed Us Helping Us in 1985, when AIDS was beginning to hit. I have been in ministry and HIV advocacy ever since.

What kind of work did your parents do?

My parents separated when I was very young. My mother worked in the District government, doing mostly office work. My father worked for Amtrak, either as a porter or a cleaner.

Who have been the most influential people in your life?

My mother and grandmother, my martial arts teacher, Master Kim, and my yoga teacher, Harihari Harnande, from India. A couple of schoolteachers really inspired me too. I read Gandhi and Dr. King a lot -- what inspired them to continue.

What do you do in your spare time?

Sleep! No ... I play African drums. It's a way of letting go of everything. I'm actually learning to quilt! I'm making a pattern of my own. I was inspired when I went to a quilt exhibition and then saw this special about the quilting bees, women who have been quilting since they were children, down in North Carolina. I also love different types of music -- jazz, classical. One of my favorite groups is Sweet Honey In the Rock, an a cappella female group.

HIV Diagnosis

How did you find out you were HIV positive?

I got tested in 1985 because my partner was having complications, and I was having night sweats, and I knew the signs.

What were your feelings when you were first diagnosed?

Back in the '80s, you were told you had three to five years to live. It was overwhelming, but something in me knew I could beat it.

What advice would you offer someone who has just tested positive?

First, look around and see that people are living well with HIV. Then take your time to educate yourself about the virus, your health, and treatment options -- separate the facts from your fears. Definitely get a basic understanding of what your viral load and T-count are.

I know someone who was ready to go on meds and his CD4 counts were 900, which is as high as a healthy uninfected person's. I said, "What are you going on meds for?" He said his doctor wanted him to, and he agreed out of fear and ignorance. I said, "You need to find someone who specializes in HIV." He asked me to go tell that to his doctor, and I said, "Sure."

The best thing is to talk to other people who have HIV, and find a doctor who is an HIV specialist. And take care of yourself.

What conditions in your life put you at risk for getting infected with HIV?

Back in the early '80s, no one knew what was going on. It was the beginning of the pandemic. We just knew that people were getting sick, usually with pneumonia or Kaposi's sarcoma cancer (KS). At first, people thought it was a gay white man's disease. If you were African American, you didn't pay much attention. But people I knew said, "Listen, if it's a virus, then it doesn't care which race or gender you are."

As for how I got infected -- well, I always hesitate on that, for this reason: People put it in a good or bad category. If I got it by an accidental needle prick, that's good. If I got it through injecting drugs, that's not so good. But I say there is no good or bad category. I got infected through sex. Most of my friends, even back then, said, "But you didn't do anything wrong!" You only need that one time of making contact with HIV to get infected.

How has HIV changed you?

I've always lived pretty boldly, with a strong and positive outlook. For me, HIV makes me make every day count. But HIV, like any fatal illness, makes you stop and evaluate where you are, what you have accomplished, what you still need to do.

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This article was provided by TheBody.

See Also
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