Since Charles' passing, I have dreaded sitting down to write this column. It is, after all, a work in progress ... under his direction. I think often about the last conversation that I had with him and, truth be told, my whole life is a work in progress ... under his direction. In that conversation, he made it clear that I was to put school first and TPAN second ("This will be here ... school is most important for you right now"). He shared his vision of expanding the agency with me and we were beginning to lay the groundwork for the role that I would play in that expansion. He had brought me back a T-shirt from the International Conference on AIDS that simply read "Silabha." I had asked him what "Silabha" meant but he didn't have time to share with me at that moment so with that loving smile that I will miss so much he simply stated, "I'll get back to you." The smile that he gave me let me know that he had something up his sleeve.
I knew that there had to be something significant about "Silabha" and that there was a reason why he had chosen that shirt for me. I looked forward to him sharing that reason with me and the inspiration that I knew would follow. Charles was just that kind of man ... inspiring in everything that he did. About a week after his passing as I fumbled through my closet for something to wear to work, I came across that shirt. As I stared at the single blood red word traced in gold, printed across the front of an all black T-shirt I began to weep uncontrollably. I cried until I no longer needed to iron the shirt because of wrinkles, but to dry it from the soaking that my tears had given it. My eyes became so clouded that the words on the shirt looked as if they had begun to bleed. Although Charles's passing was not a bloody one, it was certainly violent. Another of our great African-American leaders lost. I cried for Charles. I cried for Malcolm. I cried for Marvin. I cried for Tupac. I cried for Martin. I cried for my grandfather whom I watched being slowly eaten away by lung and prostate cancer. I just cried, hysterically. When I had cried until I could not cry anymore I put on my shirt and headed into cyberspace, searching for "Silabha" and ultimately, Charles. As I began my Google search, an overwhelming sense of comfort came over me and I suddenly got the strangest feeling that I was not alone. When I located the definition of "Silabha" I knew without a doubt that I wasn't. There was Charles. There was Malcolm. There was Marvin. There was Granddaddy. There was Tupac ... and there too was Martin.
"Silabha" is the Thai word for all things to do with art and culture. Culture is at the heart of everything that we do -- it shapes our ideas, behavior, expression, and perception of the world around us. The "Silabha" Art and Culture Program, presented at the XV International AIDS Conference brought together a range of extraordinary artistic and cultural events and people from all over the world to share and express ideas and experiences relating to HIV/AIDS in creative ways -- bringing the issues which affect all of us out into the open and helping to build greater understanding. The violent deaths of all of those wonderful leaders before us can all be traced to our lack of "greater understanding" and not just as it relates to HIV/AIDS. As a people, whether black, white, brown, gay, straight, lesbian, transgendered ... whatever, we lack an understanding of true love and acceptance for one another. This program suggests that through "Silabha" there can be a cure. Maybe not a literal cure for AIDS, but a cure for all that ails us as a human race. Perhaps through art and culture we as a people can get a clearer picture of the extremely diverse lives that we each lead individually and gain the understanding that there is no real division among us. We are all human with basic human needs and desires. We all need compassion. We all need security. We all need love. I believe that when we all gain an understanding of the fact that these elements are just as relevant to our universe as earth, wind or fire, then a cure for AIDS will surface. Fathers won't kill their sons ... or vice versa. There won't be a real need for leaders ... let alone their assassins. There would be a "Marvin Gaye featuring Tupac Shakur" hit! Our brothers would not be gunned down in the streets. I would be able to sit in my Granddaddy's lap and listen contently to our family history. And Charles would still be here to continue to direct this work in progress. But you are reading this ... so maybe he is.
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