None of that. When I went to school, in the dinosaur age, that was pre-everything. You know? Because I'm a civil rights baby. I'm the first generation. I'm a baby boomer, a civil rights baby, a NOW woman's baby, a fight-the-Vietnam-War baby. Coming from Washington, D.C., it's all political. So, every one of the struggles, my parents were at, and they were advocates, and they took me too. And they taught me. You know, the Martin Luther King Day bill; the march on Washington for gay rights; the AIDS Quilt. You name it. ACT UP! ACT UP! Fight AIDS! You know, all of that, just, advocacy.
HIV is a social justice issue. We were doing the advocacy to, first of all, make AIDS known; and then the advocacy around black gay men. Because black gay men -- you know, people wanted us to be invisible. But black gay men had a voice, and we started our organizations. It was black gay men I was burying. When we say, "bury your dead," it was black gay men.
It was not, in the beginnings of it, in New York City that I first heard of AIDS. I first heard of it in D.C., and it was black gay men in D.C. So it was in my community. AIDS was present. My community wanted to do "silence" -- but "Silence Equals Death." And we were like, no, we have to talk about it. We are ostracized. We're oppressed. They say it don't exist in our community. We say yes, it does. Because I have no friends. You've got sons and daughters.
We went to funerals. Pastors wouldn't talk about it. There was nothing said about what they died of. Rare blood disease? No. AIDS. And that was the going time, in the '70s, '80s.
And until Rock Hudson and Magic Johnson came out, the white man and the black man, in the '80s and early '90s. Then, all of a sudden, President Reagan's like, "OK, I'll go to the event and address them." Years into the epidemic. No wonder why they were booing him. Because you didn't do nothing! The federal government did nothing.
So, with that, and forcing them to do that: It became actually my career, what I wanted to be, and do. I had to make a decision. Yes, I wanted to be on Broadway. I didn't go to Columbia University and get a master's in theater management with the intention of working in AIDS, to have my first job be at the Minority Task Force on AIDS in Harlem, and then to go to People of Color in Crisis in Brooklyn.
I wanted to be not the performer, but the manager of the show. That's what I studied to be: the producer. And we even had our theater company, the Rainbow Repertory Theatre, founded and directed by Reginald T. Jackson. We did over 80 LGBT shows in a 12th-floor loft theater space. I served as the managing director and handled all the business matters of the theater. So I was working in it.
At the same time, I had two passions -- I had three passions, actually, going on at the same time: I had the theater; I had AIDS service; and I had church. You know? I had church. Which ended up with me becoming a minister, with me becoming a pastor, and trying to bridge all of them together.
What happened was that, because of the AIDS crisis, you had to be creative. So, as an outreach worker, you had to get creative with creating stuff. You had to get creative with storytelling. You had to get creative with role-playing. You had to get creative with performances. And so I was able to develop my one-man show, called The 26 Project. The reason it's The 26 Project is because my lover died on the 26th. He died on March 26. My lover's name was David Dawud Edwards. My best friend was Rory Buchanan, and he died on Nov. 26. And then my good girlfriend was Craig G. Harris, and he died on Nov. 26. So it became The 26 Project.
It was a one-man show talking about my experiences with AIDS, living with HIV, and doing that. And what I did with it was take it to different places and raise money, and give it to the AIDS organizations. The proceeds covered the expenses of the show, what it cost, and maybe gave me a meal and a bus ticket back, you know, but most of the money went to the organizations.
What year was this that you were doing your one-man show?
It started with Rainbow. We were over there on 26th Street. Oooh, we had a lot of theater. Oh, my God. So, I guess that ... I graduated in '86, so we did the theater sometime in the early '90s. Yeah.
I acted in the show. I acted and my partner, co-partner, business partner, was the director. And we did it. He directed me. I wrote the show. I acted the show. He produced and directed. And so we were able to do that.
I'm going to revise the show. But this time, when I do it, I'm going to produce it and I'm going to have another actor do it. Because I'm just feeling like, oh, that's just too much energy.
I got to come to terms with my HIV through my arts, through my faith in the church, and through my service work in AIDS service organizations, up in Harlem and Brooklyn. And so now, I work with HIV, mental health, and drug and alcohol in Philadelphia. Because I pastor a church in Philadelphia.
Which church in Philly?
Unity Fellowship of Christ Church, Philadelphia.
How long have you been a pastor?
That's a good question. Well, I've had 16 years in ministry. I was the senior pastor at the Brooklyn church. Oh, I did have these numbers: four years of ministry, about 12 years of pastoring -- first in Brooklyn, and then in Philadelphia. I was a senior pastor and was mentored by the Bishop Zachary G. Jones, the Senior Bishop of the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, in Brooklyn; and then I left to open my own church, which is the idea. If you sit as a bishop, you don't sit there forever. Your idea is to be training to go out and pastor. That's what a bishop's supposed to do: Send him out!
How do your ministry, and your being a pastor, connect to your HIV work now?
It connects very well. We have Poz Light, which is our HIV/AIDS ministry in the church. And so we've been able to bring that. My church in Philadelphia is 6 years old; so for the last six years we've been able to run our groups. And now we have a poz radio broadcast. We don't do the support groups anymore, because they just started to die out. So now people connect through the music. Carlos Carter, who is the chair of that ministry, is also a DJ and just great. Great poz house radio music. He keeps the house music of the '80s and the '90s alive -- the house music of the Garage, and Studio 54, and the fabulous clubs of Europe. We keep that alive through a weekly radio webcast. I think it's been about three years -- so he, every week, produces.
It sounds like you're completely out about your HIV status at your church, and to your whole congregation.
Yeah, I'm out; positive at church; positive at work. Everybody, to be in my program at work, has to be HIV positive. I'm a recovery counselor, like I said, for mental health, HIV and drug and alcohol issues, and my program is Community Living Room with COMHAR (Community Organization for Mental Health and Rehabilitation). To be in the Community Living Room, which is a psychiatric rehabilitation program that deals with recovery, you have to be HIV positive.
The thing about it is, these are the other issues that come with HIV -- around drugs, but it's not just that. It's primary support. Who is your support? Which is, basically, your family and your friends. It's community support. What organizations are you tied into? Do you have an HIV doctor or practitioner? If you need help, do you have a psychiatrist? Do you have a therapist? If you need a faith base, do you have a pastor (if Christian), a rabbi (if Jewish), an imam (if Muslim)? Or even if you belong to a tribal faith, if you're Buddhist, whatever your practice, whatever you do, it's OK. So that's your community support.
And then, you know, we're living longer. So there's illness management and recovery. Recovery is not just drug and alcohol. We all in life recover from trauma that we experience in life. Even the birth process is trauma. It begins with trauma, coming through that birth canal and getting slapped on your back, and crying. You cry; that's trauma. It's trauma for the woman who delivers the baby; it's trauma for the baby coming through. It starts with trauma.