On May 21, I did something I hadn't done in a long time: I went to a memorial service. It had been a while for me. Funerals seem rare in the age of protease. Even so, I attended a memorial service for a remarkable man. Kiyoshi Kuromiya had died two weeks before from AIDS-related complications. I sat in a charming church in Philadelphia with folks from all over the country to honor a truly great AIDS activist -- although to limit Kiyoshi's achievements to AIDS is to do him a profound disservice. Friends, colleagues, and family members spoke in honor of his memory. Kiyoshi would have been embarrassed by all the attention.
To quote the e-mailed obituary I received, "Kiyoshi devoted his life to the struggle for social justice. He was a committed civil rights and anti-war activist. He was also one of the founders of Gay Liberation Front-Philadelphia and served as an openly gay delegate to the Black Panther Convention that endorsed the gay liberation struggle."
Born in a Japanese internment camp in Nevada; founder of the Critical Path Project, which brought the theories of the visionary Buckminster Fuller to the AIDS struggle; providing free Internet access to countless people in Philly; advocate for medical marijuana -- the list of Kiyoshi's experiences and accomplishments goes on and on. Even his name, Kiyoshi, means "to make clear," something he spent his life doing, whether it was making people understand the effects of racism or helping HIV-positive people and people living with AIDS understand AIDS treatments.
Many believe the age of heroes is over, that we don't live in the time of great men and women. I disagree. Sometimes we are lucky enough to meet one of those special people whose lives and efforts have such an impact on us all. Kiyoshi Kuromiya was one of those people.
In the program passed out at the service was a translation of the Heart Sutra, the shortest of the ancient Buddhist scriptures. It's often recited with the sincere intent that all creatures become enlightened beings. It was read during the service. Translated, it says: "Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond: All hail the Awakened One!"
Robert Vázquez-Pacheco is director of education and organizing at the Audre Lorde Project, Inc., Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit and Transgender People of Color Communities and a frequent contributor to Body Positive_._
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