Tuesday, May 30, 2006

AIDS 25: Lives lost and lessons learned

It's almost surreal for me as I realize that AIDS turns 25 this year and that I've been apart of it's lifeline from the beginning. What's most disturbing is the fact that I probably won't live to see a cure or vaccine of this life changing disease that has touch people around the globe. In the early days, there was so much confusion and misinformation about exactly what was know then as an un-named disease that was affecting men primarily on the coast. The interior of the US seemed unaffected and unconcerned about what we would later find out about how this infection would cross all paths of our daily lives. As I read as much material as I could find and understand, It seemed that this modern day plague couldn't be defined and doctors were baffled as to treatment. All around me opinions abound and the terror of this crisis was mounting with each passing month. We seemed paralyzed as to what to do as we partied on and watched the horrifying death numbers rise. Nationwide organizations began to form and speak out about how our medical community was being overwhelmed and how ineffective our government, most notably lead by Ronald Reagan was playing politics, as people continued to die. Finally, the disease not only had claimed victims, it had a name,AIDS. For me, the swiftness and agony of it's effects was demostrated as I watched a friend, Mark slowly disappear and ultimately die. At his funeral I was stoic and attempted to understand why his life was cut so short. There were so many unanswered questions, too many blanks that were not filled in and so much left unsaid. To my dismay, this first death had not sufficiently prepared me for the many funerals to come, especially, my best friend Will, who I sat bedside with on his last full day of life. I remember vividly my outrage and frustration about these lost lives as well as the subsequent fallout that reverberates throughout. My world, my community and long time friendships were simply vanishing from the earth and for the first time in my life I felt helpless. Locally I participated in various organizations, fundraisers and attended meetings, with the hopes that I could affect change. Unfortunatley, the results were marginal then and now. Thusly here we are 25 years later with effective, but expensive drug cocktails to help individuals to live longer. Researchers are aggressively pursuing a vaccine and potential cure. Groups are still having fundraisers and the debates over government funding, intrevention preceptions and faith based methods often cloud the basic issue. Neverthless, we still have new cases of HIV still occuring in sectors of society accross the world. The recent May 2 part PBS special about the subject is a comforting signal that we will not be allowed to forget this journey. A sojourn in the age of AIDS that has deeply affected my life through the lives lost and lessons learned.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Cornelius' Divinci Code

It seems that the whole world has some vested interest in dicphering exactly what the code is in the Divinci Code. Even though the Dan Brown novel didn't make it to my bedside. I found myself immersed in the flurry of theroies about secret socieites, mysterious leaders and assorted characters that would have significant influences upon my own life as I started exploring and discovering my own Divinci Code. My allegiance to a not so secret society began many years ago as I was introduced to the "sinner's bench" and the doctrine of the New Light Baptist church. Every Sunday and Wednesday night or almost every time the doors were open, there I was being verbally whipped with the firey heat of the gospel, later to be submerged in the waters of salvation that I did'nt quite understand. Daily the scrolls were quoted and used to evaluate my destiny inconjuction to whether I would achieve not being left behind during the rapture. Inside my brain, I grappled with so many issues about who I was and exactly who were these people telling me to be. My journey led me to seek charts, graphs, dusty books and a host of documents to help me reconcile my inner feelings juxtaposed to that of the order. According to the Sisters of the pews there would be signs, blessed whispers and comfort in the holy artifacts that would usher me through the valley of death to the pinnacle of the light. Ultimately revealing to me the answer to the code and a shrouded cover-up that would clarify everything.... Art imitating life or Life initating art is a paradigm that we all continue to observe and dissect. Each and every day our hurried lives cause us to somehow to disconnect and tune out from each other. Brown's Divinci has ignited controversy, lawsuits,pronouncements and outrage. However, the good thing is that it has cause some of us to reconnect and engage in actual conversations again. I resoluted that my scavenger hunt with the church, even though tormenting in places, has had overall positive aspects. Finally, I've determined that the real answer to the code lies in my embracing the God in me, as well as, my personal relationship with him is all that really matters.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The United States of Understanding

The familiar Reganism of "it's morning in America..." has again become the backdrop from which many in this nation still grappled with some of the same ageless societal issues that we thought someone had addressed all those years ago. The first few months of 2006 has reminded us that those issues of days ago are still with us and more so. The culture wars that can be plainly defined in this country have reached a boiling point with such flashpoints as illigal immigrantion, border and port security, entitlements, earmarks, gay marriage and yes, even racism has creeped back into the consciouness of our daily lives. As I compose this piece I can't help but reflect on the life I've lived thus far and try to assess if any progress has been made and what lies ahead for the future. I was extremely reminded of this when I was picked up a copy of the Pink Spectrum, a local alternative magazine, exclusively devoted to covering the entertainment outlets in the central Arkansas area. The cover story was promoting entertainer Shirley Q. Liquor at Jester's, an alternative bar in Hot Springs. The character portrayed by comic actor/ drag queen Charles Knipp, can be described as a "Obese Black Women of questionable literacy who has birthed 19 children and has a dimwitted view of the world." Mr. Knipp, a former preist and Quaker minister who purports to belive that his comedy takeoff is a bow to legendary lesbian comic Mom's Mabley. Plus he affirms that his legions of fans, including "SuperModel of the World", Rupaul, that this type of humor is not a throwback to the ministral shows of yesteryear, but rather is his version of edgey comedy and social commentary that we shouldn't get upset about. Adorning a pink wig, oversize wardrobe and tragic dark cosmetics covering his obvious white face, Knipp devolves into his "stepin and fetchit" peresonna thusly bringing Shirley to life. He has been touring basically gay bars and other venues for a few years and has an acerbic website with other methods of his madness. Throughout his career Mr. Knipp has seemingly engaged mostly white audiences with the "Eubonics of Ignunce" from a character who espouses philosophy ticks that range from the ridiculous to the offensive, all in the vein of attempting to get laughs. Knipp staunchly defends his characters bold statements as "race relations 101," due to the fact that Shirley is actually poking fun at White people and their missed cues about other black people, especially since he grew up around blacks for which he grew an affinity and in his words, respected. To be fair I had not seen SQL live, but I did view some video clips of his musings, website and show footage,and personally I was not amused. Of course as a fellow creative being, I respect the creative process and realize that often edgey comedy, i.e. South Park, Mad TV,the White Chicks movie featuring the Wayans brothers and Def Comedy Jam all provide avenues to express humor that appeals to certain audiences. I embrace the First Amendment rights of expression and will be the first to defend it, yet I do resevere the right to cite an act as in "Bad Taste", even though I have no objections to his performance rights. Futhermore, gay media as well as culture has had a variety of issues with it's characterization of People of Color and it's ability to deal with racism. For your information, Two San Francisco Bars were cited by the city and sued over racial profiling and discrimination in 2005! On the homefront, I also ponder the mindset of the local bar owner who would promote this type of comedy despite it's "toxically politically incorrect," approach to comedy as reviewed by the Atlanta Journal- Constitution when Shirley Q. Liquor was dropped from a local Georgia fundraiser. Did the Owners of Jester's realize that this show has been canceled in New York and Boston due to obejctions from local organizations whom objected to this type of humor. Are the Owners seriously suggesting that the community of Hot Springs would openly embrace entertainment such as this without question or is this an attempt to "shock and awe" an audience into attendance? I shutter to think so. Finally, no one enjoys a bit of bawdy comedy more than myself, however, I can't endorse or remotely support this type of gutter humor that panders to the obsurd and masquerades itself as plausible social commentary. I suggest that patrons of Jester's inquire to the owners as to there motivation for this action and react accordingly. It may be morning in America again but, I bet Mom's Mabley is probably shaking her head and rolling in her grave over how little we seemed to have learned.