"A building of community." That's what we were to expect from this year's Adodi National Summer Retreat: New Beginnings, Nurturing the Ado, July 27-30, 2000. This was the 14th retreat since its start in May 1986 in Philadelphia. What began as a support group in the height of the AIDS crisis for 12 men, at the home of Art Therapist Clifford Rawlings, has grown tremendously over the years. It has become a source of community and brotherhood for many same-gender-loving men of African decent as well as those who share Latino heritage, regardless of HIV status. As the retreats have grown from that time we create a safe space and have the opportunity to learn from our peers, elders and our youth in the oral tradition of our ancestors.
This was my third Adodi National Retreat. Adodi Chicago hosted this year's retreat in DeKalb at Northern Illinois University. Ken McCane, president of Adodi Chicago, and the other members of the committee did a wonderful job.
The experience will be forever etched in my mind. Each time I've attended I have come back home rejuvenated, ready to take on life with a renewed spirit. I have found myself needing to go and plan to attend each retreat that is given. It's such a warm comforting feeling. A feeling of coming home and to be in the company of such powerful menfeeling the sheer energy that radiates from them.
This year's retreat was my most memorable. It was also the largest, with more than 145 men from all over the country. Some brotha's on vacation came from the Caribbean and another as far away as Ghana in the African motherland. They traveled to Chicago by auto, bus, plane and formed what became a tribe of warriors and a brothahood of survivors.
I must admit, this time I was truly in awe and almost wondered if I should or could write about this experiencealmost feeling as if I didn't want to share it in print. I reflected over the weekend and remembered a brotha who I met who had driven from Arkansas. He came because of an article he read. Me trying to explain the Adodi experience in two articles I wrote for BLACKlines in 1998.
He humbled me, because he too is a warrior on the frontlines living with HIV. He too has come out of a lot of darkness in his life while searching for clarity. He was able to make it this year. We had the chance to dialogue and he affirmed the power of Adodi as well as the change that it made within his life.
I flashed back and realized that there really are no coincidences in life. I found clarity and it's as if it was right in front of me. Just the sight of such beauty and strength is almost hard to describe. Handsome shades of brown: almond, beige caramel, coffee, café au lait, redbone, and dark-roasted chocolate. They had various dialects from across the country and abroad. The wisdom of several generations of men from all walks of the African Diaspora.
An Adodi Retreat is full of rituals. It is part of the Adodi experience and if you're a virgin to the experience, you'll find out that after you've experienced them, you'll always appreciate them when you partake again. The rituals are designed as a tool to help us focus our attention and channel our energies for a specific purpose. The rituals are passed down year after year and built upon. As the brothahood has grown, there have been additions.
We opened the retreat weekend with Alden Bell starting the Brotherhood Circle, where the history and mission of Adodi is told. He used his wonderful voice and quoted For My Own Protection by Essex Hemphill. Just looking around the room and seeing so many men was powerful. For me, Adodi is an organization that has helped save my life. Again, at this year's retreat my eyes were full with my past, my present, as well as my future. The auras that I saw and felt were breathtakingly beautiful.
The weekend was full of workshops, covering a variety of topics which engaged participants in dialogue on issues of gender identity, sexuality, health, recovery, religion/spirituality, and self-esteem. There was even a writing workshop I have made a ritual of attending; arts and crafts that brotha's could participate in. Jim Smooteartist, educator and veteran Adodi brothafacilitated a workshop where participants made Life Masks in their own image: replicating how they viewed themselves or how they define or would redefine themselves. The masks became a representation of the warrior that dwells inside of them. There was also a balance with free time.
The ice broke and everyone was in the water with the Tribute to the Ancestor's. Libations were poured as we called forth the essence, energies, strengths, and spirits of those who have come before us, the Adodi Ibaye, to heal the world of those who walk with us and stand on the frontlines. I had the wonderful opportunity of seeing a fabulous artist and dancer, Nsilo, start the Tribute to the Ancestors Ceremony accompanied by the smell of African oils, incense and tribal drums rippling through the air. He is a veteran of dance and stage having performed with Dance Chicago since its inception. The room was full of beautiful brotha's who wore white shirts watching Nsilo in his own brilliant tribal white costume. He welcomed us home and to the start of a wonderful weekend of brothahood, of bonding, the strengthening our spirits and healing of our community.
Borris Powell coordinated this year's retreat Talent Sharing, which is another Adodi Ritual. This year it wasn't just one evening of entertainment. The self-proclaimed "Sissy of the Century," AIDS Activist, Performance Artist, Diva, and mentor out-did himself. On Friday morning after breakfast he held court. The night before he asked those of us who are living with HIV to take the meds as some of us ritually do before the group of men who had come to this year's retreat. I participated in this event and shared the daily ritual I have with my anti-retroviral regimen. Borris talked to the audience of brotha's and explained that this ritual allows us to continue being warriors and to dance upon the earth. There was also poignant performances given that morning including Tony Hughes' "One Night Stand," a poem about sero-conversion. I performed "Jesus Must Love a Man Like Me" written by Avery R. Young.
The impact of Borris' statements, coupled with the performances, had a profound affect on the audience. One brotha proclaimed that he would start his regimen so that he too can dance upon the earth. Ken McCane, President of Adodi Chicago and an HIV- man stated "... Healing is in the land. We should take off our graveyard clothes and put on our dancing shoes because we do have a victory with Adodi." The Saturday evening Talent Sharing was just as exciting. We were reminded to "Breathe" and that this experience only comes once a year, that there will soon be another 365 days until we meet again. Borris challenged us all to make a difference in our communities and ourselves. The talent that flowed that night from the brotha's was beautiful. In sharing we enlightened one another as well as used our artistic talents as a means of healing one another and honoring those who inspired or gave us our gifts. I felt the spirit of my ancestors and that of my inspiration, Essex Hemphill, as I delivered a performance dedicated to him and Larry Duckett.
The Virgin Initiation Ceremony took on a new level when Charles Nelson of Adodi Chicago and George Bellinger Jr. of Adodi New York collaborated and coordinated this year's ritual. This ceremony is the part of the retreat were we welcome new members or Adodi Virgins into the community, acknowledging and affirming how much they mean to the success of our community. Inside the pool area we waited for the virgins. Dana Rose from Adodi New York selected a song, "Wade In The Water," and we rehearsed it as well as the initiation. There was a cathedral-like sound that came from the brotha's as we sang in unison and hummed the song with the sound of the water while performing this ritual. Many of the blindfolds on the virgins became soaked from their tears and their heads never went under the water. It was a baptism into a brothahood at the water.
It was a powerful weekend of networking, brothahood and building of community. However you choose to identify you could find it there: same-gender-loving, Black, Gay, HIV positive/negative. Queen, Sissy of the Century or simply Black Man. There was a safe space made where you could do whatever you wanted, expressing your masculinity and femininity, just as the gatekeepers in the African motherland. Yes, we continue to hold our torches and build community. We are a tribe of warriors and a brothahood of survivors marching into the new millennium. Aché.
E-mail Sanford Gaylord at firstname.lastname@example.org .