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  WINDY CITY TIMES

BLACK ALPHABET FILM FESTIVAL Jewel Thais-Williams and nightclub subject of documentary
By Emagin Tanaschuk
2017-08-16

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Jewel Thais-Williams is more than the owner of the popular "Jewel's Catch One" night club, in Los Angeles; rather, she is trailblazer, as her nightclub was a place where people of all races and sexual orientations were welcome starting in 1975. After owning the nightclub for 42 years, Thais' work is being showcased in the documentary "Jewel's Catch One" which will be screening at the Black Alphabet Film Festival on Saturday, Aug. 19, at David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., at 1 p.m.

Thais-Williams' dream happened "by divine design," she said. She had been working at a store across the street from Catch One as a young adult and always said to herself that she would own the place someday. She had a dream that everyone would be able to come to the club and feel welcomed and safe to express themselves. Prior to Thais-Williams owning the club, Catch One mainly welcomed Caucasian white-collar workers, according to the documentary.

The thought of buying Catch One became more of a reality for Thais-Williams to purchase the club when she owned a women's clothing store in 1972 and the recession hit. She explained how when the economy grew weaker, women stopped spending as much at her store, since everyone was forced to become more financially conscious. She needed to find a "recession-proof" business:alcohol. This was the extra push Thais-Williams needed when the day came that she heard the nightclub was for sale.

After purchasing the club in 1975, Thais-Williams made it everything she had envisioned. People of all racial backgrounds, sexual orientations and walks of life came in to drink, dance and socialize, something that was not previously accepted or welcomed in that area.

The nightclub also helped Thais-Williams in her personal life, since her patrons ultimately were the ones that outed her as queer. Sometimes her father and other family members would be there helping her fix something and someone would make a joke or comment revealing her orientation, so Thais-Williams never felt the need to formally come out to her family.

However, she did finally sit her parents down to tell them she was getting married to her girlfriend, which she admitted was a predictable moment. Her father quickly told her that he did not believe in same-sex marriage and therefore would not attend her wedding. Her mother always liked to do the opposite of Thais-Williams's father, so she did come to the wedding. Most of Thais-Williams's family, however, was not very supportive and did not show for the ceremony.

Regardless, seeing men dance with men and women kiss other women at her club on weekend nights gave her peace of mind. She said that although the LGBT community is facing more opposition lately, it is important that people continue to create spaces that promote love. For example, last year after the Orlando shooting, Thais-Williams was especially impacted as the former owner of a bar that welcomed gay individuals. However, despite her grief, she powered through the next day to attend the Los Angeles pride parade. People were there to celebrate and mourn; "it was an outpouring of love, and we needed that," she said.

When asked if she foresaw all the social impact her club would have, Thais-Williams confidently said she did not think about that, rather she knew she was doing "what needed to be done," especially as a lesbian woman herself.

She explained that because of her gender, sexual orientation and race, and being a Black lesbian, she was that much more motivated to work hard for what she wanted.

"In order to achieve your rights, you have to stand up for them, because if you don't stand up for anything, then you are lying down for everything," she said.

The Black Alphabet Film Festival will take place Friday-Saturday, Aug. 18-19, at the Reva & David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St. Visit blackalphabet.org/.


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