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Monthly Feature: Black in Chicago
Before we were straight or gay, we were Black
by D. Kevin McNeir

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A monthly feature exploring the lives, challenges and success stories of Chicago's African-American community, starting with the premise that before we were straight or gay, we were Black.

SHARP Celebrates Community Service

Back in the not-so-good-old-days, public health advocates in the African-American community had to meet at their homes in obscurity for fear of repercussion from their employers. But meet they did and very quietly they began to build coalitions and develop strategies to address what was then a most mysterious disease. Today we know that 'disease' by the acronym HIV/AIDS and many of those early warriors are now advocates on the front line. And some of those same warriors are now affiliated with The Southside HIV/AIDS Resource Providers [SHARP]. They recently held their first annual fundraiser at the Crystal Light Palace in Burbank where they reminded the standing-room-only crowd that they are engaged in 'a fight to the end [and] it's not over until it's over.'

SHARP is a network of consumers and health and human service providers dedicated to a continuum of quality HIV/AIDS services, by providing local support, advice and advocacy to ensure the equity of service in the southern metropolitan Chicago region. Tim Butler, program chair, and John Davis, president of SHARP, said this first fundraiser would provide much-needed funds for agencies that lack adequate funds to address the needs of their predominately Black and Latino clients.

SHARP is also planning a summer outing for its clients and their families and members of the coalition.

They are a living example of the benefits that come from building coalitions to address community problems. And we certainly applaud their efforts.

At the banquet/fundraiser, special awards were given to Frank Oldham Jr., former executive director for Horizons, who recently began work as the City of New York's AIDS Coordinator, and Phyllis L. Rodgers, director, Volunteer Department, CORE Center.

A special, moving memorial was also held in honor of two of our own most valiant warriors who lost their own personal battles against AIDS last year—Derrick Hicks and Bennett Williams.

We honor their memories and service to the LGBT community. Both brothers are still missed and we hope that someone will soon bring the kind of energy and dedication that guided their lives until their last breath.

Art Exhibit focuses on the Male Body

Chuck Gniech, gallery curator for The Illinois Institute of Art—Chicago, recently unveiled his one-man show entitled, 'From Darkness' at the Fine Arts Building Gallery, 410 S. Michigan Avenue. And if you haven't seen his exhibit of figurative work, it's a must-see. Unfortunately, you don't have long because the show ends Saturday, March 29. Many viewers have remarked that the pieces are both large [some measure up to four-feet high and seven-feet wide] and intense. And as one looks at different representations of the male, from headshots to full-body presentations, it's almost like entering someone's bedroom without their knowing you're there.

'The larger canvases make more of a statement—they're more in-your-face,' Gniech said. 'They kind of suck you in and force you to look at them closely. And my models are men because obviously I identify more with men—the muscularity and the healthy form is what I am promoting in my art. And all of the images are relaxed and calm.'

The images, which appear out of the darkness—almost, coming from nowhere—were inspired, according to the artist, by the late 16th and early 17th century Italian artist, Caravaggio.

One interesting aspect of the show is how difficult it is to identify the ethnic origin of many of the figures. Gniech says this is intentional so that it is easier for those viewing his work to be open to the canvas and to perhaps even see themselves in the work.

Don't let this show pass you by.

More on the Body Beautiful and Ways to Challenge the Mind

While Chicago's Men of ONYX prepare for their annual 'walk along Michigan' Avenue with the International Mr. Leather Man festivities this May, they have already scored a 'first' with the recent awarding Mr. Cell Block to Adrian Williams—one of their newest club members.

Congratulations to Williams.

Unfortunately, we couldn't reach him for an interview before going to press. But one thing we can say—the brother 'sure looks good in leather.'

Finally, St. Martin's Episcopal Church, out in the Austin community, continues its four-part speakers' series with some of the sharpest minds with 2 p.m. Sunday programs on April 6 and April 27. The programs are intended to challenge the beliefs of the Christian and LGBT communities and to empower people of color from both.

For more information call the church, which is located at 5700 W. Midway Park, at (773) 378-8111.

We often focus on the appearance of our bodies—here's an opportunity to pay closer attention to our minds and the messages we transmit to others. Keep it up Rev. Reed and members of St. Martin's.

Collectively they are an example of the 'Beloved Community'—Christian believers who refused to leave a dying community and have continued to seek ways to infuse life and hope for those who were left behind in the aftermath of 'white flight.'

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