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ONYX: Brothers in 'Black' Celebration
by D. Kevin McNeir

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The Men of ONYX Inc., known throughout Chicago and other cities like Atlanta, New York and Detroit, as a brotherhood of leather-wearing, swaggering African Americans who know how to throw a "fantastic party," will celebrate their seventh anniversary with Blackout VII, scheduled for Columbus Day Weekend.

This year's festivities, referred to by the brothers as the weekend of "The Seven Deadly Sins," will begin Friday, Oct. 11 and end Sunday, Oct. 13. Most events will take place at the group's home bar, Cellblock on Halsted Street. And while there will be an invitation-only reception at The Majestic Hotel on Friday, and the annual general meeting, brunch and several eye-opening demonstrations on Saturday, the best bet, if you can't afford the $90 full weekend package, is the banquet and ONXY dance, both held on Sunday.

Former Chicago disc jockey Andre Hatchett, who last left brothers weak in puddles of sweat at the IML 2002 ONYX party, will once again be responsible for providing the music. And who knows what will be up his sleeve?

As the organization looks back on its seven-year history, Derrick Jones, president, talked about how the group got started and why new members continue to be attracted to the sometimes scantily dressed leather lovers.

"The Men of ONYX was started by five men of color who enjoyed the leather scene but felt no sense of camaraderie in the leather community [predominantly white men]," Jones said. "They founded ONYX so brothers could gather in an environment where they felt safe and could ask questions about the leather community. There are a lot of unspoken things that tell you what a person is into by the kinds of leather outfits they wear. Like a person who wears an arm band on the left is a top or dominant while one who wears the band on the right is a bottom and submissive. There are handkerchief codes too, and other signals that I really can't share--unless you're part of the brotherhood."

According to the group's statement of purpose, the goal of ONYX is to provide an informational and social organization to address issues specific to gay/bi men of color who choose to discuss and/or participate in the Leather/SM/Fetish lifestyle. Support, spirituality, safety and saneness are key to achieving their goal.

There are three membership options, but all members must be 21 years of age or older. To join the fraternity as a Full Brother, one must be a man of color living within the city of Chicago. Voting rights, elective offices and closed meeting attendance are open only to full brothers. The group currently has about 27 full brothers.

Full Associate Brothers are men of color that live outside the Chicago area and are not members of any other club of the same kind. They may attend closed meetings and lease colors. And any interested man, regardless of his current club affiliation, may become an Associate Brother--therefore allowed to lease associate colors. Jones said there are several hundred men scattered throughout the state and beyond who are connected to ONYX as full associate or associate brothers.

But why would anyone choose to undergo a pledge program, which requires learning a significant amount of information about the leather community, in order to become a member of a club like ONYX? After all, anyone can attend their parties.

"Many who seek membership under any of our three forms do so because it gives them a new-found sense of freedom," Jones said. "Sometimes men who are attracted to the leather lifestyle want to experience a sense of brotherhood. But of course you have those who seek the sexual connections and innuendoes associated with the leather life. Finally, some people want to be part of a club that throws great parties."

"Have-camera-will-catch-you-in-the-act," Israel Wright, is the club's pledge master. And it is his role to determine the pledge process and to ascertain from each potential pledge what they hope to get should they become a member.

Normally the pledge period is a minimum of 90 days during which pledges learn ONYX history, general leather history and some other information identified by Jones as "more private."

Jones admits that ONYX has not been as diligent as they had hoped in their planning and carrying out of community service activities, but says that with the death of former president Michael Williams last winter, the organization has had to regroup and is only now catching up.

But in regards to a leather club for Black men--is it really necessary?

Jones says the Men of ONYX don't really consider themselves separate because while there are all kinds of clubs, none are specifically for men of color.

"We are mostly greeted very positively by men in other leather clubs, but I have to admit, in some scenes, the Men of ONYX are viewed as others' personal sex choices," he said.

Still, Jones and the rest of the brotherhood realize that the biggest draw--that which keeps bringing mostly Black gay, bi- and trans men of color coming out in droves--are their parties.

"We have always had great success in throwing a good party, even though we are often working on the details right up to the last several days," he said. "And this year with DJ Andre Hatchett, there's going to be some great music. Our party has become the dance to attend."

During the weekend, many of the brothers will participate in demonstrations, including candle wax, mummification and flogging. And Jones says the demonstrations are a good way for people to interact with the brothers and ask questions---particularly if they think the leather community is one that they'd like to join.

"Sometimes brothers don't know anything about the leather community--just that they are strongly attracted to it," he said. "And with our parties and demonstrations, we often make connections with brothers who have felt very isolated and all alone in their desires."

Kevin Smith, a Chicago resident who recently became a full member and is known in the community as "K.G.," said he admits he joined ONYX for selfish reasons.

"I wasn't looking to join a leather fraternity or group at all and I didn't have any peer pressure urging me to get involved," he said. "I was going through a mental process and was not being true to myself. I knew I had a heightened libido and came across ONYX after a friend told me about one of their functions. I became really curious about those good-looking brothers in leather and saw it as an opportunity to learn more about myself and my sexuality. And I gained a new understanding about the leather life--becoming more comfortable with the different kinds of fetishes that exist and what I liked. I saw that it was OK to have a high libido and learned how to do some kinky things safely in an environment with people who looked like me."

For more information about The Men of ONYX's Blackout VII Columbus Day Weekend, visit their website @

www. .

And, we'll see YOU there.

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