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Performances honor Rustin at Center
by Jamie Anne Royce
2012-02-15

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Brothers OUTLive celebrated the life and legacy of the late gay civil-rights activist Bayard Rustin at the Center on Halsted Feb. 9.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s right-hand man and organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, Rustin is an often-overlooked leader of the civil-rights movement.

"We often don't talk about African-American sexuality. Everything is heterosexual and anything that [deviates] from that is kind of hush-hush and pushed under the table," said Precious Davis, emcee of the event and youth outreach coordinator at the Center on Halsted. "I think that's another reason that Bayard's work isn't talked about, because he was a homosexual man."

This year marks the centennial of Rustin's birth, and Brothers OUTLive honored him at its inaugural event with spoken-word and musical performances by Marshall Titus, Nhojj, Tim'm West, Keith Romell and Ra Perre' Shelton.

When West and Nhojj moved to Chicago, Titus suggested they form a collaborative performing arts project, which evolved into Brothers OUTLive.

"As a collective of three artists, we want to explore issues in an entertainment venue," said West, Brothers OUTLive organizer and youth outreach coordinator at the Center on Halsted. "If you put music to it, you can still a lot of consciousness raising."

While still in the beginning stages, Brothers OUTLive organizers hope to host similar events throughout the year.

"The desire is to create something to the effect of Lollapalooza, where you're able to bring other Black, out performers or gay friendly performers that speak to the LGBT community to perform and create events that bring people together," said Titus. "There's not many things that bring people to one space for music, spoken word or art where there's a conversation, giving people a reason to interact with each other."

The event was also aimed at raising awareness around HIV infection rates in the Black men who have sex with men community by partnering with Our Voices Advocating for Health, a Center on Halsted program designed to address significant gaps in substance abuse and HIV prevention services in Chicago.

Youth in the center's outreach program watched Brother Outsider, a biographical film about Rustin's life, in conjunction with the celebration.

"There are not a lot of cultural events on the North Side of Chicago," said Davis. "We have to create the precedent, regarding LGBT culture specifically, by recording art."


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