In May 1986, 12 men met at the home of art therapist Clifford Rawlins to talk. The group didn't have a name, any type of organization or an agenda, but they knew they wanted to talk. What they talked about that Sunday ranged from the isolation they faced as Black gay men to the alarming number of brothers dying of AIDS, to the lack of institutions available to help them cope.
Philadelphia writer Michael A. Oatis recorded this formation of what was to become ADODI in a 1987 article, A Voice in Our Wilderness, in BLACK/OUT, a journal published quarterly at that time by The National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays. Luckily, a copy of that article was available and was distributed to about 75 men aged 21 to 81 who attended the ADODI's 20th anniversary at Pearlstone Retreat and Conference Center in Reisterstown, Md., Aug. 2-6.
The article went on to say Rawlins realized that he was really onto something greater. He realized, too, that he had really only barely scratched the surface of a deeply felt need of these men to relate their experiences in an attempt to cope, to find community and, ultimately, to rise above their individual problems. Rawlins decided to continue the meetings to give that need the chance for expression and satisfaction.
From that meeting the word spread, and the idea grew in Rawlins' mind. Over the course of the summer, attendance varied, but by October of 1986 there were at least 15 men coming by the house every Sunday. Sometimes the meetings were casual and relaxed as we exchanged anecdotes about the b-boys or the clubs. However, the mood was somber or even tearful while someone was regretting the missed opportunity to say 'goodbye' to a dying friend or to say 'I love you' to a future one.
In late October, nine members of the Philadelphia group participated in a weekend retreat with a similar group of men from New York City in upstate New York. It was at this retreat that the word 'ADODI' was first used in connection with the group. It came up in a group discussion involving our socialization as gay men. One person had taken exception to being identified as 'gay.' He felt that 'gay' described a lifestyle that he no longer lived or condoned, and wanted some other descriptive term for himself. Another participant, well-read in African history and culture, suggested the word ADODI.
For the Philadelphia group, this was a pivotal moment. They had been searching for an appropriate name, and now it looked as if they'd found it. It was further explained that ADODI was actually a Portuguese word derived from the Yoruba language of West Africa that means 'homosexual Black men.' Moreover, it had a long spiritual heritage and tradition as well, being associated with the Santeria religion and the goddess Yemaya. [ NOTE: In 1986 ADODI Philadelphia member Joseph Beam edited and published A Black Gay Anthology: In The Life. Red Bone Press published a 20th-anniversary re-release of that book in August. ]
From that point, the Philadelphia group, now known as ADODI, continued to grow and prosper under the influence of Rawlins and five others who formed a core group. They assumed the responsibility of guiding the group's course; selecting material for group discussions; scheduling workshops and speakers; and promoting the group's interest to the LGBT community. By January 1987, membership doubled and included men from New Jersey and Delaware. The Metropolitan Community Church in Philadelphia awarded Rawlins the Humanitarian of the Year award for 1987 and ADODI was nominated for an award by the local gay press.
During the first 10 years of ADODI, two similar groups existed in Chicago. One—which had no name—was formed by a group of friends at Fosters, a bar that existed on North Broadway in the mid-'80s; it was led by the late Chester Lyles. The other was called Group Dialogue, and met in the homes of members, who lived mainly on the South Side; it had a dinner-and-discussion format. Individuals from both Chicago groups attended subsequent annual ADODI retreats. By 1994, they and other retreat participants set up ADODI chapters in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.
In 2006, ADODI celebrates 20 years of coming together to build community and carrying the spirit of community wherever we go. We institute standards of behavior that allow us to continue to live in community. In society, they are called laws; in ADODI, we call them principles. The six principles of ADODI have evolved over the years, been clarified and been updated. The original intent behind them has remained constant—we apply the principles to remain committed to the process of our mutual growth. Regardless of whether we are in or out of the closet or whether we are politically active or active in social clubs, we must care about the physical, spiritual and emotional well-being of ourselves and others in order to continue to live, love and, possibly, open our minds to seeing things through a different lens.
The six principles of ADODI are:
1. Spiritual guidance: We seek alignment with the divine energy that unites and centers all our spirits at the beginning and closing of all we do. This principle supports our commitment to integrate spirit and genuine love in all of our actions. It also reminds us to respect and recognize diverse communication styles while preserving a clear sense of purpose.
2. Honesty, openness and clarity: We stand personally responsible for communicating thoughts and feelings in a sincere and concise manner. We clearly and fully articulate our ideas, suggestions, insights and needs, while being mindful of our body language. This principle supports our commitment to genuine connection, authentic intimacy and community.
3. Sensitivity to feelings: We utilize active listening as a means of respect, acknowledgement and validation of the feelings or viewpoints expressed and implied by our brothers, whether or not we agree with them. This principle supports our commitment to an affirming and loving spiritual community.
4. Carefronting: We reach out to support and assist each other in a caring and effective manner. When coming face to face with each other around sensitive and challenging issues, we always address each other from a place of love and openness to facilitate healing and intimacy, as opposed to aggression and antagonism, which lead to hurt and distance. This principle supports our commitment to a community of healing, empowerment and mutual support.
5. Resolution: We take collective care, within the bounds of all we do, to allow space for individual members to achieve closure on matters discussed while honoring the process and time constraints. If necessary, we can establish a specified time and setting where unresolved matters can be further explored. This principle supports our commitment to a welcoming and affirming community.
6. The Five A's—Acknowledge, Appreciate, Affirm, Accept and Aché: We use the five A's as ideal dynamics when responding to each other. Aché is a term of closure essentially meaning 'amen.'
ADODI Chicago meets the first Saturday of each month at 333 S. State at 2 p.m.
Comments? Concerns? E-mail MaxsonnCS@aol.com .