Monday, October 31, 2005

Paving The Way

October 30 2005

October 30, 2005

Dear Friends,

Yesterday and today were both beautiful days, each in its own way.  Yesterday was cold and overcast, but we had a wonderful influx of folk from New York AIDS Housing Network.  Their enthusiasm lifted everyone’s spirits.  The scenery was so pastoral that we stopped and had a picnic beside the river notwithstanding the autumn chill.

At 6:00pm, we bused into west Baltimore, were we are staying in an empty three-bedroom house.  (Already, we fill up every inch of floor space, and we are adding three more overnighters tomorrow.)  There is only one bathroom, so the line is perpetual, but the heat works, and our hosts, especially Harriet, Betty and Melanie, are wonderful.

The neighborhood is about as ghetto as it gets.  There are crack houses on either side of us, and traffic on the street all night long.  People come up to the house to check us out around the clock.  Some are curious, others looking to see what they can get, and a few are openly hostile.  Others want to share their stories.  Everyone in this neighborhood has an AIDS story, without question.

This morning, we all benefited from the extra hour of sleep, and we woke up to the warmest day of the march to date.   We drove to our starting point and began the steepest climb of the trip, a mile long hill.  With lots of chanting, we made the entire climb without a stop.  From there, the rest of the march felt like it was downhill.

After three miles, we came on an abandoned Sunoco station where Evelyn, the staff person for the local Planning Council, had set up a hot lunch, with chili, homemade corn bread and fresh fruit.  She had even spread out blankets on the grass for us to rest.  I have already gained five pounds on this march, but I wolfed lunch down with everyone else.

After lunch, we were so energized that we marched three miles in less than an hour, our flag team practicing their drill almost the entire way.  The flag team is fascinating to watch.  As it turns out, everyone has a secret desire to twirl a flag – gay, straight, boy, girl, young, and old – just put a flag in hand.  Amos, otherwise known as the Black Hornet, developed a medley of all of our chants and songs, tied together by rap – “freedom or death, freedom or death, uh, uh, uh.”  

The best of the day was our time of sharing at the end of the day.    As we do every night, we went around the circle sharing the experiences of our day.  Inevitably, several people told of experiences that were moving.  Our hosts joined in at the end, and it was as if a dam had burst.  Harriet and Betty, both older women and deeply religious, told us their experience with AIDS.  Both are long term survivors, fighting to protect their children and grandchildren from the disease.  

Betty was particularly moving as she told of loosing both her two sisters and her two brothers to AIDS and told of her own struggle with addiction to crack, then struggling with a daughter who was using and a son who was dealing.  Betty’s son was with her, helping to tell his family’s story.  A sweet guy, he had been scrubbing the bathroom when we came in, and stuck around just soaking up the energy.

Harriet, who said she was infected by her partner, decided that she could only survive AIDS if she was unashamed.  She told of being threatened with arrest for distributing condoms to crack dealers and of sitting on the bus telling strangers about her HIV status as a way to talk with them about prevention.  Both Betty and Harriet stressed the importance of our being in this neighborhood.  So we promised to march through it on Tuesday to spread the word.

It’s good to be in Baltimore.  Tomorrow we officially march into the city.

Love,

Charles King

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