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Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Power of Influence

In honor of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” HIV Support Group’s 24th anniversary, I have decided to dedicate this post to one of the founders and facilitators, Rev. Horace Goodwin. When you tend to think of people who influenced our country we tend to think of people like John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Elvis Pressley, James Brown and Michael Jackson to name a few. They all had the power to influence a nation and did.

Now you don’t have to be a president or musical genius to be influential. In 2007 I lost a good friend, Horace Godwin who also was very influential. Now he was not a leader in government or a musical superstar but his influence was in the way he cared so much about people who were HIV positive, in recovery and/or were ex-offenders.

I first met Horace over 26 years at a conference that he organized for people in recovery to talk specifically about their relationship with Jesus Christ and how it helped them stay clean and sober. I was amazed at the number of people who attended the conference and how he seemed to know every person there. At the time he was doing some work at St Mary Episcopal Church at 18th & Bainbridge streets.

St Mary Episcopal was one of the first churches in the city to reach out to people living with HIV along with Calvary United Methodist Church at 42nd and Baltimore Avenue. A few years later, True Gospel Tabernacle C.O.G.I.C. in south Philadelphia also started reaching out to people in recovery and who were HIV positive. Horace played a significant part in these churches doing outreach.

Horace along with others like Roy Hayes and the late Lawrence Taylor were advocates for getting churches to address HIV. Because they understood the needs of African-Americans living with HIV was not being addressed at that time they started a support group, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” The group is now one of the oldest support groups in the country. It is the oldest in the city of Philadelphia. It is amazing that as hard as Horace and the others worked, that the Christian community is just starting to address the issues and problems of being HIV in this country.

Working with him was like going through a sort of theological boot camp. He definitely believed that Christians should be involved with social justice.

Horace and I would have intense discussions about issues relating to HIV. There were two issues that he constantly wanted to discuss. One was what he called the Black Straight Glass Ceiling that meant if you were black and heterosexual, you would have a very difficult time getting a position in upper management of an AIDS Service Organization.

We often had different opinions on how this could be rectified. The other issue was regarding men being on the “down low.” He would get so upset that when a black man who claims to be straight but has sex with men, he would considered being on the “down low (dl).” But when people like Jim Mc Grevey talked about their desire to have sex with men that people just said that he had a secret life not that he was on the “down low.” He felt that being called a down low brother was demonizing black men. Horace and I spent many hours debating these and other issues.

In the last few years I learned more about his desire and drive to advocate for social change. In the 1960’s he was very active in the Civil Rights Movement. He participated in the “March on Washington” in 1963 and in the Voter’s Rights Registration in several southern states.

He fought for the desegregation of White Tower restaurants and Girard College. After I learned about his participation in these historic activities it gave me a better understanding of why he advocated for the homeless, the imprisoned and those affected and infected with HIV/AIDS in the city of Philadelphia and beyond.