Locally filmed AIDS tale premieres Saturday; Mt. Ararat Baptist Church partners with gay community

Why Us? Left Behind and Dying premieres in Pittsburgh this weekend at the August Wilson Center.  From Tony Norman:

“Why Us? Left Behind and Dying” [further described on C-1 of today's Magazine section] is a searing, heartbreaking look into the disproportionately high rate of AIDS/HIV in the African-American community. What makes this documentary unique among cautionary tales about this deadly plague are the voices director Claudia Pryor Malis recruited to tell a story most of us think we already know.

At the heart of “Why Us?” are teenagers from Homewood who interview men and women who have personal, often excruciating insight into the stigma of being part of the AIDS epidemic in a community that, as one subject ruefully observes, “is very good at keeping secrets.”

Other than Homewood native Tamira Noble, 17 at the time she narrated the film, the Westinghouse High School students who are the film's primary interlocutors have their identities obscured with facial blurs and weird camera angles. (Students from Peabody High School evaluated the film when it was done.)

Tony goes on to ennumerate some of the topics — sexuality, drug use, homophobia, religious bigotry, and social stigma — which clearly fall into the taboo spectrum and about which it would be really interesting to hear a youth perspective. 

“Why Us?” isn't designed to make young people turn away in horror from images on the screen. It is a deeply realistic look at an ongoing AIDS crisis in African-American communities that many will recognize immediately.

The documentary features intravenous drug users and public health experts, gay men searching for words that honestly convey their isolation, teenagers expressing their own confusion and fear of the unknown.

Through it all, Ms. Noble, now a University of Pittsburgh student, provides a narrative voice that shapes the reams of medical and social data streaming at us into something we can sympathize with and relate to. It was a stroke of genius to have a young person at the helm.

“Why Us?” has already begun making the festival circuit. It has received rave reviews across the country. Black Pittsburgh owes it to itself to turn out for Saturday's 7:30 p.m. show at the August Wilson Center. Everyone involved in the production of the documentary will be on hand to talk about a problem that probably isn't going away anytime soon.

Still, there will soon also be another very interesting exploration of similar topics. 

Multicultural Social Justice Leadership Development Academy

This event, scheduled for March 19 at the DLC, is sponsored by the American Counseling Association.  The conference includes a partnership of the local LGBTQ community (PFLAG and the leadership of licensed counselor, Professor Dana Elmendorf) with the African-American faith community (Mt. Ararat Baptist Church). 

MSJLDA Press Conference

We welcome you to share in this experience and observe as we carefully craft a statement to the press to highlight the importance of Social Justice Leadership, through this powerful mechanism of public outreach and awareness.


Mount Ararat Choir

and Mr. Dwayne Fulton

The Mount Ararat Baptist Church, Ministry of Music and Fine Arts under the direction of Dr. Dwayne Fulton presents, Songs of Celebration and Freedom. Join us in a musical celebration of hope and optimism for the psychological liberation of the future of multicultural-social justice leadership.

The Press Conference will feature PFLAG and other local LGBTQ community leaders, standing alongside Mt. Ararat, to call for social justice, particularly within the context of psychological healing. 

Elmendorf. “The purpose of the conference is to offer skills and discussion to encourage people to think about their responsibilities to the world and what it means to think about and work toward diversity and equality. “

This was something far too infrequently discussed in graduate school when we were preparing to enter the world of professional social work so I think this is an especially appealling opportunity for persons from all disciplines.

Admittedly, I was intrigued by the participation of Mt. Ararat which is not known for openly embracing LGBTQ persons albeit those seeking to be cured or counseled back to heterosexuality.  Perhaps leaders in the faith community recognize that now is a time for healing and reconciliation for all persons, a time to move toward the idea of focusing on diversity and equality in a way that affirms all persons, not seeks to force them to conform or choose between different elements of their cultural identity.  The same could be said for the LGBTQ community, as well which often fails (myself included) to comprehend the experience of reconciling faith and sexual orientation within the context of Pittsburgh's African-American community. 

The AIDS epidemic is certainly not the only point at which our communities intersect, either in terms of people who claim identitiy within both, but also within the larger struggles we face here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the United States. 

I wonder if the Lesbian & Gay Film Society will be attending the movie premiere?  The discussion on homophobia sounds worth viewing.

So the timing of the two events might help us all make a slight shift away from our own worldview towards a better understanding.  I understand from Dana that a member of Mt. Ararat will now become chair of the Pennsylvania Counseling Association so who knows what might emerge as LGBTQ voices, such as Dana's, continue to work from within the organization to bring our voices to the table around discussions of diversity and inclusion as well as education for counselors in college and graduate school.

Information on the conference is attached.



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