On Sunday, Aug. 7, Jewel Thais-Williams held an extraordinary "Healthy Choice Awards" commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Village Health Foundation and its non-profit alternative VHF Clinic at Jewel's Catch One, the nation's oldest Black LGBT Night Club. (See Gloria Nieto's story about Jewel and why she founded the VHF in Frontiers In LA.)
Over her many years of service to the LGBT community - especially the Black LGBT community - Jewel has become synonymous with putting into action the quote from poet Maya Angelou: "As soon as healing takes place, go out and heal somebody else."
"I am truly grateful for the support given to the Village Health Foundation. You have helped us to remain a support system for the community to improve the connection of the mind, body and spirit of each client," Jewel told supporters. VHF also does grief work.
The awards ceremony was extraordinary for its deep and authentic praise for hardworking health and wellness advocates, most of whom have faced challenges in trying to bring the issue to light in communities or public sectors disinclined to see the connection between health, the economy and political good sense.
Jewel's wife Rue (below, left), an event committee and a team of volunteers helped make the awards ceremony special. Dr. Shani Byard, Founder and Executive Director of the Message Media ED, served as Mistress of Ceremonies.
Toni Yancey, MD, MPH, was the keynote speaker. Yancey is a full Professor in the Department of Health Services and Co-Director of UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equality in the School of Public Health. She also sits on a slew of health-related boards, including the Partnership for a Healthier America, the non-profit set up by First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign.
Yancey noted that she was the first Black full professor in primary public health in 2007 - a designation she still holds in 2011. Yancey, a lesbian who introduced her partner from the stage, is also a poet and interspersed her keynote about the importance of health and wellness and prevention, especially among Black youth, with strongly punctuated notes that evoked a strong response.
Talking about how the Black community knew about how "it takes a village to raise a child" long before Hillary Clinton gave the phrase international publicity, Yancey said the Village needs to give kids "lap time" and understand how love is a "currency" like money without spending dime - all to help children develop in health, wellness and love.
She also noted how images of role models are more diverse than simply those of parents. In another poem, she spoke of Wilma Rudolph's legacy on the day she died. To Yancey, Rudolph represented "a collective consciousness of collective stolen souls."
"I owe them social justice," Yancey said of her role models. "I owe them the assurance that the torch has indeed been passed."
Yancey startled the audience when she spoke about a new unique 10-minute video called "Instant Recess" which she hopes to get into the public system to get kids moving - and then told the audience to get up and follow along. Hesitant at first, much of the audience particiapted in the spirit of fun. Basing the movement theme on Native American drumming, the connection between mind and body was summed up in this simple sentence: "To be aware is to keep time."
The VHF honored the Black Women for Wellness, In The Meantime Men's Group, the Agape International Spiritual Center, and Congressmember Maxine Waters. But perhaps the most moving recipients were Youth Ambassadors Paola Lopez and Brett Williams, students who advocated with the LAUSD to create a health and wellness program at Freemont High School arguing the link between health and academic success.
The awards ceremony was also interspersed with musical performances by Rickie Byars Beckwith, the diverse Mariachi Divas and blues singer Ray Bailey, who looks like Forrest Whitaker and plays like B.B. King.
Several people got up and danced, including Jewel and Brother Jerome Sterling, author of For the Love of Edna, about his late wife's battle with cancer. "Jerome and I were off the beat at times," Jewel said. "But I just chaulked that up to the fact that I'm used to leading."
"It was a magnificent night for me," Jewel said. "It was very spiritual. There were a lot of folks in recovery there and a lot who had been touched by the services that the Clinic provides. It was one of the best days in my life."
Photos by Karen Ocamb. More available at LGBT POV.
(Cross-posted at LGBT POV)