By Brother Tracy Gibson
Adodi was born out of a desire to survive. It was born without the name Adodi and it was given birth by four men, one of whom was Brother Clifford R. Rawlins, who was an arts therapist and who would become the driving force & life spirit behind Adodi during its’ early days.
I have done some research to try to discover who the other Brothers were at that meeting, but many people who would know have passed away. I personally missed the first meeting, but attended the second and many other early meetings and was a main organizer and later facilitator and officer for the organization in the Philadelphia area. Adodi was a big part of my personal healing & growth process as I “brought myself back’’ from a great deal of depression, anger and sorrow…
When Adodi moved its’ forces, in part, & expanded to New York City to serve the Black gay male community there it was a Brother named Darrell Waters who took the Adodi concept to the Big Apple and was the main one who initially helped the organization take up roots in the Big Apple.
The value of Brother Waters’ involvement cannot be overstated or overlooked as he helped the Adodi Organization receive national attention & recognition and bought on many, many other critical & crucial brothers early on including Delmar Thompson, Paul Darling, and Brother Haynes who were also critical in running and organizing retreats for us; shoring up & organizing meetings and membership in New York; and helping us get more financially sound…. I am sure I have forgotten some name, please don’t think this a slight of anyone. Other important key leaders and / or members were Boris and Jerome Carter, Greg Reid as well as Kevin Greene and his friend Hal Carter.
According to the Adodi New York Web Page:
“Adodi is the plural of ADO, and is a Yoruba word that describes a man who “loves’’ another man. More than just a description of partners in Africa, the ADODI of the tribe are thought to embody both male and female ways of being and were revered as shamans, sages and leaders.”
What was Adodi then and what has it become? Adodi was given birth because many Black Same Gender Loving men in the northern corridor, and in other parts of our nation were feeling isolated, alone, fearful, confused and depressed during the early stages of the AIDS epidemic as several Brothers were coming down with this then strange and dastardly disease. Adodi was a way of fighting back. It allowed men to come together in a safe space to talk about issues we were having related to surviving the disease; coming out stories; building successful relationships between Black Gay men; successfully building self-esteem [an early goal of the organization’s]; discovering & re-discovering ourselves as viable, worthwhile, authentic, honest and healthy Black Gay men; successfully dealing with family & coming out as a gay Black man; dealing honestly, openly & successfully with the Black church [many Adodi members would get involved in the Unity Fellowship Church Movement which was founded by now Bishop Bean and has become a national church movement that is friendly towards and is open to all, but largely peopled by Black gays, bisexuals, lesbians and transgendered people Bruce Harvey and I, for example, were instrumental in attempting to start a Unity Fellowship Christ Church in Philadelphia, but were unsuccessful in the 1980’s]. Adodi would sometimes have guest therapist, guest facilitators and guest speakers who would help create a warm, open and safe feeling—a feeling of general comfort and embraced arms–that would add light & luster to many of our meetings, seminars, workshops and retreats up until this day. Adodi is a process not a destination. It is a process that requires your full participation to be truly effective in working properly in a person’s personal healing & growth process…. Many social scientist who have studied self-help & self-improvement organizations like Adodi have concluded that they can be vital and crucial in the healing & growth process for people –such as Black Gay men—who have been marginalized, misunderstood, scapegoated and oppressed by the dominate society in which they live…. Some Black social scientist have even gone as far as to say such organizations as Adodi can help their members with their very survival.
Not too long after Adodi was formulated there were brother organizations formed that had different organizational structures & ethical principals but similar goals including: The Black Men’s Exchange [BMX] in New York City that was started by Cleo Manago; and the Colours Organization founded in Philadelphia in 1991 by Activist / Organizer Elliott Prescott but that included women in leadership positions and as members. The Colours Organization is geared more towards younger members of the community and has broken ground of its’ own. [The Colours Organization was later run by Michael Hinton who would later go on to run the City of Philadelphia’s office of gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual relations under Mayor John Street for two terms.] Brother Tyrone Smith of Philadelphia and some friends of his later started UNITY which offered more direct health intervention and services concerned with the AIDS / HIV epidemic in the Philadelphia vicinity. [After some leadership & financial problems UNITY was unfortunately disbanded.] There are a few other organizations similar to Adodi as well in other parts of the country like California and Down South.
Early on, Clifford opened his home to all men who would come and, generally speaking, there were always about 30 or so men at early meetings at Clifford’s home near 48th and Springfield Avenue in the University City [West Philadelphia] area of Philadelphia. The brother not only extended himself, his fellowship and his home, Clifford also made meals from scratch each and every week and sometimes much of the money for the food came directly out of his pocket—although later a small donation was taken up.
Clifford was an amazing man and an amazing human being who made Adodi his life’s work for several years before his untimely passing due to complications from AIDS / HIV. He was also a talented artist and most probably would have even adopted children, had he lived… He not only made Adodi known in Philadelphia, but worked diligently with Brother Waters to move the concept to New York. Other Brothers helped, I am sure… The early meetings in Clifford’s humble apartment found the brothers attending surrounded by Clifford’s art work and art work from mostly Black artists who Clifford appreciated & cherished…. While the apartment was humble, it was also breathtaking to be surrounded by such stunning works of art. I don’t know how he found time, but his apartment was also kept clean and tidy, but I digress…
Clifford was a role model for us all. He had personal problems with fidelity which he openly shared with Adodi Brothers who attended the meetings. He felt sharing was vitally important to help the healing process along. Early meetings also helped some Adodi Brothers attend meetings of an organization called Love and Sex Anonymous, which was designed to help people who thought they might have a sexual addiction. [I attended these meetings myself and found them most revealing and helpful, along with therapy for some other personal adjustment problems I was having at the time.]
One of the things that was talked about early in Adodi is the potential dangers of casual and frequent sex with many unknown partners due to the HIV / AIDS crisis. This has been, even until this day, a controversial subject because while one of the goals of Adodi is to also share such information, we try not to impinge on people’s freedoms and ability to think for themselves as well.
Early Adodi Retreats were able to capture a sense of aliveness and a special spiritual oneness that is still present at Adodi Retreats and reflects a very special feeling indeed. That feeling is one of closeness, brotherhood, healing, oneness, fellowship—a non-religious religiosity– and just the plain old fun and merriment that we all had as we started the tradition of “talent night’’ on Saturday nights. This “talent night’’ has seen many a drag show, but also many a talented classic and jazz pianist, actors, comics and others share their special talent in a warm and supporting atmosphere. Some people experienced a spiritual high after their first retreat and many have said they didn’t want to return to their jobs and dominate society after the four day’s journey into bliss with their Adodi Brothers.
Add to all these positive experiences the fact that we were in a secluded area [usually it was just us there] and the fact that we generally had some really good food and; a movie night and arts and crafts and you had three or four days brimming with something many brothers say they have never experienced before and will never forget. The retreat has always been the pinnacle of the Adodi experience as a feeling of self growth, fun, self exploration, healing and learning converge.
But I have to say that it has always taken a great deal of help to bring forth the Adodi experience and make it successful. There have been early core members and later members such as Eric King; myself; Michael Otis; Arnold Jackson; Kevin Hardy—yes even Kevin Hardy; Todd Conway; Larry Davis [of D.C.]; Coles Ruff; Alden; Bruce Harvey; Lynburg Scott; Tony Parrish; Darrell Waters; Trent Pettus; Charles Harp; Keith Bright; Delmar Thompson; Chris Blandford; Aaron Donnerson; Big Rod; Steve Anthony; Brother Haines; and many, many others too many to remember or mention. There are scores of others I have not mentioned. One has to remember also that these are just some of the brothers from Philadelphia and New York. Adodi has also had chapters in Chicago and Washington, D.C. If I have forgotten names it is more because I just don’t know all the key organizers in those cities—NOT an attempt to slight any one. Adodi has been responsible for bringing out the best in many, many people. It has touched literally thousands of lives. It is a Black tradition with African roots and solid ethical principles that help the brothering grow and develop in a positive way. I hope it will live on long after all of its’ current organizers and officers—including myself–are in another place because the experience is life-giving and even critical in building a well-rounded Black Gay man, for some of us.
Brother Tracy is a writer and businessman living in New Castle, Delaware and Philadelphia, PA. He can be reached at: BrotherTracy11@GMail.Com