Art of the Secret Sauce

Hold fast to dreams

for if dreams die

life is a broken-winged bird

that can not fly.” — Langston Hughes

Finding two people who appreciate performance artists on stage and in recording studios and also hold a deep understanding of culture and community is infrequent but not particularly rare. Finding two such men in one organization who are also AIDS activists is downright golden. Maybe platinum.

But that is Christopher Allen and Kofi Short.

Chris Allen as a Teen

My witness to Chris began about two decades ago, when he was still a teen. Much of that story is his to tell, but while still a young man, he showed me his intelligence, industry, and will to succeed. He connected me to his beloved cousin. He took charge of his life in ways that I didn’t always think were prudent, but he knew he could trust himself at every turn to do the right things necessary to make those decisions work. He became a good teacher for me. In the end, Chris was correct in his choices.

Chris with Everett Marshburn and Mandy Carter

A consummate family man, Chris embodies a sense of loving responsibility to his cousins, nephews and nieces, and his spouse. He prioritizes their well-being, but balances this with his ambition, his enthusiasm for pop culture, and his desire for organization. Chris is a modest man, with a deep moral keel. He steers his own boat, but there is no need to fear it capsizing because of the depth of his goodness.

Kofi showed up in an office adjacent to mine in about 2003. Recently back from his life in New York, Kofi was looking for his next chapter. Our mutual friend, Brenda, introduced us. It took no time at all to see that Kofi is an artist and performer. What is less immediately obvious is that he is also an organizer, change agent, and historian. Like Chris, Kofi is also a family man. His reasonable expectation that I would meet his parents and brothers stands in sharp contrast to the compartmentalization so common among white people. His parents and brothers are an inspiration to me.

Kofi at City Hall

One of my fondest memories of Kofi is of a sunny but cool afternoon on Spaights Plaza at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. I was there with Paul who required a wheel chair to get around. We were filming a social marketing tool in the form of a flash mob on acceptance of LGBT people. Kofi donned butterfly wings and danced with us among the crowd that had gathered. His bravado inspired me to run around the plaza, pushing Paul’s chair ahead of me, spinning him, and dancing the best we could figure out at the time.

Both Chris and Kofi ended up working in the agency I founded. They were and are making history independent of our work there, but I got to see first hand then how they applied the secret sauce of their humanity to the task of ending AIDS.

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