Part of my grieving process, as the mother of a 31-year old man who died of AIDS, has been to remember Kenneth each year in a special way on the anniversary of his death. Since he did not get to live long enough to do all he would have wanted to do I consider that he and I have a co-destiny. I can honor him by doing things related to his life and death that he might likely engage in if he were here. Some things that involve the role of the arts in getting us through the tough stuff, and in making the world a better place.
This past June in Atlanta, his 20th anniversary, I presented a theatre piece, When Parting Becomes Sweet Sorrow. I was assisted by the SoulPrint Players, an InterPlay-based improv troupe I helped start in 2015. We responded to my award winning book, Warrior Mother: Fierce Love, Unbearable Loss and Rituals that Heal with our own stories, songs, and dances, all the while raising money for Mercy Care, an Atlanta agency that serves families dealing with AIDS.
I told stories of Kenneth, and company participants performed their own stories in response, sometimes dancing, sometimes using group improvisational story or song forms. Since members of the troupe were seated in the audience, I did not realize that when a remarkably talented young African American man jumped onto the stage and joined in the dance, he was not a member of the troupe. I did not know that Antron Reshaud Olukayode was an artist and activist. He called himself an “artivist,” his word for his activism using the arts. I didn’t know that he was living with AIDS and had been for many years.
But I knew that Antron and I connected instantly and deeply. He teased me that as I told stories about my son, he felt I was telling his story. “It was like you were all up in my business,” he told me in a playfully exaggerated southern accent. I’ve come to understand that Antron met my son, through me, as I spoke of Ken and shared stories of our relationship throughout his journey with AIDS. Antron was delighted and encouraged by that meeting.
Antron became an important member of the Atlanta InterPlay community and was staying in touch through the training program he had entered. We spoke of my bringing him to Pittsburgh to perform with my company, Wing & A Prayer Pittsburgh Players to raise money for the AIDS community here. He became ill, was hospitalized, and died before that could happen.
I’m grateful that, through his involvement in the Atlanta InterPlay community that he met that day, he got the love and support that had sometimes been lacking during his long journey with AIDS. Friends are establishing an Art and Social Change InterPlay scholarship in his name. They are also connecting me with his mother so we may trade remembrances of our sons and encourage one another to find ways to honor them and their lives as we move forward with our own.
Make a donation to the Antron Reshaud Olukayode InterPlay Atlanta LGBTI Millennial of Color Art and Social Change Fund through paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org or send a check to “Body Wisdom” at 1441 Deerwood Dr. Decatur, GA. 30030