Bertram Michael Hunter (April 15, 1958 — January 23, 2001) was known in his family as Michael, and at school, work and in the community as Bert, and used the pen name, B.Michael Hunter, as a writer.
Michael, the third of four children born to Sheila Louise Sorden-Hunter and Bertram Meredith Hunter, belonged to a close-knit extended family whose matriarch is Ruth Sorden (whom everyone calls “Mother”). He grew up in the Wilson Projects in East Harlem, where he attended PS 146, JHS 99, and was a member of the Boy’s Club of New York. You can still see the mark that Michael made in his old neighborhood when he and his brothers Stephen and David devised a scheme to spray paint their family name under the windowsill of their 15th floor apartment.
Bert graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1976, where he was a member of the track team. At the Adelphi University School of Business, he assumed prominent positions in several student organizations including the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, and visited and worked as a volunteer in Kenya — his first trip to Africa — through Operations Crossroads. Bert earned his Bachelor’s degree in Accounting in 1981. Although his early ambition was to be a dancer or a teacher, he had “learned” that these professions were not appropriate for “real men.” Upon reflection years later he elaborated: as a man in education he would be expected to be a principal or a college professor when what he wanted to do was teach. Although he did not realize his aspirations as a dancer, he faithfully supported the arts. He loved music, the theatre, poetry readings, Alvin Ailey, Patti Labelle, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Ronald K. Brown, and Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane to name a few. After receiving a law degree from Northeastern University in 1984, he joined IBM in Boston as a Marketing Representative, earning several employee achievement recognitions. In 1987, he was promoted and transferred back to New York.
Freeing himself from the corporate sector after five and a half years, Bert began in 1990 to pursue his dream of becoming a teacher. First assigned to Norman Thomas High School, he found his professional home in 1992 at City-As-School High School, where he remained a part of the “family” until his death. He started at City-As as a regular substitute, but in 1995 received his permanent teacher certification from the State of New York, an accomplishment which brought him much joy. In 2000 he was selected to serve on the United Federation of Teachers-Delegate Assembly. Bert taught various social studies topics, enlightening a new group of young people every year. Coming from the inner-city himself, he was sensitive to the conflicts that often arise for young people and the necessary support it takes to set goals and succeed. He was especially committed to making education accessible and the profound difference it can make in one’s life. He taught a course called, “Our Youth and the Virus,” which was the first time HIV information was officially introduced into the curriculum. When graduates return to visit the school, Bert is one of the first people they ask to see.
Shortly before returning home, Bert began his process of coming out as a Gay man. In New York, he became involved in a number of groundbreaking efforts in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit and Transgender People of Color communities and quickly took on leadership roles in many of them. He chaired the boards of Other Countries, a Black Gay writing and performance collective, and Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD), where he was a charter board member. Over the next 15 years he supported a number of community organizations by lending his managerial expertise and contributing as a major donor. He secured a seat on Manhattan’s Community Board #3 (one project involved the siting of an AIDS housing facility in the Lower East Side); helped revive the city-wide Lesbian and Gay People of Color Steering Committee; and served as a founding board officer of the Brooklyn-based Audre Lorde Project, the nation’s only center for Queer people of color community organizing. In the mid-1990’s Bert and a multi-racial group of pro-feminist Gay men, coordinated Brothers for Sisters, an annual fundraising initiative in support of the Astraea Lesbian Action Foundation.
Early in 1990, at one such community organizing meeting, he met and fell in love with John Manzon-Santos. Their partnership lasted for the next eight years, and they maintain a transcendent bond. Together they shared their lives with each other and with their families, both blood and chosen, traveled widely, and opened up their home for celebration, political work, and refuge.
In the early 1990s Bert took on the responsibility for Managing Editor of the Other Countries publication Sojourner: Black Gay Voices in the Age of AIDS. The 1993 anthology won the Lambda Literary Award. In the process of editing the book, he took an HIV test himself and, on November 18, 1992, learned he was HIV-positive.
Michael had a deep, loving and trusting relationship with his mother Sheila and “missed her terribly” when she died this past August after years of being sick and his caring for her. Michael loved and respected the relationship he sustained with his father Bertram, who remained an anchor throughout his life. He found tremendous joy from and was committed to the children in his life and especially cared for his nephew Darryl, who thought of him as a father. Important to note about Michael is that he rarely missed a planned family gathering or celebration. He would often say that rituals are an important function in family and community, and as such, they should be honored. Something he often did was take the younger people in the family under his wing when they were embarking on educational, social or professional pursuits, taking them on trips to bookstores, museums, theaters, movies, and concerts. He held a wealth of knowledge and loved sharing it with others.
One of Michael’s most sacred dreams realized was the purchase of his home in 2000, one that he intended to share with his mother. In their declining health, he was able to call on his sister Victoria to come and assist him in his mother’s care, satisfied that they could bond in her final weeks.
His final set of struggles began after initiating HIV antiviral medication in February 2000, after which his health rapidly declined. He had a serious, adverse reaction to the antiviral “cocktails,” a reminder that these powerful medications do not prove beneficial to everyone.
Michael leaves us now to join his mother, Sheila, his aunt Ruth Alfrieda and many other friends and family members. Remaining to celebrate his legacy are: his grandmother, Ruth, his father, Bertram, stepmother Mary, siblings Victoria, Stephen and David, his favorite cousin/sistah/friend, Sheilah Mabry, his “adopted” sister, Rhea (Ummi) Modeste; nephews and nieces Darryl X. Hayes, James Carpenter, Jasmine, Mallory and David Hunter, Aimy and Tommy Ko, Danny Hoyle, and Amira Madyun; godchildren Anthony Pagan, Jasmine and Malory Hunter, Travis Wright, and Adunni Hall-Modeste; his former domestic partner John Manzon-Santos, and a host of aunts, uncles, cousins, co-workers, students, community members, and fellow lefties, Trekkies and world travelers.
Bertram Michael Hunter was born at St. Clare’s Hospital in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. He died of AIDS at home in Central Harlem with loved ones by his side.
Group-written by Sheilah Mabry, John Manzon-Santos, Ummi Modeste and Colin Robinson, between January 24-26, 2001. It was included in the printed program for his Celebration of Life on January 27.