Fourteen What I Miss? artists tell B.Michael Hunter what he’s missed since his passing in 2001.
Alexander J. Alvarez is one of B.Michael’s many cousins. He is back in college working on a degree in Accounting, but continues to write poetry whenever he can. “Once in a blue moon, Michael would babysit my brothers and I in Astoria, Queens. Whenever he did, it was always fun as he would read stories and play with us. He was impartial, a great person to talk to about anything, and made me feel like I could do anything. He called me ‘Alexander’ (whereas my other cousins call me ‘Alex’). I miss him. Thank you, Michael, for empowering me.”
Jacquie Bishop is a native New Yorker living in Boston. She is a published writer and works in public health.
Louise Dunlap is a writer, Buddhist practitioner and active elder living in a place once known to the Ohlone people as Huichuin (now Oakland, California). She knows B.Michael only through this website but feels a deep connection across time and space and into the spirit world. Back when B.Michael was teaching, she was also an activist teacher—in the Boston area at MIT and with communities of resistance. In the years leading up to 1992—like B.Michael—she worked to counter the colonialist narratives around the Columbus quincentenary. Her forthcoming book, Inherited Silence, looks at her ancestors’ role in colonization of the continent and how descendants, ancestors, and our country can heal. It’s an honor for her to contribute a story to What I Miss? Learn more at www.louisedunlap.net.
Adunni AA Hall-Modeste was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. At 22, Adunni successfully obtained her BS in business management from The Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, with motives of starting her own beauty businesses. Despite being a Brooklyn native, Adunni currently resides in Maryland where she enjoys spending time with family and friends when she isn’t working towards her dreams and goals.
Sheilah Mabry, LCSW-R, CPC (she/her/hers) is a consultant, facilitator, leadership coach, licensed clinical social worker, writer, artist, and B.Michael Hunter’s favorite cousin. Grounded in curiosity, creativity, and joy, Sheilah believes in the inner resourcefulness and resilience of people to work collectively to transform systems. As a bisexual woman of color, she centers equity and anti-racism in all of her work.
Sheilah received her professional coach certification from Leadership that Works, and is a past board member of the National Association of Social Workers-New York City Chapter. She is a proud member of the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network. Sheilah is a graduate of the Ackerman Institute for the Family’s Foundations of Family Therapy and Gender & Family Project. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston and a Master’s degree from the Hunter College School of Social Work.
Kevin McGruder is Vice President of Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of History at Antioch College. He has a B.A. in Economics from Harvard University, and an M.B.A. in Real Estate Finance from Columbia University. His interest in community formation led to a career in nonprofit community development that included work as Director of Real Estate Development with the Abyssinian Development Corporation, and Executive Director of Gay Men of African Descent. After receiving a Ph.D. in U.S. History from the Graduate Center of City University of New York, now as an academic, his research interests include African American institutions, urban history, and LGBTQ history. He is co-author of Emancipation Proclamation: Forever Free (Urban Ministries, Inc, 2013) and of Witness: Two Hundred Years of African-American Faith and Practice in the Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem (W.B. Eerdmans, 2013), and is author of Race and Real Estate: Conflict and Cooperation in Harlem, 1890-1920 (Columbia University Press, 2015).
R. Ummi Modeste is proud to be both a native of Brooklyn, New York, and a graduate of the same New York City public school system in which she now teaches. Ummi is a college advisor and teacher at City-As-School High School, a unique alternative high school. She is an alumna of LaGuardia High School for Music and the Arts, Performing Arts Division, where she majored in Drama. Ummi earned her BA from Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY, her MSEd from Hunter College in Manhattan and completed the American Sign Language/English Interpreter Education Program at LaGuardia Community College with a 4.0 GPA. Ever the student, Ummi recently earned a second Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services/American Sign Language Interpreting from Empire State College of the State University of New York, where she is also an adjunct professor of educational studies.
In addition to her full-time job at City-As-School, Ummi is an active member of the Breadloaf Teacher Network, an international group of teachers who strive to provide innovative and engaging ways for their students to become stronger readers and writers. Every summer, she is one of the facilitators of the Andover Breadloaf Writing Workshop (ABL), a two-week professional development workshop held in Andover, MA, that focuses on social justice work through literacy. The program helps urban teachers find the writers within themselves, in order to do the same for their students. Concurrent with the teachers’ workshop, ABL also hosts a workshop for students from the neighboring school district in Lawrence, MA, where the majority of ABL teachers are based. ABL teachers are proud to have breathed new life into that struggling school district. ABL provides professional development for teachers and workshops for students in cities all over the US and has also held international conferences for teachers and students in Karachi, Pakistan; Nairobi, Kenya; and most recently, in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.
A founding member of the group, East Brooklyn Poets (EBP), Ummi seeks to create opportunities for herself and her friends to grow in their own creativity and share it with others. EBP has performed in Brooklyn, Harlem, Lawrence and Andover. Its members are always looking for a chance to facilitate workshops, coach other performers and work with young writers. She gives honor to the memory of fellow founding members and dear friends, Tray Jackson and Keith “Just Sayin” Richards.
During the solitary time created by the COVID shutdown, Ummi published her first book, Because I Knew, an anthology of poems written over the course of many years. In it she reflects on her identity as a Black woman, a mother and a child of the Diaspora. Because I Knew is published by Muse City Press, and is available through The Book Patch Bookstore.
Ummi is the last of four children; her sister Wendi Alexis Modeste was an internationally recognized speaker on behalf of People Living With AIDS/HIV; her brother Keith is a retired stagehand and gifted photographer; brother Leon Adrian is a veteran coach, teacher and recently retired athletic director at Phillips Academy in Andover. Ummi’s mother, Daisy R. Modeste, was also an educator until the day she died, and her father, Leon E. Modeste, MSW, became a college professor at Albany State University (ASU) in Albany, GA, after retiring from many years of social justice work at The New York Diocese of the Episcopal Church, Manpower Foundation and The Urban League. He retired from ASU in 2009 at age 83, but continued to be a voice for social justice reform in Albany until his illness and death in 2017 at age 91.
Ummi is proud to be the mom of her daughter, Adunni, second mom to her “bonus baby”, her son, Tarence, loving mother-in-law of Jean Marie and Grammie to Nasir and Skyler.
Mx Chris Paige is an OtherWise-identified writer, educator, organizer, and coach, who authored OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation. Chris was founding executive director of Transfaith, a multi-tradition, multi-racial, multi-gender advocacy organization by and for people of transgender experience. Chris continues as operations director for Transfaith and Dean of the Transfaith Institute. They have also launched OtherWise Engaged Publishing, where they provide a platform for prophetic, transgender, intersex, and OtherWise voices. Chris has been a catalyst and/or contributor to several other ground-breaking projects for and by transgender faith leaders. Previously, Chris had been publisher and co-director of the (now defunct) award-winning progressive Christian magazine, The Other Side.
Robert E. Penn, Jr. is a New York City-based writer, digital filmmaker and producer. His fiction and non-fiction appear in magazines and anthologies, including Essence, Voices Rising, Sojourner: Black Gay Voices in the Age of AIDS, For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Still Not Enough, and Black Gay Genius: Answering Joseph Beam’s Call. His digital films include public service announcements, documentaries, projection design and ephemeral video remixes.
Robert is currently completing a novel that chronicles the life of a brown girl who survives U.S. border family separation, and also developing a film/TV series based on a West African legend.
Susan Raffo is a writer, cultural worker and bodyworker. In 1995, she edited the book Queerly Classed which is referred to in this essay. It was here where she met both Johnny and Bert and got to share a stage with them in New York after the book had come out. Since 2000, Susan has had a kid (Luca born in 2002) and has taken her organizing work into the overlap between healing justice and collective liberation. www.susanraffo.com
“When Johnny reached out about this book, the first thing that I thought of was marriage. The year Bert died feels like such a turning point in how LGBT community understands itself and its struggle. The marriage debate might or might not be over, depending on politics, but its impact is still felt.”
Colin Robinson is a writer and LGBTI activist from Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) who lived in New York, as part of the 1980s Black Gay Renaissance, and for over a decade illegally. He has a 2016 poetry collection You Have You Father Hard Head, is featured in Marlon Riggs’s Anthem, author of the 2012 Commonwealth Opinion “Decolonising Sexual Citizenship,” co-editor of Think Again, a 2003 collection of essays rethinking HIV prevention, New York field producer for the film Tongues Untied, and has written a newspaper opinion column since 2014, currently in Sunday Newsday in T&T. Director of Imagination of CAISO: Sex & Gender Justice in T&T, he has served in management roles at the Caribbean Forum for Liberation & Acceptance of Genders & Sexualities, Gay Men of African Descent, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, T&T Ministry of Labour HIV Advocacy & Sustainability Center, New York State Black Gay Network, T&T Health Training Centre; and on the boards of the Audre Lorde Project, Out|Right International, Other Countries and the PanCaribbean Partnership against HIV & AIDS.
Paula Santos is a social worker, public health scholar, LGBT and people of color activist, musician, figure skater, gymnast, dancer, baton twirler, writer, and tech geek. Connect with Paula on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and on her Figure Skating and Piano YouTube channels.
Allen Luther Wright, born on the Westside, raised on the Southside, lived on the Northside, only side left was East, but that was Lake Michigan. Allen left Chicago for New York to join Other Countries: Black Gay Men Writing. He now lives with his soon-to-be husband, Wayne, in Croton-on-Hudson. His work can be seen in the Lambda Literary Award nominated anthology Black Gay Genius: On Joseph Beam and In the Life (Vintage Entity Press, 2014); and has appeared in numerous publications including BLOOMMagazineonline.com; Corpus, the art and literary journal collaboration of AIDS Project of Los Angeles and Gay Men’s Health Crisis (2004); the Lambda Award winning anthologies The Road Before Us: 100 Black Gay Poets (Galiens Press, 1991); and, Sojourner: Black Gay Voices in the Age of AIDS (Other Countries Press, 1993) and for KICK – The Agency for LGBT African-Americans (Detroit, Michigan, 2010). Other writings were featured in the first Other Countries journal: Black Gay Voices (Other Countries, 1988); and as part of the Lifestyles Genesis teaching guide sponsored by the Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (1991). He also co-wrote Kevin’s Room, Part 2 (KR2): Trust (2003) and Kevin’s Room, Part 3: Together (2007), the provocative, educational television productions of Chicago’s Department of Public Health, featured at numerous film festivals, including NewFest: The New York LGBT Film Festival. Allen is also proud of his small but significant role in Tongues Untied, (1989) the late Marlon Riggs’ award winning and congressionally condemned documentary. Allen is presently shopping STAGED, his full-length play about love, grief, chosen family, ambition, and second-hand drag.
Bil Wright is a novelist and playwright. His is the author of Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy (Lambda Literary Award and American Library Association Stonewall Book Award), When the Black Girl Sings (Junior Library Guild selection), and Sunday You Learn How to Box (New York Public Library Choice for Young Readers and Coretta King Celebrating the Dream List). His plays include Bloodsummer Rituals, based on the life of poet Audre Lorde (Jerome Fellowship), and Leave Me a Message (San Diego Human Rights Festival premiere). He is the Librettist for This One Girl’s Story (GLAAD Media Award nominee and La Mama Playwriting Award).