Finding The Other City
Scratch beneath the shiny veneer of any city and you find stories of human struggle and reality. On this night, that struggle and reality is AIDS.
At Wednesday evening’s benefit for Fan Free Clinic, a room full of Richmond’s who’s who in the business, political, and health world screened the documentary “The Other City.” Bon Secours brought producer Sheila Johnson to Richmond for the film’s Virginia premiere.
The “Other City” tackles Washington, DC’s status as home to the nation’s highest HIV/AIDS infection rate – a startling four percent of the city’s population – a number that rivals Uganda and West Africa.
After being introduced by First Lady Maureen McDonnell, Johnson spoke of her experience putting the film together and meeting Washington Post contributor Jose Antonio Vargas. Vargas was brought to the stage to help introduce the film which was spawned by a 2006 series of articles he wrote for the Post about DC’s AIDS epidemic. Vargas is the film’s co-producer and writer and frames the movie with several diverse portraits of this “Other City” – among them a single mother struggling to find housing, a family watching their son lose the battle, and an outreach worker going into the drug-ridden trenches to carryout a needle exchange program.
In the opening clips of the film set to an appropriate soundtrack of John Legend’s “Ordinary People,” it is clear that AIDS lives among us – there isn’t one face to the disease.
J’mai, the 28-year-old single mother of three, while living on unemployment receives a notice that her housing grant is in jeopardy. She searches high and low before she is added to a 2-3 year waiting list for a subsidized apartment. Despite her status, she candidly reveals if sleeping with a man for sex will help provide safe shelter to her children, then she will do what it takes. Profiles like J’mai’s highlight the profound impact this disease has on the financially struggling.
Another mother finds hospice care for her dying son through Joseph’s House. He has become resistant to all med combos and is nearly lifeless when taken into care. The film emotionally chronicles his last, dying days.
The trailer is below.
This gritty documentary – at often points difficult to watch – is a wake up call that the AIDS epidemic hits close to home. This other city is your city too.
After the screening, Karen Rimley, Virginia Health Commissioner, commented on the film’s message, “As we talk about DC, we’re also talking about Richmond.” According to Rimley, there are 23,000 known people living with the disease, which breaks down to 1 in 336 Virginians.
She spoke of the future mentioning the Center for Disease Control is encouraging the normalization of HIV testing – routine tests with visits to the ObGyn, physicals, and testing services extended to hospital emergency rooms.
Fan Free Clinic’s new executive director Karen Legato brought an empty chair to the stage. In that chair, Legato placed a picture of Laird Petersen, the clinic’s former Director of Social Services. She wished Petersen was attending the event that night and said she knew he was there in spirit. Petersen lost his battle to AIDS on October 6 after 27 years living with the disease.
Legato said Petersen was fortunate to have resources like insurance, quality health care, and a supportive network of friends and family. She said, like the film, not all are as fortunate and emphasized the need for Fan Free Clinic’s services.
“Fan Free Clinic serves Richmond’s ‘Other City.” It has for the last four decades and will serve it for the four decades,” Legato said.
As for the film, speaking to Vargas after the screening, his team had just received word that the documentary will be coming to Showtime in the near future.
The point of the evening was clear. There is no lead wall separating DC from Richmond. As Rimley said during her remarks, “It’s a disease of humanity, and it is here.”
Photo Courtesy of The Other City. Pictured: J’mai Edwards and Family.
Kevin Clay is the editor and publisher of GAYRVA.COM. He is a Richmond native, loves the city and knows it's on the edge of greatness. Don't hold back RVA. You can follow Kevin on GAYRVA's Twitter or e-mail him at email@example.com.
“We are marching forward, leaning in, charging forward because we take seriously the importance of helping people restore their health”June 24, 2016
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