A Voice from Philanthropy: The Invisible

By Tamara Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

We charge into every day ready to tackle the next challenge. We are virtually on auto-pilot as our cars almost drive us to work or as we automatically walk down the same streets. We never stop for a conversation with the homeless man who is always beside the escalator at the Metro nor do we really notice the message handsomely engraved on the plaque at the corner as we turn toward our offices.

Earlier this week, I suddenly noticed something that I have walked by literally thousands of times. On the wall in the WRAG office is a quilt commemorating the life of Reggie Blaxton, who lived from 1953 until 2001. It is probably about 7’ X 5’. It is colorful, decorated with poignant quotes, a photograph of a stylish man, and assorted memorabilia recognizing his African roots. It is majestic and not easy to overlook, but somehow I had. After more than six years at WRAG, I finally asked, “Who was Reggie Blaxton?”

I assumed that he had died from AIDS because of the vehicle of a quilt to commemorate his life and because of our work with the Washington AIDS Partnership, but I hadn’t taken the time to learn anything about the man. This week I did.

Reggie Blaxton was a founding member of the Washington AIDS Partnership. He was a native Washingtonian who had graduated from DC public schools before going on to college in Maine, then to Oxford, and then to divinity school to become an Episcopal priest. He was the religious affairs advisor to then-Mayor Marion Barry and author of HIV: Dis-ease of the Church, an essay published in the anthology Dangerous Liaisons: Blacks, Gays, & the Struggle for Equality. Reggie Blaxton was one of the people who pushed us to address the problem that took his life.

Every day we walk a little too quickly by important testaments – living and symbolic – to the issues that we are rushing to address. Behind the issue of homelessness is that homeless man at the top of the escalator. I haven’t taken the time to learn his name, share mine, or begin to know his story. I should. I know that the issues surrounding HIV and AIDS became even more moving to me once they were within the context of Reggie Blaxton’s life. Let’s remember to take a moment to read the plaque, to talk with the homeless man, and to ground ourselves in the real people who populate the challenges that we work to address.

Just a thought.