Friday, October 23, 2015

From the Archives:
The Baltimore Waltz
Written by Paula Vogel
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Reviewed by Alina Oswald

Originally published in A&U Magazine--America's AIDS Magazine

Although much has been discovered about HIV/AIDS in the last twelve years since Paula Vogel's The Baltimore Waltz first premiered in 1992, produced by The Circle Repertory Theatre in Greenwich Village, today maybe more than ever, is the right time for a revival of the Obie award winning play because of its multiple timeless themes: AIDS is still a real part of our lives and its cure is yet to be found, even more, the number of HIV-infected people has increased since the play was first written in 1989, only one year after Paula Vogel's brother' Carl died from AIDS-related causes; second, today's administration considers AIDS issues of similar importance as the administration of the eighties; third, as the Paul Vogel tells Signature Theatre, The Baltimore Waltz is a play not so much about AIDS, but about coping with the grief caused by the death of a brother or sister or a loved one, and learning to live and laugh again through this grief, as a healing process. 
Mask-arade. B&W photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Mask-arade. B&W photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Paula Vogel believes she can best keep her brother, Carl Vogel, alive through a play-rather than through a novel, for example-because, only in a play the story takes place in present time.  While in real life, over the years, she's learnt to use past tense when talking about her brother, Carl will forever come to life, in present time, with each performance of The Baltimore Waltz. 
The revival of the play premiers this year at the Signature Theatre in New York City, as part of Paula Vogel Playwright-in-Residence 2004-2005 Season (November 16, 2006 - January 9, 2005), marking the 17th anniversary of Carl Vogel's death (January 9, 2005).
Set in the eighties, the one-act, 85-minute play uses fantasy to bring to reality the European trip Paula Vogel never took with her brother.  The Baltimore Waltz is Vogel's way of grieving her brother's death, using the satirical and at times frenzy story of an imaginary European trip of Anna (Kristen Johnston; Sex and the City), an elementary Baltimore school teacher and her brother, Carl (David Marshall Grant, The Stepford Wives, television's And The Band Played On, Broadway's Angels in America for which he was nominated a Tony Award), a San Francisco public librarian, while in search for a cure for Anna's fatal illness-ATD, or Acquired Toilet Disease, contracting from using her students' restrooms. 
The transition between the present time reality and the imaginary journey is marked by an alarm clock that comes off and interferes with Anna's plea directed to the audience which starts and ends the play.   
When Carl and Anna learn from their Baltimore doctor (Jeremy Webb, Law & Order and Law & Order: SVU), that his "hands are tied up by the FDA" Carl decides to take try a miracle drug-giving patients to drink their own urine-an Austrian urologist, Dr. Todesrocheln (German for "death rattle") had to offer.  Carl also takes with him Jo-Jo, his childhood plushy bunny and symbol of his love and trust legacy for his sister.  But Anna doesn't understand this symbol, nor does she want to spend more time with Carl, instead, she lives each day of the trip as if it was her last, indulging in good food and long-neglected sexual experiences with bell-boys (Webb, in each case) from each country they visit (France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany), while Carl has his own sexual experiences with a man (Webb) who also carries a plushy bunny. 
The only hint of the rude reality trickles its way into Anna's imaginary trip through the projection of the photos, supposed to be taken while in Europe, yet showing familiar Baltimore sights.  The photos represent the first trigger back to the reality and force Anna to long for what is real in her life-her students and her home, a yearning coming to life through Anna's own words: "I had enough.  I've seen enough of the world I wanna see."
But, for the trip not to have been in vain, Carl and Anna have to find the magical cure they are searching for.  And to do that, Carl has to meet with his old German friend, Herr Harry Lime (Webb) he once considered a God, now living by the motto: "if you want to make billions, you sell hope; it's a business."  Paula Vogel introduces Lime as the third man from the 1949 movie with the same name (where Harry Lime, a German con-artist sells diluted medication in post-war Vienna and, in order to escape the law, goes "underground" by faking his own death).
     While Carl talks with Harry Lime and reflects over the consequences of their younger behavior that made Carl "grow old before [his] time, Anna waits for the doctor, in a hospital room.  As she refuses to try the urologist's [Webb] treatment, his words: "Where is your brother, you fool?  You left your brother in the room alone, you fool!" trigger her mind back to present time reality where the Baltimore doctor (Webb) emphasizes the tragedy of the present time: "I'm sorry, there was nothing we could do."  What Carl left behind for her were his plushy bunny and a few brochures for the trip to Europe they never took.
After trying, unsuccessfully, to revive her brother's stiff body, Anna addresses the audience again: "I could never believe what sickness can do to your body.  I must learn how to use the past tense."  The play ends with a grand finale, of Carl and Anna dancing Strauss' "Emperor's Dance," remaining together and bypassing the death's barriers.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Spanish Bay, by Hans Hirschi - A Book Tour

Spanish Bay - Book Tour (Playlist and more)

Hello Everyone,

I'm glad you joined me on the Spanish Bay book tour. While we're at it, check out my other related post here. Now, the question is: what music do you listen to when reading a book? Or maybe you don't listen to music, you just lost yourselves in the story, following the characters and their journeys of the way.

Spanish Bay, by Hans M. Hirschi

When it comes to background music for listen to, when reading a good book...well, for me, and I believe for many, it depends on the book--romance, a classic novel, mystery? A feel-good story would go very well with a mellow, feel good kinda music, don't you think? At least for yours truly. Or one might have his or her own favorite myself. I tend to read (and also write, for that matter) while listening to something that sets the mood, and yet stays in the background, does not distract, nor does it interfere with my reading. And usually, when I read a good book, everything else seems to fade away, leaving me alone to enjoy the story, and the characters of that story.

There's a deep, powerful connection between readers and characters, one that only a good book, good read, and writer, can provide. And that takes me to Hans Hirschi's books, in general, and to his latest novel, Spanish Bay, in particular.

To start with, the cover is one of a kind, itself demanding a certain kind of music, in a strange, but beautiful way. The read, engaging and entertaining from the very beginning. Imagine yourselves on a deserted beach, you and the book. The actual book. Brush your fingers over the cover, try to familiarize yourselves with the image. Then slowly, so slowly, open the cover and take a peek inside. Start reading. I can guarantee that you won't be able to put it down.

As for the music...that's ultimately up to you, the readers, to build your playlist. As for myself, I'd read while listening to classical music. I'm a fan of Chopin, and played it a very long time ago, too--waltzes and/or nocturnes by Chopin. Nothing quite measures up, I believe. On the other hand, if I put on Queen/Freddie Mercury, I might end up singing along. (And, these days, you wouldn't want to hear me sing.)

For those interested, here are a few links to some reading music:

Chopin, Mozart, Bach (I'd skip Bach, I had to play it, and listen to it...not my favorite, but some might like it):

Here's a link to how to make your own reading playlist for teens, since Spanish Bay is a YA novel:

Find out more about Spanish Bay, by Hans Hirschi here. I'm sure you'll enjoy the read!

As always, thanks for stopping by!
Alina Oswald

Friday, October 9, 2015

 From the Archives

Promises to Keep: President Obama’s Politics of Change and the Future of Gay Rights
(Originally published in Out IN Jersey Magazine)

      “I think that every century has a different group of people [who] have to overcome an obstacle,” Lovari comments. The outspoken gay activist is also an award-winning recording artist who wrote the single Free to Love to support the continuous fight for marriage equality. Lovari explains that in the nineteenth century we abolished black slavery; last century, we fought for and won women rights; this century is gay rights’ turn. He adds that maybe one day we will look back at our fight for gay rights the way we look back, today, at our fight for other civil rights.
      …But that day is yet to come.

The Road Ahead. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
The Road Ahead. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

      The gay revolution did not start in the twenty-first century, but with the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Four decades later and counting, the LGBT community has come a long way, yet the fight is far from over.
      Today, next to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), marriage equality may just be one of the most fiery and talked about topic within the LGBT community and beyond. Like with other civil rights—for example the interracial marriages—the fight for legalized same-sex marriages took over the country one state at a time. And it started with Massachusetts.
      On May 17th, 2010, the Bay State celebrates six years of allowing legalized same-sex marriages. The decision has not only offered a safe haven for same-sex couples and their families, but also boosted the local economy, brought in new creative minds and an infusion of much needed younger population into the larger neighboring area (some 14.7 percent of Maine’s population is 65 years or older).
      Statistics have shown that, to start with, same-sex marriages have brought money into the state of Massachusetts through the booming wedding business. This is significant especially during tough economic times. A study by the Williams Institute of UCLA has shown that, as a result of its legalized same-sex marriages, the state of Massachusetts has gained 111 million dollars in gay weddings related spending—from gowns and tuxes to flowers, cakes, catering and hotel reservations for out-of-state guests. Gay couples usually spend about 7,400 dollars per wedding, while one in ten couples spend more than 20,000 dollars. Extrapolating these numbers to all 50 states, it turns out that, if allowed at federal level, gay marriages alone would bring a nearly one billion dollars in increased tax revenue each year.
      Also, a study done by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has shown that married same-sex couples grow closer and, more often than not, they are out. In addition, it turns out that marriage has a positive influence on the children of same-sex couples. 
      By legalizing gay marriages the state of Massachusetts has attracted gay, and also straight individuals who are part of the creative class—a group of individuals who are either financial gurus, top software programmers, educators or other passionate professionals creating in their field of choice, while thriving to excel in their profession and achieve higher goals. Generally, these are young and dedicated individuals who find appealing to live in communities which are open-minded and open to diversity.
      In the years following 2004, other New England states followed Massachusetts’ example and legalized same-sex marriages. As a result, they offered new opportunities and freedoms to married same-sex couples and their children, allowing them not only to live in one particular state, but also to move within the New England area without fear of losing their marriage—or adoptive parents—rights.
      Maybe it’s not a surprise that New England was the first to allow equal marriage rights. After all, while not always perfect, the region is known for its openness to tolerance throughout the centuries. After all, New England became the safe haven for seventeenth-century Europeans, offering a place where they could freely express their religious beliefs. Later, the region became the starting place for the abolition of black slavery. 
      But the end of the Civil War was not the end, only the beginning in the fight for civil rights. Only much later after the War, some of the states started legalizing interracial marriages (also known as miscegenations). A 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed interracial marriages in all states. As a result, the miscegenation laws still remaining in a few states became invalid. Although not enforceable anymore after 1967, these laws were enshrined in the constitutions of at least two states… South Carolina removed the law in 1998. Alabama, in the year 2000.
      President Obama’s parents got married in 1960 or 1961, as he explains in an interview with members of Human Rights Campaign [HRC]. His parents’ marriage would have been illegal in some states from the South. Therefore, the president explained that he understood the same-sex marriage rights issue “intimately.” Yet, during the same interview, the president also declared that he supported civil unions with federal rights and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). (These were the same views he had shared with Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, back in 2008, when he also mentioned that marriage is not defined in the U.S. Constitution, but by each state.] Marriage has always been defined at state level. Each state has its own definition of the term based on age, sex, (and race, which couldn’t be enforced after 1967).
      President Obama is definitely not alone in his views. Like Obama, and also at least officially, other liberals, including Hillary Clinton, share the same views on marriage equality. While this can be disappointing, on the other hand, based on their history, conservatives are almost expected to oppose any LGBT rights or other progressive initiatives. Yet, recently, Cindy McCain surprised everybody with her decision to openly support gay marriages. She switched from her husband’s (Senator McCain) views on the issue and appeared in an NOH8 ad—a “silent photographic protest” against the passage of Prop 8 in California, by celebrity photographer Adam Bouska and his partner, Jeff Parshley. 
      The question is: Does Cindy McCain’s switch make any difference? She does not run for presidency. Nor does her daughter, Megan, who also appears in the same pro gay marriage ad. On the other hand, Obama will run for re-election in 2012.
      In 2008 he ran for change. And his supporters, including those from the LGBT community, believed him. Yet, his promised changed is yet to make any significant impact on people’s lives. The truth is that, like every other president and candidate for public office, Obama did overpromise, and then, once elected president, maybe he realized that his hands were too tied to do everything he had intended to do in the first place—one example is the healthcare reform.
      While some members of the LGBT community are rightfully disappointed with the change and promises Obama has delivered so far, especially when it comes to equal marriage rights, others, like Orange County AIDS and gay activist Terry Roberts, believe that it would be a “political suicide” for Obama to openly admit that he’s for gay marriages. Roberts also believes that, if re-elected, the president will legalize same-sex marriages at federal level, because he will feel free to tackle the most progressive topics on his agenda.
      This begs the question: would openly admitting his position on gay marriages really cost President Obama his 2012 re-election?
      Answers may vary from one member of the LGBT community to another.
      New York City recording artist and activist Lovari thinks that, no matter what poles say, people are split down the middle when it comes to gay marriages, reasons being (like with everything else) money and religion. A Hillary Clinton supporter, he also believes that the LGBT members who’re Obama supporters and who want their rights so strongly still believe in the president, because, like anybody else, they want so desperately to believe in something. “I don’t count,” Lovari adds. “I didn’t vote for him.”
      Across the Hudson River, Jersey City photographer and activist Beth Achenbach hopes that “people don’t put so much hope into [Obama] to change things that [they] don’t work on changing, [themselves].” Because, she says, Obama can’t change everything. It is up to members of the LGBT community to be the first in the fight for their rights.
      In sunny Florida, where same-sex couples aren’t even allowed to adopt, 25-year-old painter Teresa Korber agrees that people tend to lose faith when promises are broken or don’t materialize soon enough. “We are all people, we are all the same,” she comments, talking about same-sex marriages. She also encourages everybody to be patient. After all, most people don’t know politics and are not in President Obama’s shoes; therefore, cannot judge. Instead, Korber advises people to be persistent in fighting for their civil rights. She passionately believes that persistence always pays off. She should know. Persistence has helped her become the accomplish artist she is today.
      Any type of human discrimination is a cause for civil rights. This century may just be the one of gay rights. To accomplish that, though, same-sex marriage activists and supports need to follow in the footsteps of those who’ve fought before them: to never give up, always be vocal. “We just always have to be vocal,” Lovari encourages. “Never shut up. We don’t have all this [money,] so we have to always vocally express ourselves. Always talk, talk, talk. […] People are listening.”

As always, thanks for stopping by!
Alina Oswald

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Few Updates: Photography and More

A Few Updates: Photography and More

I've been posting "From the Archives" posts here, as I started new websites and blogs. Check them out at Alina Oswald and Art, AIDS & Others but as I find myself further pondering on websites to keep or merge, here're some updates and links to new posts.

Recently I got to test some new lights and upgraded my photo gear. I also had the wonderful opportunity to photograph the HIV Warriors project.

But let's get back to testing photo gear. I really love it! That's because there're no restraints, plenty of room for error and, even more important, plenty of creative freedom. You are, after all, shooting for yourself. Trying out new things. Experimenting. Some things work, others don't, and that's ok. You also get to realize what new gear you might need (need, not want :-)) and what you're doing right, or wrong. Yes, learn from your mistakes.

So, here are a few images from my most recent (test) photo shoots.

Back at You. Man's Back. Studio Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Back at You. Man's Back. Studio Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved. For more portraits of men, check out my Photographing Men series, a work in progress.

I also took the advantage to test the new lights on myself. I never have fresh portraits of myself, hence, a self-portrait session.

With this, I updated my profile picture on several social networks. It was long due.

While I mainly photograph men, I sometimes photograph women, too. So, here are a few more images, test shot portraits of men, and women.

Photographing Men. Studio Portraits of Men. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Photographing Men. Studio Portraits of Men. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

That's that, for now. Thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald

Friday, October 2, 2015

From the Archives:
Pills Profits Protest: Voices of Global AIDS Activists
Co-directed by Ann-christine d'Adesky and Ann T. Rossetti
September 2003

Reviewed by Alina Oswald
Originally Published in A&U Magazine--America's AIDS Magazine

Power Pills & shoes. Photo by Alina Oswald. Originally created for a food photography assignment.
Power Pills. Photo by Alina Oswald. Originally created for a food photography assignment.

Pills Profits Protest is an up-to-the-minute chronicle of global AIDS treatment access movement that weaves personal battles with HIV/AIDS, stories of activism against AIDS and the big pharmaceutical companies from around the world, with opinions of politicians, journalists, doctors and members of national and international organizations.    
Co-directed by Ann-christine d'Adesky, an AIDS journalist since 1984, the one-hour documentary "was made in fits and starts," as Ms. d'Adesky explains, in a two-year timeframe-from the AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa, in the summer of 2000, an event that "turned despair into hope," to Brazil, in 2002.  Along the way, documented stories from India, Haiti and Uganda added to the film's message...that it is easy to mobilize people to fight against AIDS and for their rights to treatment and this fight takes different paths in different countries. 
Especially in poor and developing countries, people "on the ground"-those who are affected by the disease first hand-cannot afford the exorbitant prices of the Western drugs.  Result?  They develop not only their own generic medications but also their own survival strategies.  
For example, Brazilian health representatives believe that "until not long ago HIV affected the [human] body in the same way AIDS affected the world."  Nowadays, all Brazilian people living with HIV/AIDS have access to generic AIDS medications and treatment.  India first got into the game in order to provide Brazilians with cheaper drugs... nowadays, it develops its own.  In developing countries, providing treatment and care for people living with HIV/AIDS is not a health issue, but an economical issue.  Even more, in African countries, the fight for access to AIDS treatment for all translates into a women's movement for their rights and for the rights of children and orphans. 
The global fight against the high Western AIDS treatment prices follows the diversity of the global fight against AIDS.  Globally, there is a huge "gap between what people want and what the government thinks it's good for the people," a gap that the Global Fund Organization many hope is capable to bridge.  As of summer of 2001 the Fund was "half billion dollars and growing," as Collin Powel announced at the UN conference, while AIDS activists demonstrated inside the UN building. 
So, is there any hope that this bridge will ever be built?  After watching Pills Profits Protest we surely hope so, or at least agree with Rachel Cohen's (Doctors without Borders) beliefs that the global movement for AIDS treatment for all may start another research revolution.  Pills Profits Protest reaches for the hope still present in our hearts, an enthusiastic approach to inform and educate about the reality of the global fight against AIDS through the fight for available treatment for all.

Friday, September 18, 2015

From the Archives: Out of Hiding originally published in A&U Magazine

Out of Hiding - A Woman's Perspective
(Quite a few years ago, I had the unique opportunity to interview Brenda Stone Browder for A&U Magazine. Here's what she had to say

Lunar Eclipse. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Lunar Eclipse. Photo by Alina Oswald.
With all the recent media attention, we may think that we know all about life on the Down Low.  The truth is that we barely heard half of the story.  To hear the other half-the woman's side of the story-reading Brenda Stone Browder's book, On the Up and Up-A Survival Guide for Women Living with Men on the Down Low comes in handy.      
"I am first of all a child of God and all I do and say gives honor to God," Brenda Stone Browder says when we talk on the phone.  She is also an educator, lay speaker, and the ex-wife of J.L. King (author of bestseller On the Down Low). 
The term, Down Low (meaning "in hiding"), refers to African American men who are living a secret gay lifestyle.  Although the term is used mostly in the African American community, the practice is not. 
As Browder explains in detail in her book, men on the Down Low are usually attracted to naÔve women who lack self-esteem because these women can easily become their "cover girls" who unknowingly help them cover up their DL behavior.     
And Brenda Stone Browder knows the "cover girl" type; she used to be one... but not anymore.  Now, up from her DL relationship, she urges women who find themselves in similar situations to learn to love and respect themselves first, and to put God first.  "Everything else will follow," she assures me. 
And if they need help and support, Brenda Stone Browder is there for them, through workshops and seminars and through her book to help women understand that their partners' DL behavior is not their fault, to help them regain their confidence and realize that not every man is on the Down Low and that they are worthy of unconditional love with the right person.  
Topics of discussion in Brenda Browder's seminars cover a multitude of topics: 
- The DL lifestyle topic teaches women how not to let their partner's DL lifestyle control their life, but to use it as a learning experience. [Related online resources can be found at or]
 - The safe sex topic urges women to negotiate condoms in their relationships. Too many times, especially when in a long-term relationship where has never been any apparent reason to practice safe sex, bringing up topics like condoms or getting tested is not that simple.  That's where Brenda Stone Browder's book-as much as J.L. King's books-can help, providing an avenue for people to be able to have a safe-sex dialog and not be too uncomfortable about it.   Those interested to learn more can check out "A Conversation of Reconciliation," a tour through which the two authors come together to share their own experiences of the Down Low phenomenon and talk about safe sex and HIV/AIDS prevention.  [More details on]
- The prevention topic (as a key role in defeating HIV/AIDS or any illness or disease) interests Browder in particular.  "[AIDS] doesn't have to be a part of your life," she comments.  "[Young people in particular] have to understand that AIDS makes their life difficult when it doesn't have to be.  All it takes [to avoid getting infected] is a little responsibility."    
- The role of churches in fighting the AIDS pandemic as go-to places where people living with HIV/AIDS should find help and support.
Browder urges churches to become partners and educate their communities to embrace the AIDS community.  "I feel that churches should open up the dialog because [AIDS] is not gonna go away just by ignoring it. We need to be a part of that prevention and care."

As always, thank you for stopping by!
Alina Oswald

Friday, August 7, 2015

From the Archives: Article originally published in Beyond Race Magazine

The ‘H’ Man Brings the Heat: Article originally published in A&U Magazine

H is for Heat.  H is for Harlem.  H is for Hickson, a native of Harlem with an ear for the heated stories of the inner city and with a few tales of his own.  “Harlem is where the heart is,” 36-year-old Hickson says, willing to talk just about everything but his first name (which, at least for now, remains a mystery).

Live Lava. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Live Lava Heat. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved. (if you stand close enough, the smell and heat of the lava reaches you, wraps around you)

He graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1998, with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Advertising and Marketing Communications.  While attending college on a full-time basis, Hickson also worked as a freelance stylist, a job that led to a wardrobe coordinator position with Audrey Swaltz and the Ground Crew, a recognized backstage management team.  It was here that he was put in charge of coordinating catwalk queen Naomi Campbell’s outfits.
Five years into his work, on September 10, 2001, Hickson decided to leave the industry, unaware of the tragic events about to happen the following day.
“After 9/11, I was living off my savings,” Hickson recalls.  He also started to put his life experiences into words at that time.  Soon, writing became a creative outlet for Hickson.  He was writing poetry in between job interviews.  At the advice of his friends, Hickson published his poems in Ghettoheat, a collection of verse portraying the experiences, energy, and vibe of urban inner city life.  Hickson says life on the streets of Harlem includes “the good, the bad, and [definitely] the ugly, [but also] the beauty of it, too.  It is not all tragic, it’s love as well,” he says.  “I love my people and my native place, even if, sometimes, it [can] get chaotic.”
    To self-publish his poetry book, Hickson founded his own multimedia company, Ghettoheat.  It all happened in 1996 in the Village during Veteran’s Day weekend.  Hickson was wrongly accused of not using a token for his train trip.  He was handcuffed and locked in the men’s bathroom on the train platform…without being allowed to use the bathroom.  It took the police four hours to release him, because they were waiting for the shift change.  The ten officers involved enforced an illegal strip search of Hickson, violating his rights.  This led to a class action suit, which Hickson won in 2000. 
Three years later, Hicskon received his check.  Two days later, on June 4th, 2003, he started his company, Ghettoheat, “What exists before, during, and after the fire,” as defined on its website, 
Ghettoheat’s mission is to educate and empower everyone through entertainment by creating awareness, be it for safer sex, HIV/AIDS, or street-life awareness, in its products.
While starting with only one author (Hickson), Ghettoheat now publishes six authors and is seeking other new and original voices.  Ghettoheat authors come from all paths of life and from everywhere across the country.  Two of them, Jason Poole and Damon “Amin” Meadows, are co-authors of Convict’s Candy, a novel inspired by actual events and the authors’ personal experiences.  It exposes the reality of life behind bars and issues like HIV/AIDS and sexual harassment among convicts through the story of a trans-woman locked together with the male inmates. 
While the two authors are awaiting their soon-to-come release, Hickson is helping out with promoting Convict’s Candy through book events around New York City.  After all, Hickson believes in the powerful message of Convict’s Candy.  That’s why he decided to make it a Ghettoheat production.  
But Ghettoheat is much more than a multimedia company.  Ghettoheat is a movement against illiteracy within inner cities, providing a creative outlet especially for youth to express themselves freely through the art of writing.  Ghettoheat Movement has established a college scholarship fund intended for young adults pursuing careers in journalism and/or creative arts.  Funding for the scholarship comes partly from the sales of Ghettoheat products.
Ghettoheat Movement is also about everyday people across the world united in their efforts to promote the importance of reading.  As defined on Hickson’s website, Ghettoheat Movement’s mission is “to find a solution for the serious, ongoing problem of illiteracy within urban communities.”
While dedicating his work to improve the lives of others through fighting illiteracy and bringing into the open real issues of life on the street, Hickson also has goals of his own.  He hopes that soon it will be possible to make Ghettoheat books into movies and, therefore, add to the ways in which Ghettoheat can help.  After all, Hickson concludes , “[Ghettoheat] is all about making a difference.”   

Friday, July 17, 2015

From the Archives: Damaged Goods a Review
Originally published in A&U Magazine

Damaged Goods
Directed by Nadia Buckmire

Review by Alina Oswald

Dead Tree. Lensbaby Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Dead Tree. Lensbaby Photography by Alina Oswald.

"Damaged Goods" is educative, as much as it's honest, raw and candid.  Its sense of humor allows us to look at HIV and AIDS in a different way.  Filmed over a period of two years and a half in New York City, Los Angeles, and Tucson, "Damaged Goods" premiered on November 8th, 2003, in New York City, at the New York International Independent Film Festival. 
Nadia Buckmire concentrated the 150 hours of initially footage into a 62-minute documentary packed with most current facts and statistics about HIV and AIDS, "people on the street" opinions, and interviews with leading medical authorities, HIV/AIDS activists, like Craig Miller, founder of AIDS Walk, and shelter workers.  The film concentrates on the latest HIV testing method, "Orasure," and shares the anxiety of six volunteers - testing for HIV for the first time - and also their results, one week later. 
"Damaged Goods" tells the story of five heterosexual men and women living with HIV or AIDS.  Characters represent different age, ethnic, and social groups in our society.  They all share their passions and joys and talk about their fears and challenges of living with the virus.  They talk with honesty about subjects like disclosure and stigma, relationships and lessons learnt.  They all live with a terminal disease - HIV or AIDS, but is this reason enough to consider themselves 'damaged goods'?  Those who do better be 'handled with care.'
Acintia and Mario try to raise their children and see them graduate from high school.  They are both HIV positive.  Their positive attitude about life helps them overcome the "curses" of living with HIV. The virus "doesn't go away," so, they "put it in [their] pocket and live."  Jennifer is a young mother and wife.  She has to live not only with HIV but also with the "stigma" of "being Asian."  Nancy, a Philippine mother with grown-up kids, also talks about the "stigma" of being HIV positive inside Asian communities.  Tom is a 53-year-old rock 'n roll musician who always got everything he wanted in life.  He ended up with something he didn't want - full blown AIDS.  Diagnosed in 1997, he calls AIDS "a blessing" and also "a curse."  It's also his life.  Coming from a "very conservative" New England family, Sharon considers her life "boring" and "ordinary."  Diagnosed in 1995, she refuses to get depressed about being HIV positive.
 The film played at GMHC (Gay Men Health Center) in New York City, on December 4th, 2003 and it continues to be distributed in centers and high schools across the country.  "Damaged Goods" is a must-see documentary, especially for those who know little about the reality of living with HIV or AIDS.

Alina Oswald

Friday, July 10, 2015

From the Archives: Article originally published in A&U Magazine

Rights and Obligations
By Alina Oswald

What is my main problem?
What do I need to do?
Why is it important for me to do this?

AIDS On Going Going On Bags. Photo by Alina Oswald.
AIDS On Going Going On Bags. Photo by Alina Oswald.
These three simple questions (otherwise known as "AskMe3") capture the core of a healthy doctor-patient relationship. Patients have the right to ask (and doctors or nurses have the obligation to answer) these questions at every appointment with a healthcare professional-be that for an HIV test, AIDS follow-up, or a cold. 
Doctor Sharon Denise Allison-Ottey supports using AskMe3 especially when it comes to chronic diseases like HIV/AIDS, dealing with multiple medications, when the best of us become a bit confused by what we need to do and when we need to call the doctor versus not. She is an MD and health educator who gives talks in (particular African American) women's health and HIV/AIDS.  She is also the Director of Health and Community Outreach Initiatives with COSHAR Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to health and community education.  And part of the study material is available at, a website offering detailed information on "health literacy" defined as "the ability to read, understand and act on health needs." 
Doctor Allison-Ottey also advocates AskMe3 and health literacy in her debut novel through which she enables patients to better communicate with their healthcare professionals and take better control of their health, while zooming in on the reality of living with HIV/AIDS.  Part of the proceeds goes toward Get It Done - HIV/AIDS Initiative in Women, a national campaign trying to raise awareness and encourage people to get tested.  All I Ever Did Was Love A Man is a new fiction genre called medical romance and the first in a series of future books. 
"[And] if it is about the book, I'm Sharon Allison-Ottey," the author points out as we start our phone interview, because she doesn't know many people that want to read a piece of fiction by a doctor.  For her, fiction has to have purpose and to inform, "to have teeth."    
And in that sense, All I Ever Did Was Love A Man resonates with a wide audience around the country.  The messages posted on the author's website speak for themselves.  "I'm getting emails from people reading it and having testing," the author says, but this is only part of what she intends to accomplish with her debut book.  She also hopes her novel will open the door to doctor-patient conversations in a non-medical way and teach about HIV/AIDS without readers actually feeling that they've read a health education book.  
And she accomplishes this by introducing us to real-to-life characters with which we can easily identify: Sabrena, the protagonist, is presented through her multi-level interactions with those who populate her world.  She is first and foremost a mother, a friend, also a sexual being who also happens to have HIV/AIDS.     
"There is no one Sabrena," Allison-Ottey explains, "[but rather] a collage of a lot of women and a lot of their stories."  Sabrena's special friendship with Vance is particularly important for the book.  By portraying the two characters in different HIV/AIDS phases, races, genders and sexual orientations, the relationship helps kicking the stereotypes down, while setting the stage for open-minded conversations about HIV/AIDS. 
Allison-Ottey thinks of her book as a conversation piece that will allow people to share their experiences with HIV/AIDS, because most people at this point know someone who's either HIV positive or has AIDS. 
"We have to really begin to look at this disease just as we look at hypertension, diabetes, any of those things," she concludes, "[Because AIDS] is part of the individual, but it does not define it."     

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

From the Archives: Article originally published in Out IN Jersey Magazine

Christopher Street: A Universal Symbol of Pride

Some of us may associate Christopher Street with New York City, the Village or Pride Parade, but over the years Christopher Street has become more of a universal symbol of Pride. The Stonewall riots of June 1969 have inspired people beyond New York City and the U.S. and resonated with individuals all around the world.
Balloons of rainbow colors form the Rainbow Flag at NYC Pride. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Balloons of rainbow colors form the Rainbow Flag at NYC Pride. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

The name of the event may vary from country to country-Gay Pride, pride parade and even Worldpride.  Europeans, for example, celebrate their Pride through Europride, an annual parade inaugurated in London, in 1992. In Germany it's known as Christopher Street Day or simply CSD.

Berlin, Germany. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved. In 2010 I visited Berlin, for the first time after the fall of the Wall, for the first time, for me, as one unified city. Beautiful city, I might add.
Bremen and Berlin hosted the first German CSDs in 1979, while the first documented German LGBT parade took place in M¸nster, in 1972. CSD-related events start as early as May and continue until October in cities like Dresden, Frankfurt, Cologne, Berlin, and Hamburg.
And a hint of Germany....Sylt Market Center. Sylt is a German Island, at the border between Germany and Denmark. Photo by Alina Oswald

Each year, CSD organizers strive to schedule the events at the end of June, but that is not always possible. Other happenings-like 2006 World Cup-can sometimes change their plans. Major cities like Cologne (with one of the largest CSD parades in Germany) and Berlin (which also hosts the larger Love Parade) schedule their CSDs in the July-August timeframe, while Hamburg plans its events at the beginning of August. CSD's name comes, indeed, from the actual Christopher Street in New York City.

For those interested in experiencing the German Pride this coming summer: CSD Munich is scheduled for July 27th, Berlin for June 23rd, Frankfurt Pride week is June 16th to June 24th and Hamburg's is planned for August 3rd to August 5th. Most Germans speak fluent English, so communication is no problem. Though knowing even a few words of German is much appreciated.  

The Rainbow Flag. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
The Rainbow Flag at Jersey City Pride Fest. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
A few months after its 2006 CSD, I put my own German language skills to test during my visit to Hamburg. A diverse city and second largest in Germany, Hamburg is located at the North Sea, at the junction of rivers Elbe and Alster, the latter forming two artificial lakes within the city: Binnenalster (Inner Alster) and Aussenalster (Outer Alster). My guide, Sina (pronounced like the Warrior Princess), took me everywhere from the Warehouse District and Reeperbahn (the "Bourbon Street" of Hamburg) to Saint Georg District ("The Village" of Hamburg). 

Last August, Saint Georg marked the starting point of Hamburg's CSD parade. Sina was one of the four thousand participants who walked in the parade, all the way to Binnenalster. But the Inner Alster-with its famous dragon statue-didn't mark the end but rather the starting point to another CSD event in yet another city.  

Alina Oswald