Fire & Desire, billed as “a cocktail of song & poetry,” was a highly-entertaining fundraiser benefiting Us Helping Us, an organization that has dedicated itself to fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS within D.C.’s black community for nearly twenty-three years.
The show, which was perfectly staged at Busboys and Poets this past Sunday, stayed true to its variety theme, evenly weaving singers and poets who were either black gay men or black heterosexual women, which was done purposefully to highlight the alarmingly high rate of HIV infection among this particular demographic throughout the country. There were also prizes given out throughout the evening from some of the show’s sponsors (Metro TeenAIDS, SESTA, Brave Soul Collective, and Bethel Christian Church).
The was no shortage of top-notch D.C.-based talent. Gina Rose, Jacqueline O’Day, B. Jackson Caesar, and Jeremy Hill were all on point and sang an impressive range of songs that ran the gamut of soul, alternative, and jazz. But it was the compelling poetry that impressed me the most. There were quite a few highlights worth mentioning: Monte Wolfe performed two pieces: one inspired by Sade’s Love Deluxe, the other about a turbulent coming-of-age love story that, by the end of it, revealed itself to be about living with HIV. Sampson McCormick performed a comedic-leaning piece titled “Why Didn’t You Tell Me His Ass Was Crazy?” Need I say more? Kanikki Jakarta’s smooth, even-paced cadence and clever rhyming skills gave lots of depth to her poem about an abusive and unfaithful lover who gave her AIDS. David Richardson, the event’s producer and emcee, performed a piece dedicated to the nameless, faceless young men who live and sell themselves on the streets. He effectively used Nicki Minaj’s “Save Me,” as the poem’s backdrop, easily creating one of the evening’s most poignant moments.
This was just the first act, aptly titled “Pain.”
On the flipside, Act 2 was titled “Pleasure,” and it delivered. During the intermission, Stephen Hughes, who was to be the next performer, told me that the show was about to change. Well little did I know that when he took to the stage, he was gonna give Beyonce a run for her money!!! Esther Dean’s “Drop It Low” pumped through the speakers, and Stephen did just that. Everyone in the audience hollered! Our jaws collectively dropped and we cheered and encouraged him to shake what his momma gave him. The show had indeed changed. After he finished gyrating, he performed a heartfelt love poem titled “You.” Oh, but he was not done. After David came back to the stage to announce the next artist, Stephen politely interrupted him…so that he could PROPOSE to him!!! I damn near chocked on my Riesling. Sampson responded loudly and to no one in particular, “This is too much, I need a drink!” After the audience calmed down, David re-emerged wearing this:
Turns out that the proposal was just part of the show, but it did bring awareness to the fact that gay marriages are gaining popularity in the District. The show went on to include provocative performances by Matthew Rose, who did a poem about being a responsible slut; Lyrik Coleman, whose poem about how her man made her publicly wear stilettos even though she only agreed to wear them for him in the bedroom left a lot of folks blushing and fanning themselves; and Nalisa Ballosingh was the night’s showstopper. Her poem “Don’t Be So Quick To Judge” was performed with theatrical flair, and at one point she even busted out a little opera. It told the story of a woman who was blinded by love, only to end up with HIV because she believed his lies instead of listening to her own instincts and loving herself first. The poem swelled to a few crowd-pleasing crescendos and received a much-deserved standing ovation.
HIV is a virus that, if left untreated, can make your body susceptible to opportunistic diseases that can lead to the life-threatening AIDS virus. For me, Fire & Desire was about shedding light on HIV and its effects on the black community, both gay and straight. It was a vehicle for not only entertaining, but spreading the idea that courage, responsibility, unity, and awareness can be powerful tools towards eradicating the mindset that leads to infection. For those with a passion for living and loving, this show proved that HIV does not have the power to rob anyone of that.