He was HIV positive, and he was dying. At least that’s what a doctor told him.
“A few years back, I ran into that doctor,” said actor and dramatist Bryan C. Jones, speaking from his home in Cleveland, Ohio. “And I told him, ‘I must die really slowly. Because 33 years later, I’m still here.’”
Jones lives as boldly and straightforwardly as he speaks. On World AIDS Day Dec. 1, the nationally touring performer will present the hope-oriented, 35-minute piece, “AIDS … And I Die Slowly” from his life’s experiences, and will follow with a question-and-answer time at Arts For AIDS at the Columbus Learning Center.
“Really, I just call it a conversation between different characters,” the 56-year-old AIDS activist said. “I might just change hats when I change characters.
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“I don’t want people to think of this as a performance.”
Especially since Jones eschews costuming, props or even stage lighting. His tools? Just himself, presenting characters highlighting elements of himself and others.
Joining Jones as separate parts of the event will be players from the Asante Children’s Theater in Indianapolis, a global gifts bazaar, African music by the Batesville Xylophones and DJ Ras Tuli with Afrocentric popular music.
Arts for AIDS raises awareness of the ongoing HIV/AIDS global pandemic. Funds raised benefit five small front-line AIDS projects coordinated by the Columbus-based Granny Connection in Haiti and Africa. One focus is on caring for children orphaned by AIDS, according to organizers.
Granny Connection member Mary Harmon of Columbus mentioned that awareness of AIDS-related issues should be in spotlight especially on this particular day.
“In addition to experiencing an entertaining performance, we will come away with a deeper appreciation and respect for persons, children and families who continue to live with the related complexity of health, social and political issues,” Harmon said.
Jones serves as an advocate on HIV-related issues in Cleveland and nationally. He founded Gentlemen’s Quarterly, a men’s support group with more than 100 participants. He also works as a peer educator and a member of the steering committee for the Campaign to End AIDS.
Plus, he remains a key figure in the movement against the criminalization of HIV. But then he’s fond of saying that everyone should be HIV positive.
“Not in terms of their blood but in terms of their perspective,” he said. “Positive about eradicating the virus. Positive about making it a positive thing for people to seek treatment. Positive about wanting to get tested.
“And we’re nowhere near where we need to be with this,” he said. “Nowhere near.”
So Jones will keep touring, speaking and working.
Before his advocacy role, his television and film work included the film “Mac and Me,” and television’s “The Cosby Show.” He studied at The College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati and earned a B.S. in Journalism from Florida A&M University.
He currently is finishing his first novel while working on an master’s of fine arts degree from Cleveland State University. He laughs when people suggest that he does grass-roots work to change ideas and perceptions about HIV and AIDS. That hardly goes far enough.
“I do down-in-the-dirt advocacy,” he said. “You’ve got to find a way to cultivate and till the dirt before the grass can grow.”
He grows frustrated with people who think of people with HIV or AIDS as vastly different from the rest of the world.
“If one of us has it, we all have it,” he said, adding that a unified front will foster understanding.
Jones reminds doctors and others that, technically, we’re all dying.
He simply believes that he perhaps became a bit more aware of that fact than many when he diagnosed 33 years ago. That explains one of his Facebook posts from an anonymous sage a year ago.
It reads: “Do not regret growing older. It’s a privilege denied to many.”
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What: Arts for AIDS event to raise money and awareness for the local Granny Connection’s work on behalf of people affected by HIV/AIDS in Haiti, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Who: Featuring Cleveland actor and dramatist Bryan C. Jones; players from the Asante Children’s Theater in Indianapolis; Global Gifts Bazaar; African music by the Batesville Xylophones; appetizers by C4 and Chef Carrie; DJ Ras Tuli with Afrocentric popular music.
When: 5 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1.
Where: Columbus Learning Center, 4555 Central Ave. in Columbus.
Tickets: $20 for adults, $10 for students; ages 12 and younger admitted free with someone purchasing an adult ticket. Advance tickets available at artsforaids.com, Viewpoint Books downtown or by calling Deana Bode at 812-343-4949.