For three decades, the Philadelphia chapter of Men of All Colors Together has worked to not only eradicate homophobia, but also to shine a light on the effects of racism in both the LGBT and mainstream communities.
To mark MACT’s 30th anniversary, the community will look back on the organization’s rich history with an archival exhibit that chronicles the group’s growth, development and successes.
The William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St., will stage “Resisting Racism: 30 Years of Men of All Colors Together” through March, the first of its 2011 quarterly archival exhibits. An opening reception will be held from 6-8 p.m. Jan. 27.
MACT traces its roots to Jan. 24, 1981, its first meeting.
Community activist Joe DeMarco placed an ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer in early 1981, seeking those interested in starting a local chapter of the National Association of Black and White Men Together, and about 40 men came together for the inaugural meeting at gay hotspot A Smart Place, on Arch Street. The group, originally called Black and White Men Together Philadelphia, spent the ensuing months organizing and solidifying its mission.
NABWMT was launched the previous year in San Francisco by Michael Smith, a gay white man interested in civil rights and black culture who witnessed intense racial tensions among the LGBT community, said MACT membership chair Stevie Martin-Chester.
“He was surprised about the reactions around him in regards to race,” Martin-Chester said. “Racism is something that’s often hidden; you don’t really notice that it’s happening because sometimes it looks like something else. And to Michael Smith, it was strange that this was happening in the gay community because this was a community that was preaching about rights and fairness, and he thought that if we can’t have that in our community, how can we expect other people to? So he put an ad in The Advocate about a pot luck that was going to be a discussion on racism and equal rights and about 20 people showed up — about half of them were interracial couples — and with that he started the group.”
In the early ’80s, chapters sprung up around the country and internationally.
Locally, the group set forth a multi-pronged mission statement in April 1981, committing itself to offer opportunities for “interracial socialization,” facilitate exploration of personal feelings on race, to provide a supportive forum to discuss relevant issues and actively support efforts to promote racial understanding in the state, especially in the gay community.
The group elected Jerry Mallon as its first chair and, that spring, began hosting social events, participating in LGBT-rights rallies and protests and sponsoring community discussions on race and sexuality.
Martin-Chester said Mallon, who died in the ’90s, was very effective at fueling the group’s early development.
“He was really an incredible person. He was a leader in the community and knew how to teach people,” he said. “Knowledge is meant to be shared and doesn’t mean anything if you keep it to yourself. He believed that and taught me and others that.”
In 1992, Black and White Men Together Philadelphia underwent a name change to the MACT moniker, a shift that Martin-Chester said reflected the diversification of the organization.
“We changed our name because we were finding we had Puerto Rican and Asian people who expressed interest in our group but they didn’t feel that they were included,” he said. “And there were people who came from interracial backgrounds but they felt like they didn’t have a place with us.”
In the early ’90s, MACT’s membership started dwindling, but Martin-Chester and his husband Arthur worked to advertise and promote the group, and ultimately reignited community interest and involvement.
MACT marked a major milestone in 1999 when it first hosted the national convention, a role it reprised in 2009 — drawing more than 125 guests from around the nation to explore the intersection of homophobia, racism and other social issues.
MACT member John Jones, who joined in June, said he was attracted to the organization because of its commitment to eradicating oppression — and has found the agency to stay true to its message.
“It’s a great group of people,” Jones said. “They’re people who care, people who are committed to making a difference, with regard to many of the unfortunate ‘-isms’ that we all deal with.”
Martin-Chester said the archival exhibit can serve as a teaching moment for a community in which commonalities are often overshadowed by differences.
“One of the problems I see in the community is that we’re very divided and like staying that way. I don’t think it’s enough to come together united just three times a year — Equality Forum, Pride and OutFest. We should be trying to keep that dream alive all the time, every day. This exhibit shows that when organizations and people from throughout the community work together, this is what is possible.”
For more information on “Resisting Racism,” call 215-732-2220.