April 25 is Pierce County AIDS Foundation’s Dining Out for Life, when nearly 70 restaurants in Pierce, Thurston and Lewis counties will be donating 25 percent of diners’ food bills to PCAF. Led by AIDS service organizations in 60 cities in the U.S. and Canada that day, the beauty of this fundraiser is that anyone and everyone can take part, including celebrities who loan their star power to the cause – like film and TV star Pam Grier and “Project Runway” alum Mondo Guerra.
This is Grier’s third year to speak out on behalf of people with HIV/AIDS by being a celebrity spokesperson for Dining Out for Life. Known for her iconic portrayals in films like “Foxy Brown” (1974), “Coffy” (1973) and Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” (1997), among many others, and her television roles in “The L Word” and “Law & Order: SVU,” Grier’s appeal remains strong to this day.
In 2010 she wrote her memoir “Foxy: My Life in Three Acts,” which became a New York Times Bestseller and won Best Memoir of 2010 from the African American Literary Organization. In 2011, Grier received her Doctorate of Humane Letters from Maryland University Eastern Shore, an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Langston University, the Golda Meir Leadership Award and the Entertainment AIDS Alliance Visionary Award. In collaboration with Subaru of America, Inc. and the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum, she started the first Pam Grier Community Garden and Education Center in Dallas. And just last year she received the Legend Award at the Essence Black Women In Hollywood Awards.
Tacoma Weekly had the chance to chat briefly with Grier this week from her home in Denver:
TW: Your ongoing support of Dining Out is so very appreciated. Is this something you see yourself supporting for years to come?
Grier: Absolutely! I'll be supporting Dining Out for Life for many years, yes. Dining Out for Life is everyday for me.
TW: Since we’re talking about dining, what gastronomical delights have you been enjoying lately?
Grier: I've been improving my culinary arts by creating some delicious Indian cuisine. I've also been making Chicken Mole, a favorite of Quentin Tarantino.
TW: Turning to your work, what sorts of projects are you into these days? Is there something extra-special you could tell us about?
Grier: I've been working on several projects: the biopic of my memoir, the musical “Foxy,” a documentary of the process and two indie films, one of which is being shot in London.
TW: Rumor has it that Halle Berry may portray you?
Grier: The script of “Foxy” has been completed. In terms of the casting process, it will be the actor who will "bring it” emotionally and physically. The role is extremely challenging. At this time, I don't know who that will be. But whoever she is, she will have to bring it!
TW: And lastly, anything else at all that you’d like your fans to know?
Grier: Be sure to participate in Dining Out for Life hosted by Subaru on Thursday, April 25! Share this event with the people that are important in your life – I am definitely looking forward to it!
When fashion designer Mondo Guerra entered into the competition on the eighth season of “Project Runway,” he had no idea he would come out to the world as being HIV-positive. It happened during a challenge in which he created a pant with a bold “+” pattern (as in “+” meaning “positive”), and when lightly pressed by the show’s judges to reveal why that particular pattern appealed to him so, he took the opportunity to reveal the emotional secret he had kept hidden for 10 years. Now he’s an outspoken advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS and so has begun his first year as spokesperson for Dining Out for Life.
“I am a creature of expression through fashion and through my advocacy work. Dining Out for Life is our opportunity to celebrate friends, food and being truly fabulous in helping others,” he said.
Since taking that leap of faith and revealing his HIV status, Guerra says his life has become much better, particularly between him and his family. He said he was amazed at the outpouring of support from others with HIV as well and from the general public.
“Me revealing my HIV status on ‘Project Runway’ opened my eyes not only for myself but to the love and support from the HIV-positive community,” Guerra said. “I got tons of e-mails. It’s really important for me to take on the responsibility to continue the conversation about HIV.”
Especially for Dining Out for Life, Guerra has created a limited edition T-shirt design called “Movers & Shakers” featuring a salt-and-pepper shaker design. They cost $25 and can be purchased at http://www.subarugear.com. The shirt is available in a ladies v-neck and men’s crew neck, in sizes small-2XL.
Guerra is also working with Merck pharmaceutical company on a project called I Design, a national HIV education campaign to help empower people living with HIV to play an active role in working with their doctors to design an HIV treatment plan. Guerra said this goes back to his basic message – to talk about it. He said that being HIV positive can present a lot for one person to handle, so talking to a doctor can help alleviate some of that stress.
“Talking about it is so important. We forget to let people support us. It’s okay to let people in, to feel love from other people. When I was first diagnosed I felt afraid, scared, lonely and damaged… it’s a very scary thing. It’s important to let people in and continue to love you.”
And to parents and friends of those who are living with HIV, Guerra advises them to have an open ear, mind and heart when their loved one chooses to speak to them about their HIV status. “I would say just listen and be engaged. You don’t even have to say anything back, but it is your responsibility if you do answer back to educate yourself first.”