If Larry Craig is forced to resign from the Senate for lewd conduct, then Charles Rangel should resign as head of the Ways and Means committee. The ‘Times’ reported that the powerful Harlem congressman was living, rent-free, in three New York City public housing units. He rented out his Caribbean villa and did not pay taxes on the rental income. I was shocked considering all I have done for Charlie Rangel. I made one of his dreams come true. I introduced him to a cultural icon.
There are thousands of homeless in New York City. I expected more from Charles Rangel, winner of the Harlem Life Award.
I sat next to Charlie Rangel at a fund- raising gala known as the “Harlem Life Awards” and know, first hand, that he is very charismatic and could charm just about anyone out of anything. He looks strangers in the eye and smiles– revealing a look to imply that he is already a friend. When he shook my hand, I felt like I already knew him.
The powerful, multi-term representative turned to talk to me– just a white guy sitting next to him at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture after my boss vacated the seat in the auditorium that separated us.
“How did they get Carmen deLavallade to come to Harlem?” Rangel asked me.
I watched as seventy-two year-old living legend Carmen deLavallade performed a dance solo upon the Schomberg stage before turning my head to address the congressman–
“She believes in the mission of the Upper Room,” I explained without wanting to reveal too much. Our charity was not sure if Rangel would show up to accept the Harlem Life Award. Bertie Ray, director of development of the Upper Room came up with the name for the special event and the idea to make an ‘award’. I did all the work in getting anyone to care or come or donate money. I was the “Special Assistant to the Executive Director” or “Chief of Staff”– a glorified secretary who could write!
“I didn’t hire you to be my cute, white-boy secretary,” Willis joked. “But Bertie Ray is fucking this up. He hasn’t sold one ticket or raised a dollar. I gave him six months and $50,000– where the hell is my special event?”
“Relax, Willis. We can do something.”
“Like what?” My boss screamed at me, as if it were my fault that our fund- raising program was failing to get off the ground.
“Do you remember that dancer I told you about? The guy who picked me up in the Monster and showed me body contortions that I never knew possible?”
Willis laughed, “Yes.”
“He knows that Un-Cola man– Geoffrey Holder.”
“For real? Are you kidding? Can you get him to come?”
The Harlem Life Award was created as part of a larger, fund-raising, public image campaign strategy. Rangel was being honored with the Harlem Life Award, as were a few other politicians from uptown. If my work-life memory serves me proper, David Patterson was there too that night, although he was not on the A list at the First Annual Harlem Life Awards ceremony.
Our annual budget was small and we were attempting to attract government sponsorships for the hot meals and case management services offered to the thousands of nearly homeless people living with HIV. I was the one who managed to get the wife of Geoffrey Holder to come out of retirement and put on a show for the benefit of the Black AIDS charity. I didn’t tell Rangel that I knew Carmen when he reached out his warm hand to shake mine and to ask how the Upper Room attracted the star to its cause. The woman is a national treasure and anyone riding waves of Black arts and politics understands that the cultural dance icon is one who rarely makes an appearance unless there is warranted cause. She does the Lincoln Center, but the star-streaked days of a shooting Harlem with Apollo Theater had ended. Divas like Carmen didn’t do Harlem in the early Nineties. Crack ravaged the community and AIDS was everywhere, especially among young, black male dancers. Carmen was fierce on the stage and danced as if in honor of so many she had known. She was tickled to come to Harlem again to dance for the Black community and AIDS.
Rangel called out from the Harlem audience at the Schomberg like a Beetles groupie:-
“She’s incredible! What a star!” Rangel shouted as if Miss deLavallade may recognize his voice as she kicked a youthful leg up next to her ear while spinning almost effortlessly in the form of a ballerina.
I managed to coordinate the attendance of both divas at the Harlem Life Awards. Bertie Ray was dumb and couldn’t write to save his yellow ass. Rangel came to the Schomberg under a promise made in a letter that I wrote. I tempted the congressman by informing him that the Upper Room was pleased to present to him the Harlem Life Award and we trusted that he would attend the ceremony to accept the prestigious honor to be given to him by Carmen deLavallade– America’s First Lady of Dance.
Carmen agreed to participate because she was told that Congressman Rangel was coming to the “Harlem Life Awards”. Letters of invitation went out to all ‘award winners’ from my Harlem office. I mailed them all on the same day and hoped for the best. My lover delivered my manuscript proposal to his friend Geoffrey Holder. Geoffrey wasn’t interested at first, but his wife Carmen thought the event was a fabulous idea. Frank explained that I worked for the charity and that it could be trusted because Frank trusted me, as his new lover.
I never heard of Carmen deLavallade before dating Frank West, but after I told my boss that Geoffrey Holder’s wife would come instead, Willis nearly fainted. My letter asked for Geoffrey Holder, but yielded Carmen deLavallade instead.
The show was going on. My head was spinning. All from a simple proposal– a narrative that outlined a concept of Black culture and politics. A new response to AIDS in the Black community. My boss, Wills was shocked as guests and ticket buyers showed up in black- tie, as suggested on invitations that I designed–
“Charles Taylor, look at what we’ve done tonight. I’m giving you a raise. This is so beautiful.”
“Shut-up, Willis. Carmen ain’t here yet,” I snipped earlier that evening while multitasking with caterers and fighting with stage hands who needed lighting schedules for the evening’s stage directions.
“I don’t know. Just use red, white and blue lights,” I commanded, while insisting on more ice. “When Carmen deLavallade dances– turn them down and follow her with just a spot.”
I was being pulled in a million directions by my boss, Bertie Ray, stage hands, my lover, caterers and now the congressman had shown-up, thirty minutes early wanting to know who was in charge here. It is no wonder why Charlie Rangel asked me about our connections to Carmen deLavallade while sitting next to me in the theatre. I was the only member on staff who didn’t appear nervous and not knowing what we were doing. I am such a multi-tasker.
“I think Carmen’s coming, Willis. Just relax. There is nothing I can do at this moment. She confirmed this morning, yet was complaining about the fact that she didn’t want to bring a limo here and insisted on riding the subway. If she’s on the 2 train, she’s going to be late.”
“Look! There she is,” Willis screamed while patting my back and side-stepping Bertie Ray who thought he was going to play ‘master of ceremonies’ and greet Carmen at the door. My lover, Frank West quickly headed east through the corridors lined in glass cases, rushing across the marble floors of the swank museum, carrying what was obviously Miss deLavallade’s dance costume. The dance icon followed him. She glowed as celebrities often do under such attention. He quickly escorted Carmen towards the backstage door before Willis, Bertie Ray or Charlie Rangel could ask for too many handshakes. They seemed to want to suck the very art from within her soul by holding her hand for far too long. I stood with my hands behind my back as Frank marched with the diva directly up to me and said– “Carmen, this is my lover, Charles.”
Carmen smiled and winked at me. We didn’t have to shake hands.
I made so many dreams come true the night of the First Harlem Life Awards. Congressman Charles Rangel met what appeared to be the woman of his dreams. Carmen deLavallade danced again. Frank West, my lover, got his first major dance gig. My boss entered important political circles. I got a raise despite an objection and Carmen deLavallade hired me as a part-time personal secretary. Bertie Ray got fired!
People with AIDS in Harlem are still homeless, but at least Charlie Rangel has a place to hang his Harlem Life Award.