EAST POINT POS­SUMS HEAD­LINE STONEWALL MONTH

Cel­e­brate Pride in June with big com­mu­nity fundraisers, tons of lo­cal events

GA Voice - - Front Page - By DYANA BAGBY dbagby@the­gavoice.com

Some 3,000 peo­ple are ex­pected to flock to down­town East Point on June 15 for the an­nual East Point Pos­sums Show, where they will drink gal­lons of Pos­sum Punch, watch more than 25 drag per­for­mances and stuff dol­lar bills into sweaty, ahem, places to raise money to help LGBTQ home­less youth.

This year, pro­ceeds from the fundraiser ben­e­fit Lost-n-Found Youth, which re­cently an­nounced a $1 mil­lion cap­i­tal cam­paign to fund new re­sources as well as a new shel­ter.

“It just keeps get­ting big­ger and big­ger each year,” said Rick West­brook, ma­tri­arch of the Pos­sums as well as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Lostn-Found. “Ev­ery dol­lar that comes to the stage, ev­ery sale that is made, will go di­rectly to Lostn-Found — and I will be re­mind­ing peo­ple of that con­stantly.”

Launched in 1998 by a group of friends — West­brook, John Jef­frey, Ch­es­ley Thur­man and Chuck Jenk­ins — the East Point Pos­sums started as a small show in a back­yard to raise a few hun­dred dollars for Pets Are Loving Sup­port. When Jenk­ins died in 2004 due to com­pli­ca­tions from AIDS, his friends con­tin­ued to do the show in his honor. Over the years, the Pos­sums have raised thou­sands of dollars for or­ga­ni­za­tions in­clud­ing At­lanta Pride, the Phillip Rush Cen­ter and the MIS­TER pro­ject of Pos­i­tive Im­pact.

East Point Mayor Earnes­tine Pittman, who has a les­bian daugh­ter, said she sup­ports the show 100 per­cent and notes it is the sec­ond largest event in the city. Only the city’s Fourth of July cel­e­bra­tion brings out a slightly larger crowd.

“I’ve gone to one show and I en­joyed it,” Pittman said. “The city has a very di­verse pop­u­la­tion and I know [the show] has been very prof­itable for the char­ity it sup­ports and is well known.”

Pittman said the fact the Pos­sums show brings peo­ple “from every­where” to East Point gives the city a chance to show­case its pride.

“Peo­ple may think be­cause we are a small city we are not wel­com­ing. But we ap­pre­ci­ate di­ver­sity in our city, whether it’s race, re­li­gion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion — it doesn’t make any dif­fer­ence,” she said.

FROM ‘YMCA’ TO ‘GLEE’

For those who have gone to the show, there’s no deny­ing there are crowd fa­vorites — be­sides the Pos­sums, of course.

The East Point Vil­lagers in­cludes part­ners Andria Towne and Sheila Mer­ritt. They never in­tended to be on stage, both stress. They worked be­hind the scenes dur­ing the early years of the Pos­sums show, a role with which they were more com­fort­able.

Chuck Jenk­ins asked for sev­eral years for them to put to­gether a num­ber but Towne said they al­ways de­clined.

“Then when he got re­ally, re­ally sick, he sent a mes­sage via Rick [West­brook] that he’d like us to do a num­ber. He was dy­ing so of course we could not say no. We thought it would be a quick lit­tle num­ber,” Mer­ritt said. “And we were so grate­ful we did be­cause Chuck died four days later. And that’s why we still do it.”

That first num­ber, per­formed in 2004, was a sim­ple rou­tine to “YMCA” by the Vil­lage Peo­ple — hence the group’s name.

“This was in the days when the stage was a cou­ple of ris­ers on cin­der blocks in a tiny park­ing lot and the back­drop was an empty Uhaul truck,” Towne said.

Since that time, the East Point Vil­lagers have got­ten quite good and plan their own chore­og­ra­phy, make their own cos­tumes and now per­form to med­leys of pop fa­vorites from CeeLo Green to “Glee.”

This year, the Vil­lagers have been prac­tic­ing hard and prom­ise an­other sig­na­ture med­ley that will have peo­ple danc­ing and do­nat­ing as well as pos­si­bly shed­ding a tear, Towne said. Lost-n-Found Youth, founded by West­brook to help home­less LGBT youth, is an im­por­tant cause to the Vil­lagers as well and they plan to in­cor­po­rate the is­sue into their num­ber.

The Ar­morettes, the in­fa­mous camp drag troupe which has raised more than $2 mil­lion dollars in the past 33 years for AIDS ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tions, per­formed at the Pos­sums show for the very first time last year.

So­fonda Cox, an Ar­morette for three years, said the mis­sion of the Pos­sums matches theirs as well.

“For many years, our goal has been to fight HIV and AIDS and help char­i­ties and build our com­mu­nity,” Cox said. “A lot of Pos­sums are sup­port­ive of us and we feel we should be sup­port­ive of them. And it’s a to­tal blast to go to watch and ob­serve. The show is a great com­mu­nity-build­ing event and pro­vides aware­ness of what we do.”

The Ar­morettes are also big sup­port­ers of Lost-n-Found, Cox said.

This year, the Ar­morettes are plan­ning a med­ley around a “campy movie” — but that is all Cox would give up.

“I love sit­ting on the hill and watch­ing the per­for­mances and min­gling with peo­ple and just see­ing so many peo­ple come to­gether for a good cause,” Cox said.

And bring your dol­lar bills.

East Point Vil­lagers

Rick West­brook

Ar­morettes

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