Brentwood's protests have given way to a calmer acceptance of AIDS patients living there

In the years since the cottages opened, Ratliff says, there have been no crimes, no incidents other than internal ones. "Kids are still able to walk to Hobby School," a route that takes many of them right past the housing.

Willie Sylvester says things are calmer now because "the community has had a chance to see our work and know our mission." Funding has just been renewed again, and more volunteers are involved.

Project director Willie Sylvester says the community now understands the church's mission.
Houston Press
Project director Willie Sylvester says the community now understands the church's mission.

On March 25 Brentwood will be hosting its first major fund-raiser at the Wortham Theater with gospel, jazz, and rhythm and blues singer Oleta Adams. They need more money to continue their work.

The protesters were a blip on Joe Ratliff's screen. He "stayed the course" and was rewarded with a program that he thinks does good and expands his church's ministry. Those parishioners who left were replaced long ago by new faces drawn to a socially active church that seems to attract upwardly mobile African-Americans with their own success stories to tell.

The world in this particular sector off Hiram Clarke did not come to an end because some people with AIDS moved into group housing. Some residents and churchgoers became better educated about the disease. Some took pride in African-Americans helping their own. Some AIDS patients went on to lives elsewhere. Others died, though at least not on the streets and at least not alone.

Globally, the fight against AIDS is being lost, Ratliff says. He knows he can't beat it in Africa, can't vanquish it on mission trips to third-world countries. Ratliff talks about trying to "brighten the corner where we are." Pragmatic compassion.

The Brentwood Baptist Church is notable for the big brown dome that adorns its top. There, a minister and some true believers set aside their own fears and prejudices about the gay lifestyle to try to help some lives. They reached into themselves and became the best they could be. And for all of that, they get to do more. Because there will be more. Let's just hope there won't always be more.

E-mail Margaret Downing at Fear

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