May 25, 2005

Keeping His Name Alive

So He Won't Be Forgotten

Gay men unite through blogs to keep alive the story of a city teenís brutal slaying

By Andrew Lavallee
Andrew Lavallee is a freelance writer.

Rashawn Brazell would have turned 20 in April. Instead of a celebration, his birthday was marked with candlelight vigils and town hall meetings.

By then, his February murder had faded from headlines. But a growing number of New York-area bloggers, many of them African-American and gay, like Brazell, are keeping his memory, and the search for his killer, alive.

"I couldn't do anything else until I'd blogged about it," said Larry D. Lyons, II, 24, one of the first to write about the crime in an online diary.

Lyons compiled links to news reports and posthumous letters he had written to Brazell in early March. Dozens of readers posted their comments, and more comments came with each entry.

Brazell's murder struck a chord with Lyons and many in the black gay community who believed his murder had been given short shrift by the New York mainstream media.

Brazell, of Brooklyn, disappeared Feb. 14. Several days later, parts of his body were found in a Brooklyn subway tunnel and later a recycling plant. Early news reports said he was going to rendezvous with another man.

"He was just a bag of trash," said Mervyn Marcano, a publicist, after he read that a bag with Brazell's legs and one arm was found in a subway tunnel. "It repulsed me that people couldn't find the space in their reports to even say his name."

"I've seen several days of stories about a bird nesting on ledge," said Brazell's mother, Desire. "But my child only got a few headlines."

Within several weeks of Brazell's killing, people began blogging about the incident. Today, there are at least 10 sites, including rashawnbrazell.com, that have discussed his murder.

Some bloggers are trying to keep the story alive, while others are trying to organize.

Terrance Heath, 36, who lives in Washington, blogged about Brazell to raise awareness outside of New York. His site, republicoft.com, receives about 1,000 hits a day. "If even that many people can hear about this case," he said, "then maybe it will make a difference. So that the next young African-American gay man doesn't find himself in the situation that Rashawn did."

With the help of organizations like People of Color in Crisis and Gay Men of African Descent, bloggers planned a vigil, then a town hall meeting in which City Councilwoman Letitia James, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care and the Unity Fellowship Church of Brooklyn volunteered funds to increase the reward. It has grown from $2,000 to $12,000.

The New York State Black Gay Network and The New York Panthers Leather Club*, two organizations also involved, began a series of safe-sex workshops focusing on safely "hooking up" online.

"It was really the bloggers who brought community-based organizations to the table to address what happened," said Kenyon Farrow of the Black Gay Network.

Bloggers launched the Rashawn Brazell Collective in March and, along with it, a collaborative Web site. It includes contact information for the detectives working on the case and details on upcoming events.

Others used their blogs to share information drawn from their skills and experience. "Brotha to Brotha," written by a former television network producer, included tips on contacting ABC and CBS. Donald Agarrat, 35, a Web designer, built rashawnbrazell.com.

While their initial meetings were spurred by tragedy, several bloggers are heartened to see a community forming.

"We use the term 'blogfam,'" Agarrat said. "I've seen other collectives and other people who blog together, but I feel really lucky to be part of this tight network."

The bloggers have also created the Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund, a scholarship co-sponsored by the North Star Fund, which supports social justice projects. Though they are eager to see the crime solved and justice served, they are just as passionate about the projects created in Brazell's memory.

Brazell's mother is grateful for the efforts.

"I am sure the [blogging] will help," she said. "I hope they keep it up so that the person who did this doesn't get away with it."

* My edit correcting the organization's name

Posted by ronn at May 25, 2005 09:11 AM

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