DETROIT – It started as a social support group that met in its founder’s living room and grew to be the largest AIDS service provider for African-American men in the city. Now, the doors to its office are closed and Men of Color Motivational Group is apparently no more. Details are sketchy, and Between The Lines has been unable to reach anyone connected to the agency that is willing to issue a statement. But as the agency appears to have moved out of it Grand River Avenue offices on Detroit’s west side, BTL can report that for the moment, at least, MOC is closed for business.
What we do know
Last September, this reporter was told that Greg McAllister, MOC’s executive director since 2000, had left the agency. At that time, at a town hall meeting on homophobia at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Deshena Franklin was introduced as the agency’s interim executive director. Attempts to interview Franklin were initially unsuccessful. Finally, in April, a sit-down interview with Franklin was scheduled. But on the date of the interview it was abruptly canceled by Ray Solomon, president of MOC’s board of directors. Solomon said the interview would be rescheduled in two to three weeks, by which time he promised he’d have some “good news” to share.
That never happened, and the only news BTL has been able to learn about the agency at this time – and admittedly it’s limited – is not good at all. MOC’s doors were apparently shut for good some time in mid-May. There is, however, no information posted on the agency’s front door. The agency’s phone appears to still be turned on and is answered by an automated attendant. When Franklin’s last name is entered into the system’s spell-by-name directory, no match is found.
What we’ve heard
Calls to Solomon at his office in the Wayne County Clerk’s office were initially not returned. When finally tracked down on his cellular phone, Solomon said he would speak to the paper, against his attorney’s wishes, on either June 25 or 26. This reporter called him on June 23 to ascertain the exact date and time of the meeting and was told he’d receive a return phone call within the hour. Neither the phone call nor the meeting ever materialized. Further, calls by this reporter to some of the agency’s last known board members, including Joseph James and Dale Renell, were not returned.
At the time of the scheduled April meeting with Franklin, MOC had only a handful of employees and the amount of its annual operating budget was unknown. During a sit down interview with McAllister in January 2003, he revealed that the agency’s annual budget was at that time nearly $1 million. MOC also had a staff of 17 full-time employees, the largest work force in the agency’s history. Reached at the Point of Change needle exchange program at the Community Health Awareness Group, where he now works, McAllister had no comment for this story.
McAllister was MOC’s second executive director. Its first, Cornelius Wilson, left the agency in 2000 – 11 years after he helped found it. At that time, MOC’s current board president, Larry Thomas, said of McAllister, “We have confidence in Greg that he will continue to uphold the name of the organization.” As details of the agency’s closing continue to spill out in the coming months, it will become clear whether Thomas’s confidence was well placed.
In the meantime, as HIV and AIDS continues to ravage the African-American community and, indeed, at a time when MOC is needed more than ever, the agency will undoubtedly be missed. Ron Doe, who worked for MOC during Wilson’s reign, said the demise of the agency is a detriment to the people it served.
“The people that really suffer are the clients,” said Doe, who now works for Community Health Outreach Workers. “When clients are still knocking on the door, when clients are still coming to get tested and get information, it’s a viable organization. The clients really will suffer and that’s a damn shame.”