Jaci DuBoise Adams would have loved the way her memorial service began.
At the first mention of her name, the crowd rose in a spontaneous, joyful and prolonged standing ovation.
More than 300 people filled the sanctuary of St. Luke and the Epiphany in Philadelphia on Friday, March 21 to say farewell to Jaci, a transgender and HIV activist who died at age 56 on February 15 after a struggle with cancer. They listened as she was described as mother, sister, friend, mentor, and protector. And yes, often loud and in your face.
The two-hour service was by turns exuberant and solemn, personal and political, ribald and reverent.
Rev. Andrea Harrington, who gave the eulogy, described Jaci’s unique and sustaining faith in God.
“She would tell you in a minute, after she cussed you out, ‘God is good,’” Rev. Andrea said.
She said Jaci put her faith into action, always willing to help those in need, day or night, and rallying others to do so. Rev. Andrea recalled seeing Jaci at work at Philadelphia FIGHT when a woman came in desperately in need of clothing. Jaci excused herself from the office and returned an hour later with blouses, skirts, shoes, boots and coats.
Gloria Casarez, director of the Office of LGBT Affairs of Philadelphia, recounted Jaci’s work for numerous nonprofit and city government groups, as well as the honors they bestowed on her. She said Jaci’s activism was guided by a simple principle.
“If you’re not invited to the table, invite yourself,” Gloria said. “And bring a friend.”
Like Jaci herself, several speakers did not shy away from talking about the abuse she suffered as a child and the drug addiction, prostitution and incarceration that followed. But just as Jaci did, there was a point to these traumatic stories.
Her friend Sheila Colson said, “Don’t ever let it be said that you can’t turn your life around.”
Other speakers at the service were Franny Price, Finesse Ross, Anastasia Gray, Waheedah Shabazz-El and Pastor Donte Jones. D’Ontace Keyes sang “Give Me Jesus” and Lea Cimmone performed a praise dance. Fred Bostwick read a selection of messages people had put in the prayer box.
The service was officiated by Yolanda French Lollis and Ronda Goldfein of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania.
“Our sister, Jaci Adams, fought the good fight,” Yolanda said.
Rev. Andrea recalled the last time she saw Jaci.
In a weak voice, Jaci whispered, “Don’t let them forget.”
Not a chance, Jaci. Not a chance.