Remembering Laverne Holley

Cameron and Laverne

VOCAL is mourning the death of our friend Laverne Holley, who passed away late last week. Laverne was one of the earliest members of the NYC AIDS Housing Network, as VOCAL was originally known, and eventually served as a board member. She was a tireless, irreplaceable champion for the health and rights of people with HIV and so many more in the VOCAL family. Laverne will be terribly missed.

A funeral will be held on Saturday, July 25 at 10:00 am at First Avenue Funeral Home, 2242 1st Ave at the corner of 115th St.

VOCAL Executive Director Jennifer Flynn prepared the following remembrance:

I first met Laverne Holley in 1998. Maybe 1999. She was a participant at CitiWide Harm Reduction and VOCAL (then NYC AIDS Housing Network) was doing its POWER Academy (a 9 week organizing training). Laverne was one of the participants in the program. I’m not going to lie-she was hard to facilitate. Anyone who knew Laverne knows that she spoke her mind at all times. She stood out in a room of mostly men as a fierce woman who didn’t take any shit from me, from the man, from the system or from her beloved Cameron.

Laverne and Cameron knew each other since they were kids, but they actually re-met at CitiWide just a short time before that. They were quite literally inseparable since that second meeting.

Cameron and Laverne probably went on every single action that the organization planned. I remember them in DC protesting the FDA and a Presidential Advisory Council on AIDS meeting. I remember them in South Carolina for the People’s Presidential Assembly organized by Center for Community Change. I remember them in cars and vans to Albany nearly weekly. I remember them at countless memorials and fundraisers. I have photos of them everywhere.

A vivid memory is when they marched from New York City to Washington, DC. They were one of a handful of AIDS activists who walked the entire way to DC over the course of 21 days and then remained in DC for 3 days of consecutive action. Along the way, we stayed in some pretty funny places along the way. People’s homes, religious institutions-a few places didn’t serve meat. Laverne, after walking for 8 hours straight-walked however far it would take her to find a place that served “real food”. She spent the night, along the route, at my parents house in NJ and showed extraordinary compassion to my sister, who is living with Down’s Syndrome in a way that few people can. Laverne (and Cameron since you rarely say one name without the other) made their way back to NJ for my father’s funeral. She always asked about my sister and my mother. Once she respected you, she was on your side forever. Laverne also helped plan more than her fair share of memorials for VOCAL leaders like Joe Bostic and Joe Capestany. In an ever changing environment, her leadership was a constant.

Laverne served on the board of NYC AIDS Housing Network for several years. She was also our representative to the Continuum of Care Coalition for over a decade. She rarely missed a weekly General Membership Meeting in our first few years, making critical decisions about our growth and organizational development. She also was an active member of ACT UP and a volunteer with Health GAP. Laverne gave more of herself to the AIDS movement and advanced our goals further than nearly anyone else. She is remembered by me as an AIDS Warrior.

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