Keith Cylar was a leader in the harm reduction movement and the fight against AIDS. A proud gay black man living with HIV, Keith was a co-founder and co-president of Housing Works, the largest provider of services to the homeless with AIDS and HIV in New York. Keith was funny, fierce, engaged, passionate, charismatic, controversial, smart, sweet, and seductive--very much alive, and dedicated to both seeking out the pleasures life offers and redressing the world's injustices. He epitomized "outspoken" and was a forceful advocate in New York and nationwide. I'll miss his support, laughter, courage, and inspiration; his death comes as a deep blow to so many people and to activism around AIDS, housing, and harm reduction everywhere.
Allan Clear, Executive Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, wrote, "There will be lots said about Keith over the next few days. All of it will be true and he would have been proud of it. He was irrepressible, brilliant, arrogant, visionary, a leader, principled, always late, ahead of his time and so on. No-one can ever say that Keith didn't accomplish what he set out to do. His death is incredibly sad and it has choked me up all day to think about it. His death is all our loss."
Dennis deLeon of the Latino Commission on AIDS wrote "You had the sense after talking with Keith that no power structure was unbeatable. He played the inside game of politics very well and knew how to hit hard from the outside. And he made us laugh by always verbalizing what was on everybody’s mind. I watched him grow into a bridge-builder, coalition forger, and team player. I am sure he would shudder at this accolade."
Memorial Service Details
The wake will be held on Monday, April 12th from 6:00 PM - 9:00 PM at the Church of the Intercession at 550 West 155th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, including a service from 7 to 8 PM.
The funeral will be held on Tuesday, April 13th at 12 Noon at the Church of the Intercession at 550 West 155th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue.
Following the funeral service, there will be a motorcade (including buses for those without vehicles) downtown and a procession to the Housing Works residence at 9th Street and Avenue D for internment of Keith’s ashes in the garden and a reception.
From 6:30 PM- 10:00 PM, Housing Works is -- as per Keith's insistence! -- hosting a party for Keith at Webster Hall, 125 East 11th Street, between 3rd and 4th Avenues.
Housing Works has established a Keith Cylar Fund in his memory. Donations may be sent to 320 W. 13th Street, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10012. Credit card donations are also accepted at the Housing Works website.
More on Keith:
New York Times obituary (see below for full text).
Interview with Keith (Microsoft Word document) by Ben Shepard, exerpted from From ACT UP to the WTO: Urban Protest and Community Building in the Era of Globalization (Shepard & Hayduk, eds., Verso 2002).
New York Times obituary
April 8, 2004
Keith Cylar, Who Found Homes for AIDS Patients, Dies at 45
By WOLFGANG SAXON
Keith Cylar, an entrepreneur among AIDS activists and co-founder of Housing Works, which helps homeless New Yorkers living with AIDS, was found dead in his apartment in the East Village on Monday. He was 45.
The immediate cause of death was cardioarrhythmia, according to Housing Works, of which he was co-president and chief operating officer. Its announcement said that he had returned from an AIDS conference in Houston on Sunday and died in his sleep. He had had AIDS since 1989, and also had a serious heart ailment, cardiomyopathy.
Mr. Cylar came to the cause through the radical group Act Up and its housing committee. He formed Housing Works in Manhattan with three partners in 1990 and helped build it into one of the country's largest AIDS self-help efforts, with an annual operating budget approaching $30 million.
Trained as a clinical social worker, he oversaw all client services and supplied his own brand of practical business acumen.
Militant in its tactics, community-based in its reach and often the agency of last resort in the five boroughs of New York City, Housing Works has found shelter for 15,000 people, by its count. It offers social services like health and mental care and referrals. In January, it said more than 2,000 H.I.V.-positive people were being helped by its centers, which also offer job training and assistance in applying for other benefits.
Its income comes from private donations but also from sources like fees for services covered by Medicaid and returns from its own nonprofit ventures. Millions are raised through its catering division, a used-book cafe in SoHo and four thrift shops whose offerings include donated designer clothing.
Keith Cylar was born in Norfolk, Va. He was a 1982 psychology graduate of Boston University and received a master's degree in social work at Columbia in 1988, by which time he had lived with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, for several years.
In the 1980's, he worked as a therapist and social worker at a number of places, among them Creedmoor Psychiatric Hospital, the Lower East Side Service Center and Montefiore Medical Center, where he was a case manager in 1989.
In 1987, he joined the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power — Act Up — and helped found its housing committee, a forerunner of Housing Works. In his earlier activist days, he took part in noisy street demonstrations, and his advocacy at Housing Works also led to confrontations with public officials.
More recently he and the organization became more involved in projects like research for the Rand Corporation on the cost-effectiveness of H.I.V. services. He was an investigator in a national venture with Beth Israel Medical Center to provide minority patients with better access to AIDS clinical trials.
Mr. Cylar is survived by his partner, Charles King, a co-founder and his co-president at Housing Works; his mother, Anna E. Patton of Shaker Heights, Ohio; and his foster parents, Marva and Harry Langaster of Portsmouth, Va.