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Donald M. Suggs Jr. passes

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Posted: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 12:05 am

Donald M. Suggs Jr., son of St. Louis American publisher and executive editor Donald M. Suggs, died of heart complications in New York City on Friday, October 5, 2012. He was 51.

A St. Louis native but long-time resident of Manhattan’s East Village in New York City, Donald was a senior editor at The Village Voice, a former associate director at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and a former program director at Harlem United Community AIDS Center. A memorial service is being planned in New York City.

Many friends, colleagues and community members poured out their memories and praises of Donald on Facebook.

“Donald was a beautiful person who brought light into the lives of all comers,” posted New York Times writer Jennifer Steinhauer, who met Donald while interning at the The Village Voice in 1988 and remained good friends. “While not religious as per se, he was the most ministering person I know, keeping faith and fellowship with the fancy and the forgotten, the establishment stars and those whom life and circumstances had kicked aside. All had a home with Donald, and his big belly laugh, his charming scolds, his eclectic evenings – one never knew who would be at his table at Sally's or a fundraiser event.”

Writer and friend from Yale University Lisa Jones said Donald was someone who helped her become a writer and always remained one of her biggest champions.

“Editor/activist/change agent, the world is a safer place for all of us because of his bravery and fire,” Jones said. “I’m glad he saw the world he helped build come to fruition. As a writer, I owe him everything. He imagined a place for me as a scribe, a place that had not existed before.”

In 1991, Donald founded People Using Media to do Prevention, or the PUMP project. PUMP taught young people from neighborhoods devastated by HIV how to produce HIV prevention videos, which they brought back to their own communities to teach their peers how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. In 2007, PUMP alumni joined with Better World Advertising and Salt and Pepper Media to co-produce a television prevention education ad campaign by and for Harlemites, which ran on M-TV, VH1, BET, NY1, and LOGO.

Suggs also worked extensively with New York’s African and Latino immigrant communities and organized prevention education projects in Harlem; Puebla, Mexico; and in Santo Domingo and Bani, in the Dominican Republic.

“Donald was known for speaking Spanish and French; yet he was also fluent in the languages of the street,” said his sister Dawn Suggs. “He was a revolutionary who walked the pier, the back alleys, and streets of New York to dispense condoms and social services information to transgender street walkers. Donald had an irascible wit and razor sharp tongue, which slayed and left many a bully speechless, but when he wanted to support and uplift a dejected friend, relative or stranger, he could recognize the beauty of your soul and make you feel like a queen, no matter your trappings.”

After graduating from Yale, he began his career as a journalist in London. As a freelance journalist he had written for publications ranging from The New York Times to The Advocate.

Vanity Fair Contributing Editor Nancy Jo Sales posted a summation of Donald’s character that appeared on his Facebook page this past week.

“I am gathering a list of descriptions people have posted here about Donald...."dear," "warm," "beautiful," "ministering," "charming," "a positive role model," "a star," "brazen," "joyous," "fierce," "fearless," "fearsome," "exuberant," "wonderful," "kind," "a man of great intellect and humor, integrity and decency," "passionate," "extraordinary," "good," "relentlessly outspoken," "lovely," "irreverent," "funny," "witty," "wise," "an angel...."

Donald also worked at a gift shop called Exit9. The store had this message on its Facebook page:

“We, at Exit9, would like to express our sincere condolences for the loss of our most caring friend and associate, Donald Suggs. You will be missed not only by us, but by the many customers who looked forward to your endless smile and contagious laughter.”

Yoga instructor David Kim wrote, “Donald is and always will be a force of nature, who lives on in everyone lucky enough to call him friend. He's a constant reminder that life is vast, that [an] exciting possibility can be found down every corridor, whether it’s Yale’s lit-crit department, the drag extravaganza of Escuelita, or the constantly evolving streetscape of his beloved East Village.”

Many remember Donald as a “brilliant writer” and “even more luminous human being,” said Chi Chi Valenti, who met Donald 1987 when they were both researching/writing their breakthrough pieces on the rich ballhouse culture – Donald’s for the Village Voice and Valenti’s for Details.

“I think our pieces came out within a few months of each other,” said Valenti. “Some writers would have been weird, shady or competitive about this. Donald instead became a fast friend and one of my favorite East Village sightings for the next 25 years.”

Dawn said Donald was a wonderful uncle and surrogate father to his niece, Lali, and so many others.

“One of my best memories was Donald and me taking Lali to Disneyland for the first time and entering the cavernous ‘multi-culti’ world of his favorite ride and hearing him singing every word to its theme song, ‘It’s a small world after all,’ loudly for Lali,” Dawn said.

He focused his life on improving the lives of others. For this, he will be truly missed.

“Donald walked the walk long after others had strolled on by the worthy causes and fights worth having to live more conventional and self-focused lives,” wrote Jennifer Steinhauer. “The East Village is now absent its original mayor, and his memory will be a blessing to us all.” 

He is survived by his partner Jeremy Hess, son Luis Ramirez, father Donald, mother Betty, sisters Dawn and Dina, niece Delali Maxine, grandmother Elnora, and many aunts, uncles and cousins.

In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully asks that donations be sent to Grassroots Leadership, P.O. Box 36006, Charlotte, NC 28236, or One Iowa Education Fund, 419 SW 8th St, Des Moines, IA 50309

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