Created By: Center for LGBT Education, Outreach & Services, Ithaca College
Playwright, actor and director Cleve Thomas worked with the New York Shakespeare Festival, Negro Ensemble Company, the Public Theatre and La Mama Experimental Theatre Company in New York City. He founded youth groups in Ithaca, Albany, and New York City. He also founded the Red Room Consortium.
Mikel Moss, who grew up in Ithaca, remembers "Cleve was a mentor to a whole bunch of us gay kids and we spent many an hour at his house listening to music, hearing stories about him and his famous Broadway friends. Lots of folks came and went from that small apartment."
Thomas was also an HIV/AIDS activist, generously sharing his experience as a person living with AIDS with high school and college students in the area.
He was a regular speaker for IC's "Living With AIDS" panel presentations. The Living With AIDS panel was an annual part of campus life beginning in 1987.
He often said, "HIV thrives through ignorance and a lack of compassion," and that without his good friends, he would not have lived as long. "I didn't die because I am a recipient of love, compassion and caring."
Thomas passed away February 16, 2001, only ten days after participating in his final "Living with AIDS" panel presentation at IC. He was 50 years old.
Following his death, the Ithaca College AIDS Working Group established an annual campus daffodil planting in his memory. More than 2000 bulbs are planted each year, because Thomas' vision of the spring blooming of daffodils was a symbol of hope and renewal. Each spring, these sunny yellow bulbs create a truly spectacular display across campus.
Pat Cornell, physician assistant in Hammond Center and chair of the AIDS Working Group during this time said "Cleve was a much-loved and respected local AIDS activist and educator. He loved our students dearly, and challenged them to become involved in their community, and taught them about HIV and AIDS."
Thomas frequently urged his mentees “Always bring something to the table. Even if it's just a smile and an encouraging nod. You never know when that may be just enough for someone.”
This point of interest is part of the tour: Ithaca LGBTQ History Walking Tour