R.I.P. Donald Agarrat
I am very sorry to report the passing of my old friend Donald Andrew Agarrat. He was a photographer, web designer and activist who chronicled black LGBT life in New York City and Harlem for more than a decade.
Donald was the one person most responsible for my first blog, keithboykin.com. When I moved to New York in 2001, I wanted to start a standard static website, and I hired Donald to develop and design it for me. But Donald had bigger plans.
When he encouraged me to start a blog on my new site, I resisted. I wasn’t familiar with blogging, had no interest in doing it and didn’t even like the word “blog.” It also sounded like a burden to me, and I didn’t want the responsibility of writing something every day or the invasion of privacy in sharing my life with the world. But Donald, in his persistent way, continued to push and eventually convinced me to give it a try. I’m glad he did. That blog introduced me to new people all across the world and became a major platform for my career.
During the years of the blog, I think I had a love-hate relationship with Donald. I would ask him to make changes on my site, and he would take his time if he didn’t like the direction I was going. Once when I wanted to remodel my site, Donald refused to make some of the changes I requested because they weren’t consistent with his “artistic vision.” I was astounded. When I threatened not to pay him until he made the changes, he still wouldn’t budge, even though he needed the money. That’s when I knew he was serious about his artistry.
I didn’t realize it at first, but Donald had a vision of who I should be that wasn’t entirely comfortable for me. He continually pushed for me to be more of an activist, even though I told him that was another word I never particularly liked. In fact, when I tried to remove the “activist” page on my website, Donald wouldn’t let me do it without a fight. Just because I didn’t want to be in the streets holding a picket sign didn’t mean I couldn’t be an “activist” in the broader sense, he argued. He felt strongly that I had to be an activist, even when I was ready to retire and pass the torch onto others.
If you look through Donald’s Flickr page, you’ll see hundreds of photos he took over the years of New York City black LGBT community leaders like James Earl Hardy, George Bellinger Jr., Dr. Marjorie Hill, Steven Fullwood, Bryan Glover, Kenyon Farrow, John Keene, Robert E. Penn, and many others. But you’ll also see the history of a movement. Donald was there at the rally for 32-year-old Mark Carson, who was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in May of this year. And Donald was one of the people who spoke up loudly when 15-year-old Sakia Gunn was murdered in Newark during the same week in May ten years earlier. He believed in the cause.
I didn’t see Donald much after I closed my blog about six or seven years ago, but every now and then we would run into each other and he was still the same person. He had his own look, his own style, and his own quiet way of making a difference.
I just learned of Donald’s passing this morning when my friend Maurice Franklin called to tell me. I still don’t know the details of his death, and it feels strange to write this post without an idea of what happened. But I do know that Donald played a major role in my life. There were times when I wanted to hug him for his artistic brilliance and times when I wanted to strangle him for his stubbornness. But looking back, I cannot imagine what my life would have been if I hadn’t met Donald Agarrat.
UPDATE: The family has asked for donations to be made to the Donald Agarrat Memorial Fund to help cover the cost of his funeral expenses.