Curtis William Wadlington, who helped found the highly effective education agency Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health Issues (BEBASHI) and who was an ordained lay preacher in the United Methodist Church, died Thursday of a heart attack. He was 55 and lived in the Millcreek section of West Philadelphia.
Curtis had an unusual method of overcoming young people's discomfort when talking about sex: He had them inflate condoms, to show that they "are just latex," he told the Daily News. "We make sure the kids understand that if they don't use one, they put their life at risk."
"When churches were initially confused about how to respond to HIV/AIDS, Wadlington began visiting hospitals and ministering hope, and preaching at funerals because no one else would," his sister Cheryl Ann Wadlington said. "He believed everyone has a right to access God, and used that as his mantra."
Back in the '80s, Curtis was co-chairman of the minority outreach subcommittee of the city's AIDS Task Force, which had been criticized for not doing much reaching out. One day, he attended an AIDS vigil and encountered the dynamic Rashidah Abdul Khabeer.
"She pulled out a big black candle to represent all the minorities who'd died of AIDS," he said in 1991. "Then she announced she resigned from the Task Force."
Curtis then told her he would do anything he could to spread the word, and together, they formed BEBASHI, with Rashidah as director. Curtis handed out pamphlets, set up seminars and delivered toys to infected children at Christmas time. He once said, "AIDS is not going to beat the black community. We've been through worse."
Curtis was born in Philadelphia, one of the six children of Eugene Elmore and Hazel Elizabeth Wadlington. He dropped out of West Philadelphia High School but later earned his GED. He graduated from Community College of Philadelphia in sociology.
Curtis, who founded Church Down the Way in West Philly, is survived by two other sisters, Rashida Abdul Karim and Jean Francis Wadlington, and two brothers, Albert and Kenneth Wadlington. He was predeceased by a brother and two sisters: Eugene, Edna and Linda Wadlington.
Services: 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 25 at Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church, 4301 Aspen St. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Merion Memorial Park, Bala Cynwyd.
Contact John F. Morrison at 215-852-5573 or morrisj@ phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @johnfmorrison.