Tag Archives: Richard Berkowitz

Longtime Westporters Pay Staples Tuition Grants Forward

When Richard Berkowitz served on Staples Tuition Grants’ board in the late 1970s, only a few small grants were awarded to graduating seniors. Board members quietly solicited donations from friends and neighbors.

In the early to mid-1980s — when Dick Fincher served on the STG board — a $1,000 grant was considered great.

Dick Fincher (left) and his son Doug.

Dick Fincher (left) and his son Doug.

Fincher recalls, “This was a period of very high unemployment. Interest rates got up to about 20%, for a short time. It was surprising then, as it probably is now, who in Westport had a financial need in terms of paying college expenses.”

Berkowitz and Fincher’s rewarding experiences serving on the STG board — helping students earn a college education — was noticed by their children.

“That sense of community drew me to the program. I’m following my dad’s lead,” says Dick’s son, Doug Fincher. He — along with Berkowitz’s daughter, Jody Beck — are now STG board members.

When Doug graduated from Staples in 1982, friends received grants. Some still live in town today.

Families he knew as a student continue to support STG’s named awards. There are nearly 100 of them, established by individuals, companies and civic groups.

The 2 newest named awards honor Ken Brummel and Westport Temple Lodge #65.

Ken Brummel

Ken Brummel

The Brummel award — donated by his daughter Lisa — celebrates a longtime educator. In 1964 — at just 28 years old — Ken Brummel was named principal of Bedford Junior High School. He later served 12 years as Westport’s superintendent of schools. He was widely admired as an innovator, and a strong supporter of teachers. He died a year ago, at 77.

The Temple Lodge has served the town since 1824. Freemasonry is the oldest fraternal organization in the world, with members dedicated to caring for those less fortunate and giving back to their community.

Staples Tuition Grants is not as old as the Temple Lodge — but few organizations are. STG was established in 1943 with a $100 gift from the Staples PTA. Last year it awarded $317,000 in grants to 122 students — graduating seniors, and alumni already in college — thanks to gifts from over 500 individuals, PTAs, civic organizations, local businesses, trusts and private foundations.

(To make a tax-deductible donation, or for more information, click here; email giving@staplestuitiongrants.org, or write STG, Box 5159, Westport, CT 06881-5159.)

Staples Tuition Grants new logo

‘Sex Positive’: The Movie

Seder and safe sex.  Not the usual combination — but a winning one for Daryl Wein.

Daryl Wein

Daryl Wein

Two years ago the 2002 Staples grad — now a filmmaker — celebrated Passover with girlfriend Zoe Lister-Jones’ family.  Richard Berkowitz — a lifelong friend of Zoe’s mom — was there.  As Richard — now destitute and alone — reminisced about his life as a sex worker-turned-AIDS activist (he pioneered the concept of “safe sex”), Daryl realized he had stumbled on an important, and untold, story.

After reading Richard’s long-forgotten book, Stayin’ Alive:  The Invention of Safe Sex, the NYU grad recalled his days at Staples.

Sex education then, he says, involved “condom-on-banana antics, generally followed by chuckles of discomfort.”  He and his friends — who grew up hearing, but not really understanding, the safe-sex mantra — always thought of it as “a government-invented advocacy program.”  Researching Richard’s life, and poring through his vast print and video archives, Daryl realized safe sex actually resulted from “the tireless efforts of many fervent activists who paved the way for change.”

Today — with HIV rates again on the rise — Daryl knew this was a movie he had to make.

He spent months interviewing doctors, scientists, activists — and Richard himself.  Learning how many men died in the fight — both personal and societal — against AIDS, moved and impelled him.

The resulting documentary — “Sex Positive” — has received superb reviews at dozens of film festivals.  A Maryland reviewer wrote:

Sex Positive brings back all the horror, sadness, anger, and confusion of the early days of AIDS…. In the process, it offers a portrait of what it’s like to be a messenger burned for carrying an unpopular message — and offers a wake-up call to anyone who may, thanks to the medications that exist for checking and minimizing the symptoms of AIDS, once again live their sex lives as though immune, invincible, or just unconcerned.

“Angels in America” playwright Tony Kushner called it “a beautiful and important story.”

Richard’s book was recently reissued.  “He’s been brought out of hibernation,” Daryl says proudly.  “He’s back to actively promoting the safe sex cause all over the world.”

People often ask, Daryl says, how “a 25-year-old straight filmmaker ends up telling the story of a 53-year-old gay AIDS activist-ex S&M hustler.”  Daryl calls it his “generational duty” to do so.

After 8 years of Bush-backed abstinence-only sex education, Daryl says, “there couldn’t be a more essential time.  I feel I have to challenge complacency by instilling the values of those forgotten heroes, some of whom died in the fight.  One is still standing.”

(“Sex Positive” premieres this Friday, June 12, at the Quad Cinema, 34 W. 13th St., NYC.  Daryl and Richard will be there opening weekend for Q&As after the film.  Advance tickets are available through www.moviefone.com or by calling 212-255-2243.  The website is www.sexpositivethemovie.com.  To view the trailer, click here.)
Sex Positive