May 2- 8, 2002
Photo By: Christina M. Felice
Two years after the death of its founder, Kiyoshi Kuromiya, Critical Path is keeping his dream alive.
When the late Kiyoshi Kuromiya’s friends and acquaintances describe him, their stories usually involve his quest for information, or more likely, his determination to disseminate it. When John James, editor of AIDS Treatment News, talks about first encountering Kuromiya at AIDS conferences around 10 years ago, he says, “Kiyoshi would be carrying around a portable computer, with a CD-ROM reader, which wasn’t that common.”
When Jenny Pierce, director of the AIDS Library, first came to the library to work in 1993, she says, “Everywhere I’d go looking for information to answer people’s questions, his name would be there.”
Kuromiya was involved in AIDS studies, ranging from being on the Levine Panel of the national Office of AIDS Research to being a clinical trials participant. He participated in the successful lawsuit against the Communications Decency Act, which threatened free speech on the Internet, on which he was a web-page pioneer. He even penned a restaurant guide in the ’60s.
Perhaps most of all, Kuromiya founded the Critical Path Project, which his associates have worked to keep going in the two years since he died. It’s going well these days; grants, funding from the city’s AIDS Activities Coordinating Office and the talents of Kuromiya’s torchbearers are not only enabling it to continue, but it’s beginning to reach a wider range of people.
For years Critical Path has provided free access to the Internet and e-mail accounts to thousands of people with HIV in and around Philadelphia, has hosted AIDS-related web pages and discussion lists, and has produced a newsletter routinely mailed to thousands of people with HIV, including hundreds of incarcerated individuals.
According to Jane Shull of Philadelphia FIGHT, who was his friend and colleague for many years, Kuromiya “got what was going to happen with the Internet before anybody. He had been thinking about how you get information to people for 25 years.”
Two years ago, when Kuromiya was dying, Shull and Julie Davids of Philadelphia FIGHT promised him they would continue Critical Path, and with some help they are doing just that. The team includes Pierce, who is managing the project; Juliet Fink, training and outreach coordinator; James, who is focusing on the aspects of the site related to Kuromiya’s interests; and Rich Bauer, “technical backbone” and longtime Critical Path associate.
On May 10, the second anniversary of his death, the team will launch a spiffy, updated version of Critical Path’s website.
In addition, Critical Path has received grants from the National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, which are enabling it to expand both the Internet services it offers, mainly to health-compromised and low-income people, and its free dial-up access to include the 856 and 610 area codes.
Davids says there is no funding for a Critical Path newsletter right now, but that the project is seeking funding for one that will be dedicated to “treatment information for prisoners with HIV.”
Kuromiya would no doubt be pleased that his legacy is a passionate effort to get timely information on health and social justice issues to people through unfettered Internet access.
Shull says Kuromiya’s overriding goal was “the democratization of information leading to the ability of people to participate in decisions affecting their own lives. Not just gay, Ivy League-educated, white men, but people of color, women and those without a lot of [formal] education.”
Critical Path is expanding Kuromiya’s other mission, coalition building, by connecting with the larger nonprofit community and social-services networks.
It is working with the city’s newly formed Division of Community-Based Prevention Services, specifically, its 19 family centers that provide educational and after-school programs to low-income neighborhoods. Yikes Internet Specialists is working with Critical Path to create Web pages for the centers, and Critical Path is providing computer and Internet training as well as technical support to employees of the centers, who in turn are teaching parents and children how to use the Internet and maintain e-mail accounts.
Margaret Newman, program analyst for the centers, says, “We’re thrilled with it.”
Newman says workers at the centers, who are required to enter data such as school attendance and grades to track how children in the after-school programs are doing back at school, now have an easy way to do that and share information.
Shull says this kind of information network is what Kuromiya was about, as tied to civil rights as much as his AIDS or anti-war activism. “We live in an environment now where everything is about the politics of identity. [But] Kiyoshi was interested in the broader issues of justice and the distribution of power in this country. What we can all share are ideas.”