In 1988, with so many of her friends and colleagues becoming ill with and dying from AIDS, Barbara started attending meetings of ACT-UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and soon became one of its most prominent organizers. She was a member the group’s Coordinating Committee and of the affinity group The Marys, which gained national and international attention for its development of public political funerals for its members who died of AIDS. Notable among these actions were the funerals of Mark Fisher, which took place on the eve of the 1992 presidential election in front of the Republican National Committee’s New York Headquarters, and of Tim Bailey, which was violently and illegally disrupted on its way to the White House. Barbara was also a principal organizer of such groundbreaking and influential ACT-UP actions as those at the US National Institutes of Health; the US Food and Drug Administration; Kennebunkport, Maine; and on Wall Street.
During this same period, Barbara cofounded the Pink Panthers (later OutWatch), a lesbian and gay community patrol that worked to combat the rising tide of antigay violence in Chelsea, the East and West Village, and the Meat Market districts of New York City. In connection with this effort, Barbara worked increasingly closely with the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, eventually serving as a member of its board from 1997 to 1998 and then as board president from 1998 to 2002.
In 1992, Barbara joined the Treatment Action Group, an organization formed out of the Treatment and Data Committee of ACT-UP as the first and only group devoted solely to advocating for a larger, more efficient research effort directed toward finding a cure for AIDS. Barbara became the president of TAG’s board in 1993 and continues in that role to this day. Barbara was also a member of the AIDS Action Council’s board from 1996 to 2000.
After leaving ACT-UP in 1993, Barbara cofounded City AIDS Actions (CAA), an activist and advocacy group that was a principal organizer of protest and awareness actions at New York’s City Hall, Gracie Mansion, and Midtown Tunnel, and at the state capitol in Albany to save the AIDS Drug Assistance Program and the vital Division of AIDS Services (DAS). In partnership with the Urban Justice Center and Harlem United, CAA conducted numerous public forums for people with HIV/AIDS to educate them on their rights as clients of DAS. In addition, in conjunction with South Brooklyn Legal Services, CAA forced the New York City Human Resources Administration into a settlement that compelled it to notify thousands of HIV-positive welfare recipients of their rights to hundreds of dollars a month each in additional entitlements.
Although Barbara has worked in the New York food service industry for over thirty years, she was originally trained as a concert pianist. Born in Camden, New Jersey, Barbara studied at West Chester State College in Pennsylvania with the renowned teacher Charles Gangemi and graduated from that institution in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in music.
In 1992, Barbara developed the Culinary Arts Training Program at Project Renewal (then the Manhattan Bowery Corporation), where she still works. This award-winning program, now in its 21st year, trains formerly homeless men and women in recovery in the culinary arts and helps them to find and maintain employment in the food services industry. While Barbara began as an instructor for the program, she is now the Director of Food Services at Project Renewal. She oversees food preparation for seven homeless shelters and supportive housing programs around the city, runs the training program, and supervises the Comfort Foods catering company. Barbara created Comfort Foods in 1998 to expand the Culinary Arts Training program, employ its graduates, and bring revenue into the training program. Now a full-service catering company employing 43 part- and full-time employees, Comfort Foods has numerous contracts with federal, state, and city agencies, and caters private events including weddings, organizational meetings, and fund-raisers.