Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Rower who fights AIDS and seeks slave trade “healing process” champions Barclays

Is Barclays Capital getting its reputation fluffed by Victor Mooney?

African-American activist Mooney has been trying to call attention to the global tragedy of AIDS, while retracing the route of slave ships. Remember, he’s the guy (born in Brooklyn, lives in Queens, works in Brooklyn) who used the “Atlantic Yards boathouse” to build the boat he aimed to row solo from Senegal to Brooklyn.

(Above, Mooney with Borough President Marty Markowitz as the rower achieved a 48-hour marathon at Borough Hall in 2004 before National HIV Testing Day.)

Mooney's bold "Goree Challenge" last year got a lot of ink, and some sponsorship, including from Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, which donated space in a building it had purchased. However, his voyage, cut short to three hours last May 6 because of a leak, garnered less notice. Mooney’s dream was to raise a million dollars in his effort to be the first African-American to row solo; rather, most donations were in-kind, and he raised only $6000.

Barclays on the bow

Today Mooney’s holding a press conference to announce a new architectural design for his second trans-Atlantic rowing effort, presaged by a press release headlined, “New York City marks National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day with ‘Barclays Center on the Bow’.”

If you read it literally, you might think that the city itself is linking up with Barclays to fight AIDS.

Barclays Capital is neither a sponsor nor has Mooney solicited money from the company for his Goree Challenge II, according to an article in today's Metro. Still, it’s a curious coincidence that, in the midst of a tense public debate about Barclays’ alleged ties to slavery, a black man of unassailable virtue would step forth to endorse the bank.

Also, it’s odd that Mooney, who’s offering "Logo Most Prominently Displayed on Boat" in exchange for a $50,000 sponsorship opportunity, would donate valuable promotional real estate nearly ten months before the December 1 voyage.

Could Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, eager to ensure that the Barclays Center naming rights deal at Atlantic Yards gets a boost, have nudged Mooney on this? Or was it all Mooney's idea?

Mum on the controversy

So, why Barclays? The press release offers a bit of a non sequitur:
Mooney added, "For the first time, our ancestors were memorialized in this way. It is my belief, that those that survived the Middle Passage would want us to help the next generation. Barclays PLC brings that opportunity to Brooklyn."

Couldn't "helping the next generation" be attributed to numerous companies and organizations?

Even though Mooney put "Middle Passage" and Barclays in consecutive sentences, he steered clear of the controversy in Metro:
Mooney wouldn’t comment about the Barclays flap, but said, “I’m glad Barclays is in Brooklyn. They’ve been on the forefront of fighting AIDS in Africa.”

The press release continues [errors in original]:
"After loosing one brother to AIDS and another living with the disease, I join countless others who know the impact of this preventable disease. Brooklyn is the epic center of AIDS cases. Brooklyn is fortunate to have a corporate citizen who has clearly demonstrated their will to combat this disease. Through encouraging testing for HIV, providing anti-retroviral medicine for its employees in Africa and raising awareness of the disease truly epitomizes a serious commitment, Mooney concluded."

Barclays isn't yet operating in Brooklyn. Yes, Barclays has helped fight AIDS in Africa, though, given the high rates of infection, combating AIDS has become a business cost for many multinationals operating around the continent.

Healing process

Anyone bold enough to row solo across the Atlantic must be driven, but Mooney’s statements suggest some grandiosity (or maybe just sloppy editing). In the press release, he claims:
"The healing process for the trans Atlantic Slave trade began on May 7, 2006 when my homemade boat had a leak and sunk off the coast of Senegal. I attempted to row from Goree Island, Senegal to The Brooklyn Bridge.” (Goree Island was once a prison and auction site for captured Africans.)

The healing process began with Victor Mooney? Isn’t anyone else responsible for reparations, historical memory, and political discussion?

Mooney's explanations aren't clear, since Metro reports:
[Mooney said] "My row wasn’t about the people who were in slavery. The issue we’re fighting is HIV/AIDS.”

Does Mooney’s endorsement of Barclays further the healing process? Barclays may not deserve some of the charges thrown its way, but, as historian Christopher Leslie Brown told the New York Times, "Barclays is not unusual in being connected to the history of slavery, nor is it unusually innocent.” And Barclays’ presentation of its record in South Africa is a little self-serving.

What’s news

The announcement of a new design for Mooney's quixotic project may not be as civicly important as, say, an apparent doubling of the city’s commitment to the Atlantic Yards project, and the concomitant decline of net economic benefits. But it's good copy, so expect some follow-up reports today and tomorrow.

As for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, here are the official sponsoring organization and the city health department's AIDS page.

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