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Jewels Long Beach on Easter Walk and the Magic of the CARE Center at St. Mary

Jewels Long Beach is a comedian, host, drag queen and philanthropist. She has called Long Beach her home for over 21 years and has received numerous honors and awards for being a community activist, including her work on behalf of the CARE Center, which directly benefits the LGBTQ community, at Dignity Health’s St. Mary Medical Center.

The CARE Center is an outpatient center that is dedicated to providing high quality, compassionate care and access to the community. Jewels leads one of the city’s most long-standing annual LGBTQ community fundraising traditions—the Easter Walk parade—which directly benefits the CARE Center.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Jewels was determined to find a way to carry on the Easter Walk tradition. This year’s event was held virtually—and was a smashing success, raising more than $5,000 via Facebook Live, all benefiting the CARE Center. In this interview, held on the eve of the parade, Jewels explains why the Easter Walk and the CARE Center are so special to her and to the LGBTQ community in Long Beach.

What makes Long Beach such a special place?

I moved here in 1998, so I’ve been in Long Beach my entire adult life. One of the first things I found is that Long Beach is a large city with a small-town feel. It is truly an intimate community of people who care, and the beauty and magic of Long Beach is caring through not just our vibrant organizations in the LGTBQ community, but also through many other types of outreach to folks of every creed, color, sexuality, and religious affiliation.

How has the Easter Walk grown over the years, and who are funds being raised for?

This event started from humble beginnings by founder Rick White (aka Sheeya Mann), with a few intimate friends, and turned into the massive fundraiser that we know today. Each year it grows in scope and participation. We’ve added people each and every year—all sorts of fabulous drag queens, kings, people of any gender or none. It’s a wild circus of folks who care about their community and parade down the street in all sorts of finery and ridiculous costumes to raise funds for this awesome program.

A huge proportion of folks in the LGBTQ community, those affected or infected with HIV and AIDS, are served by the CARE Center, which is the largest provider of services for that population in Long Beach and the surrounding communities. We are taking care of our own. Some of our participants are also clients of CARE and some of us have friends who are clients of CARE. It is truly grassroots, direct service, dollar by hard-fought dollar raised to support those who support us.

What does the CARE Center mean to you and the LGBTQ community?

One of the reasons that the CARE Center at St. Mary Medical Center is so very special is because it came from a very dark time. It was started by a very courageous nun who wanted to reach out to those suffering in the very early days of the AIDS pandemic, when literally no one would help these patients. No one would speak to them. No one would hug them. And no one would give them any care at all.

And from those original nuns who fought to make this possible comes a beautiful organization, which is now the largest of its kind with direct service to our clients. It is a very specific, unique organization to our city with unique foundations. Who knew that crazy drag queens would be repping an organization started by nuns? We’re both in fabulous frocks, which is just a polite coincidence. And so many years later, their hard work and their compassion still extends through the community. It truly shows that God’s love, or your higher power’s love, or our universal love and thoughtfulness for our fellow citizens extends regardless of where you came from. We can all be fabulous, we can all reach out, and we can all truly care.

The CARE Center serves 2,000 clients annually and provides 100 new PreEP/PEP services each year. The CARE Center also provides services, including health education, benefits counseling, access to a food pantry, HIV medical care, mental health services, nutritional counseling, and more.