Launched in 1998 by a group of friends — Westbrook, John Jeffrey, Chesley Thurman and Chuck Jenkins — the East Point Possums started as a small show in a backyard to raise a few hundred dollars for Pets Are Loving Support. When Jenkins died in 2004 due to complications from AIDS, his friends continued to do the show in his honor. Over the years, the Possums have raised thousands of dollars for organizations including Atlanta Pride, the Phillip Rush Center and the MISTER project of Positive Impact.
East Point Mayor Earnestine Pittman, who has a lesbian daughter, said she supports the show 100 percent and notes it is the second largest event in the city. Only the city’s Fourth of July celebration brings out a slightly larger crowd.
“I’ve gone to one show and I enjoyed it,” Pittman said. “The city has a very diverse population and I know [the show] has been very profitable for the charity it supports and is well known.”
Pittman said the fact the Possums show brings people “from everywhere” to East Point gives the city a chance to showcase its pride.
“People may think because we are a small city we are not welcoming. But we appreciate diversity in our city, whether it’s race, religion, sexual orientation — it doesn’t make any difference,” she said.
From ‘YMCA’ to ‘Glee’
For those who have gone to the show, there’s no denying there are crowd favorites — besides the Possums, of course.
The East Point Villagers includes partners Andria Towne and Sheila Merritt. They never intended to be on stage, both stress. They worked behind the scenes during the early years of the Possums show, a role with which they were more comfortable.
Chuck Jenkins asked for several years for them to put together a number but Towne said they always declined.
“Then when he got really, really sick, he sent a message via Rick [Westbrook, the matriarch of the Possums] that he’d like us to do a number. He was dying so of course we could not say no. We thought it would be a quick little number,” Merritt said. “And we were so grateful we did because Chuck died four days later. And that’s why we still do it.”
That first number, performed in 2004, was a simple routine to “YMCA” by the Village People — hence the group’s name.
“This was in the days when the stage was a couple of risers on cinder blocks in a tiny parking lot and the backdrop was an empty Uhaul truck,” Towne said.
Since that time, the East Point Villagers have gotten quite good and plan their own choreography, make their own costumes and now perform to medleys of pop favorites from CeeLo Green to “Glee.”
This year, the Villagers have been practicing hard and promise another signature medley that will have people dancing and donating as well as possibly shedding a tear, Towne said. Lost-n-Found Youth, founded by Westbrook to help homeless LGBT youth, is an important cause to the Villagers as well and they plan to incorporate the issue into their number.
The Armorettes, the infamous camp drag troupe which has raised more than $2 million dollars in the past 33 years for AIDS service organizations, performed at the Possums show for the very first time last year.
Sofonda Cox, an Armorette for three years, said the mission of the Possums matches theirs as well.
“For many years, our goal has been to fight HIV and AIDS and help charities and build our community,” Cox said. “A lot of Possums are supportive of us and we feel we should be supportive of them. And it’s a total blast to go to watch and observe. The show is a great community-building event and provides awareness of what we do.”
The Armorettes are also big supporters of Lost-n-Found, Cox said.
This year, the Armorettes are planning a medley around a “campy movie” — but that is all Cox would give up.
“I love sitting on the hill and watching the performances and mingling with people and just seeing so many people come together for a good cause,” Cox said.
And bring your dollar bills.
Top photo: The East Point Villagers and the Armorettes are crowd favorites at the annual East Point Possums Show. (file)