Jewel Thais-Williams dedication set
“Jewel Thais-Williams Square,” will be dedicated to the longtime club owner and activist of the same name at Pico Boulevard and Norton Avenue in West Los Angeles on Oct. 5, 2019. Photo by Michael Baker LA
“Jewel Thais-Williams Square,” will be dedicated to the longtime club owner and activist of the same name at Pico Boulevard and Norton Avenue in West Los Angeles on Oct. 5, 2019. Photo by Michael Baker
LA Council President Herb Wesson to dedicate Square at Pico and Norton to Jewel Thais-Williams, activist and founder of ‘Jewel’s Catch One’ club
By JASMIME CANNICK, Contributing Writer
LOS ANGELES — The intersection of Pico Boulevard and Norton Avenue in West Los Angeles, will be dedicated as Jewel Thais-Williams Square commemorating the life and work of the longtime human rights activist and owner of Jewel’s Catch One club, Saturday, Oct. 5 at 3 p.m.
Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson will designate one of the the oldest Black-owned discotheques in America that became a popular venue for the Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. With the designation Thais-Williams becomes the second Black woman in the history of LA to have a square named after her and the first Black lesbian
“Everybody deserves to be able to enjoy a night out where they can feel safe and welcomed, but before Jewel Thais-Williams that was not the reality for Los Angeles’ Black LGBTQ+ community,” Wesson said. “With Jewel’s Catch One, she built a home for young, Black queer people who were often isolated and shut out at their own homes, and in doing so changed the lives of so many. Jewel is more than deserving to be the first Black lesbian woman with a dedicated square in the City of Los Angeles for this and so many other reasons.”
For more than four decades, Thais-Williams helped change the course of our country by breaking down racial, social, and cultural barriers. One of the original safe spaces for the Black LGBT community, “The Catch” as it is also known, also served as a refuge for many during the AIDS crisis. As Thais-Williams’ club grew to become known as the “unofficial Studio 54 of the West Coast,” she became a national role model for how to fight discrimination and serve the less fortunate.
Thais-Williams graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in history. During her college years, she wanted to be self-employed and took her first step as owner of a boutique that eventually went out of business. Her next step was to purchase a bar after experiencing discrimination in the club scene around West Hollywood, because she was Black and female. At the time women were forbidden to tend bar, but Thais-Williams saved enough money and bought the bar despite the limitations. When the club opened, it became a hub for a diverse population of performers, including Sylvester, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Janet Jackson, Donna Summer, Whoopi Goldberg, Rick James, and Madonna.
While Thais-Williams was deligently nurturing the nightclub into one of the city’s go-to entertainment venues, she returned to school to earn a master of science degree in Oriental Medicine from Samra University in 1998. Due to the high rate of preventable diseases, such as diabetes and obesity in minority populations, Jewel Thais-Williams decided to open a non-profit called the Village Health Population next door to The Catch. It was created with the purpose of educating lower-income communities on proper nutrition and living a healthy lifestyle. The outlet continues to serve the community in 2019.
“Thais-Williams became a mother figure to many, helping her ‘kids’ get clean and sober and providing comfort to Black gay men rejected by their families and church during the AIDS crisis,” said journalist Karen Ocamb, who profiled the entrepreneur/activist. “But Thais-Williams took the extra step, co-founding the Minority AIDS Project and the Imani Unidos Food Pantry in South L.A. and joining the Board of AIDS Project Los Angeles to bring their HIV/AIDS services ‘down to the hood.’
“Additionally, with her wife Rue, Thais-Williams founded Rue’s House, the nation’s first housing facility for women with AIDS and their children, most of whom were poor and Black,” Ocamb said. Thais-Williams funded Rue’s house from revenue made at Jewel’s Catch One. A number of the women living with AIDS staying at Rue’s House publicly raised the issue of what would happen to their children after they died. After the women gained access to life-saving HIV medications, Rue’s House transitioned into a sober living facility.
After nearly closing in 2015, it was purchased by Mitch Edelson and reopened under new management. Briefly called The Union after the change in management, it has since reverted to the Catch One moniker.
Members of the public that wish to attend the dedication ceremony can RSVP to attend online by clicking here.