by Ruby Comer
Shirley Beth Newbery
Shirley Beth Newbery (she goes by Beth) is from jolly ol’ U.K. and yours truly is from the good ol’ U.S. of A. We met years ago at a London AIDS fundraiser and cottoned to each other like peanut butter and jelly. We sure used to have some fun times hangin’ together in the lively London pubs.
Raised on a farm in Devon, in southwest England, Beth was one of seven children in a poor family. Seeking a better life, she left home at fifteen and headed to London. A prolific woman, she eventually earned a master’s degree in theater, anthropology, and social science, a diploma in beauty (makeup and massage), a certificate in Health and Safety Training (she’s a member of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health UK), and a degree in film directing. Whew!
Beth founded the nonprofit organization, Infusionarts, which facilitates the interaction of different cultures through drama, music, dance, and art, and the money raised benefits Tanzanian children. Artists on Safari, co-founded by Beth, is a group that organizes eco-friendly safari tours for artists.
Beth fell in love with Africa when she visited Kenya and Tanzania in 2008. For three months she lived with the Maasai tribe and made a documentary of
her travels called My Journey. Earlier this year she started an Indiegogo campaign, “From Streets to School,” and reached her goal raising money to educate six Tanzanian children, many of whom had lost their parents to AIDS.
Returning to London recently, after residing for a time in NYC, she leads support groups for abused women. Beth is currently penning a book entitled, I Forgive Me, that chronicles her work. This gal has packed more into one lifetime but she’s just revving up! Beth and I meet up—where else?!—at a pub in London’s West End.
Ruby Comer: Here we are again, just like old times, girl. Now I know you have a supportive partner, but no kids. Are you going to have kids?
Shirley Beth Newbery: OH, I have plenty of kids! I’m loving all the kids who are on this earth now, many of whom I coach.
Missy, I am still amazed at your stamina and the lightening speed with which you lead your busy life!
I live to get in as much as possible! [She states quite simply.]
Where exactly did your passion to aid others come from?
I really don’t know, but helping others has always been a part of what I do. It’s a way of giving something back and it supports my happiness. [She brims, pensively.] I find that those who are happy and content usually have a close connection with community.
Volunteering does makes ya feel so good…yes, Beth….
We’re all in this world together, so it’s important to support one another. [She ponders, looking away.] You know, I think my father Roy, a man who showed me great love as a father, instilled these values in me. Also living a life in hard times gave me a sense of how little it takes to support another person.
I know. Just bestowing a compliment on someone can mean so much.
Putting a smile on someone’s face gives me a sense of belonging and connection that makes it worthwhile. When I was in Africa, people reached out to me by giving me a place to stay. I remember one lady with a child whose lunch consisted of one orange. She insisted that I have a quarter of it. I was touched by that act of sharing.
What year was Infusionarts and Artists on Safari established?
Infusionarts was created in 2007 after my TED conference in Arusha, Tanzania. I wanted to create something that enhanced communities through the arts while raising money for children in Tanzania. Artists on Safari started in 2011 and now is growing with various opportunities for people to see the most wonderful sights and experience local villages while taking amazing photography, and for some gaining some art sessions, like portraits of the Maasai with a great artist.
Have you participated in any AIDS fundraisers or volunteered for any AIDS organizations?
In the U.K., I’ve supported various organizations and have supported the families and children in Africa providing food, schooling, and a roof over their heads. Many of the children are from families who have lost parents from AIDS and no longer have the ability to feed themselves or their siblings.
When did you first hear about the AIDS epidemic, Beth?
When I was around twenty years-old. I was heartbroken to learn that in the beginning there was a stigma attached to those who were infected. For a long time the epidemic was not spoken about with compassion. I just think it’s sad that people who are ill have to put up with mindless judgments of others.
Those ignorant bastard bigots excuse my language, but it hits a nerve. How has it affected you?
My sister’s husband acquired HIV from a blood transfusion in a hospital. I also had a friend who died from it soon after he left college. He had just started on his journey in London to become an actor.
Oy, nebech. It seems your passion for Africa came after you visited Kenya.
Well, doll, I’m presently organizing a twenty-four-hour disco chick’s dance charity event to raise money for the empowerment of women. I want forty people to dance for twenty-four hours and raise $500 each, bringing in a total of $20,000!
Good, I just hope it’s not going to be like that Jane Fonda film, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
[Beth chuckles.] Oh, also, early next year, we have a Kilimanjaro climb to help raise funds for young kids in Southern Tanzania who lack many basic things. And I continue to lecture around London promoting health, wealth, and welfare to women—empowering them.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]