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Affinity bids outgoing leader goodbye at Burning Bowl
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Affinity Community Services' ( Affinity's ) annual kick-off event, Burning Bowl, got off to a rousing start with the return of the Drum Divas performance group Jan. 11 at the Charles A. Hayes Family Investment Center in Bronzeville. This year's theme was "Homecoming 2020."

The event served as a farewell for outgoing Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon, who also gave the keynote address. Rupert-Gordon will be moving to San Francisco to take on the role of National Center for Lesbian Rights executive director in the coming weeks.

After Affinity Board Vice President Aisha Davis spoke, Rupert-Gordon delivered her address, speaking about her obsession with the game-changers "who shift the way we think about things"—including people/companies/items such as Serena Williams, Magic Johnson, Southwest Airlines, IKEA and the game show Jeopardy!, specifically contestant James Holzhauer.

"I was at this talk and the person told us to pay attention to the things that give us goosebumps," Rupert-Gordon said. "She said it was how we knew we were getting closer to the things that we love. … Jeopardy! does not give me goosebumps, but game-changers [like Holzhauer] do. What gives me goosebumps is when we find other people like us and create solutions for our problems so people like us do not have those problems anymore. We do it in a way that changes the game."

Rupert-Gordon said Affinity has been and will continue to be a game-changer. She spoke about her journey with Affinity, how she became the executive director and what the organization has taught her and meant to her these past four years.

"Playing in Affinity's garden is one of the most important things I will ever do in my life—and that gives me chills," said Rupert-Gordon.

In addition, noted poet/activist e. nina jay wrote and performed a poem about how she came to find Affinity.

Affinity Board Treasurer Jas Thurmond and Affinity Board President Anna DeShawn presented the Barbara "Robbie" Smith Award of Excellence to Affinity 40+ peer leader Ann Rowell.

Among other things, Rowell spoke about how Smith, who was a realtor, is the reason why she is now a homeowner, adding that the dwelling and Affinity have been her sanctuaries for many years from the racism, sexism and homophobia that exists in the world. Rowell said that while there has been progress on many fronts society still has a long way to go, and that is why Affinity is such a vital organization.

Affinity Program Coordinator Erma Standley previewed the soon-to-be re-launched Affinity website and merchandise like the "This is Affinity" T-shirts, Affinity 25 co-chairs DeShawn and Mary Morten spoke about some of the "25 Events for 25 Years" they will be coordinating over the calendar year, while Affinity Interim Executive Director Chris Smith honored the work everyone has done to make the organization a success and said "25 years is not a moment, it is a movement."

The burning ceremony, led by Affinity Board member Jovan Watkins and Thurmond, ended the festivities. Attendees were asked to write down their challenges and negative thoughts from the previous year on specially treated paper that was instantly burned with candles over steel bowls.

Attendees were also invited to write letters to themselves that outlined their goals and affirmations for 2020; the letters will be mailed to them this coming summer.

See and for more information.

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