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Angela Barnes discusses chairing Center on Halsted's board
by Angelique Smith

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Growing up in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago, Angela Barnes learned the importance of "volunteering and giving back as much and as often as you can" early on from her parents.

From bringing queer women together to empower others through co-founding She100—which will be relaunching soon—to serving on the leadership council for GLAAD, Barnes' name often appears on the rosters of various organizations. And now, as the new chair of the board for the Center on Halsted, she is looking forward to making the board more diverse and robust.

A corporate attorney who also has her own consulting business ( Hoffman-Barnes Risk Management ), Barnes attended Wellesley before obtaining a juris doctorate from Columbia University School of Law. An avid runner and golfer, Barnes has been with her partner, Sofia Anastopoulos, for more than 20 years.

Windy City Times: What do you think is the most pressing issue affecting the LGBTQ community and how does the Center on Halsted ( the Center ) plan on addressing it?

Angela Barnes: From my perspective, there's an intersectional component. While I think that there's still frontiers in terms of the rights of the LGBTQ community, and there's much more that can be done in terms of transgender rights, I have to say that it's our communities of color that I'm primarily concerned about.

We have to ask, with all of the gains that we make, how is it impacting every component? Our communities of color are still struggling. It's great that we can get married, it's great that we have the ability to "get to zero" so we can help eliminate the HIV threat to our community, but we have to make sure that the benefits are reaching all of the members of our community.

WCT: How do you foresee your time as board chair being different from your predecessor, Richard Turner?

AB: I don't know Richard that well, [though] I've gotten to know him and I think that he's very thoughtful. Obviously, he's comes at this whole position from a different perspective. I think that my perspective fits very neatly into where the Center is going in terms of our strategic mission, our desire to make sure that this isn't just a building that sits in Lake View that is seen as catering just to white, male LGBTQ—that the Center represents something greater. We need to make sure that its impact is being felt around the city. To that end, we try to move into other communities with our presence, our services, and our support.

WCT: Meaning?

AB: We're serving all of these young African-American people and they have to get on a bus or a train and come to the North Side usually, in order to not only get these services but, on some level, to feel community. It shouldn't be that you have to go and seek it out.

Given that there are so many organizations that serve populations on the South and West sides, what can the Center do to support building that community so that people really feel comfortable where they live? And that means a lot of things, it doesn't just mean you feel comfortable in, "I'm out, I'm gay and I'm proud," but what are the services that are lacking in these communities and can we do anything to help? It has to involve a lot of listening. And I think I bring the perspective of understanding these communities a lot better because I'm from that community.

WCT: Which programs or events at the Center are closest to your heart?

AB: Silver Fork is my favorite! At base level, it's a jobs program. Taking people in and saying, "Here's a skill," and it's a skill that [can help you] go out and get a job. That's important. And a lot of these culinary programs are very expensive, so they're prohibitive to a lot of people. To have space and the expertise to have people teaching front of the house, back of the house, and then we also try to find jobs for people so they can be placed, this is something that should be replicated. We are going to, or might have even already started, replicating it at Daley College. These are the types of programs that work.

WCT: How did you get involved with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless?

AB: I have been on the board for about six years now. I became involved because of the former executive director, Ed Shurna. He is probably one of the most amazing people I've ever met, just in terms of his passion for the work that the Coalition was doing. He knew that I was concerned about young people and my community, and he kind of thought this would be something I could be involved in and really make a difference. I met with him as a favor to his wife, Michelle Saddler, and I had every intention of having this beer with him and saying, "I'm really too busy to be on this board, but thank you and I'll consider it." And I left being like, "And what else can I do?"

WCT: Some of the stats on the organization's website were surprising.

AB: I think probably 80 percent of what I knew about homelessness was challenged. It was so amazingly eye-opening for me. Because we're an advocacy group, the only service we provide is legal clinic. And to see what they're doing for families and for young people, it made me think that I hadn't done enough in my life to help the cause.

Two years ago, I became the chair of that board and, mercifully, my term ends in two months … and really only because I'm taking on the Center. Being at the Coalition helped me decide to join the the Center board. I saw a direct connection between the work that the Coalition does with youth homelessness and the populations that the the Center serves. It made sense, there's such an overlap given how many homeless youth are in the LGBTQ community.

WCT: You hosted a fundraiser at your home for Lori Lightfoot in advance of her becoming mayor. What inspired you to put your support behind her candidacy?

AB: I was an early supporter of Lori because I know Lori. I am not a big fan of politicians and typically don't support them. I'm a bit cynical, being a Chicagoan. When Lori reached out and said she was running … I'm not a religious person, but I thought my prayers have been answered. I practiced with her at [law firm] Mayer Brown years ago. I looked at her as a mentor and I certainly looked up to her. After we became friends, we disagreed on some social issues and different things like that, but one of the things I did respect about her is that she's just wicked smart. As far as I was concerned, this was a no brainer.

WCT: And now that's she's mayor? What do you think having an openly Black, lesbian mayor means for the city?

AB: I think it's a game changer. It's not going to be all rainbows and bubblegum, we have a lot of issues that have to be addressed. I think what you're going to have is somebody who is approaching issues in a more equitable way than has been historically done. You really need to rebuild a lot of these neighborhoods that have been ignored for a lot of years. Where are a lot of these kids coming from who come to the Center? There's going to be a ripple effect and I think it's going to be very good for the LGBTQ community and, again, that intersection of communities of color.

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