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Black and Pink to hold family gathering in Chicago
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Black and Pink will hold its second-ever family gathering in Chicago on Aug. 4-6. The gathering will bring together formerly incarcerated LGBTQ and/or HIV-positive people for community and skills building in addition to healing opportunities.

The weekend will feature an Aug. 4 community celebration and fundraising dinner at the Chicago Teacher's Union Hall that is free and open to the public ( ). The celebration will feature speakers and performers, including former political prisoners Laura Whitehorn and Ricardo Jimenez as well as from Ashley Diamond and Chicago's Eisha Love.

Aug. 5 will include workshops at Roosevelt University and a film screening—Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four—and discussion with the San Antonio Four at the Second Unitarian Church in Lakeview. The screening is also free and open to the public; visit .

"Our intention for the workshops is for attendees to be able to strengthen their ability to do work in their local communities as well as to have massage, acupuncture and other healing arts to ensure we create a culture of sustainability for our members," said Black and Pink Volunteer Organizer Debbie Southorn.

"I am excited about the upcoming gathering because I get to see people and let them know how grateful I am to be involved in Black and Pink," said Afrika Lockett, a formerly incarcerated Black trans woman and member of Black and Pink in Chicago. "I'm looking forward to meeting new people from across the country, and being amongst people who have been through similar experiences."

The gathering will conclude on Sunday with a family reflection and visioning session on the future of the organization.

Nearly 80 formerly incarcerated LGBTQ members from around the country attended the first gathering two years ago in Boston where the organization raised over $10,000 to continue its mission. Following that gathering Black and Pink released "Coming Out of Concrete Closets: A Report on Black & Pink's National LGBTQ Prisoner Survey" .

"Black and Pink is in an exciting moment of transition," said National Director Jason Lydon. "I founded this organization 12 years ago, simply by staying in touch with people I had been locked up with. We are now the largest ever network of LGBTQ and/or HIV positive prisoners in the world. We got to where we are because of the tireless work of so many volunteers. As I step down from my role as the National Director, new leadership is coming in to take Black and Pink into our next stage. This gathering is a time to celebrate the past and build momentum for the future. We have accomplished a lot, but there is far more work to be done. We have dreams of abolition and our imagination will guide us as we set forth our intentions and strategy to win during this weekend gathering."

Black and Pink has chapters in Boise, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, New York City, Providence, San Francisco, Seattle and Southwest Ohio. In addition to these gatherings, Black and Pink has a pen-pal project and distributes a free newspaper to over 14,000 incarcerated LGBTQ and/or HIV positive people around the country.

"The newspaper includes letters from our family, news and current events, artwork from family members and other information and stories to offer emotional, legal and other forms of support," said Southorn. "The pen-pal project aims to match incarcerated members with people in the 'free-world' to build relationships and challenge the isolation and violence of the prison industrial complex. We know that mail call is an important time in prisons, and can show that someone has support on the outside—which can keep them safer on the inside. Over the past six years, we've helped facilitated over 10,000 pen pal matches, though not all of those remain active as relationships can ebb and flow." ( To become a pen pal, visit )

One of the many Black and Pink leaders is National Organizer Monica James, one of a number of local leaders who organized the upcoming gathering.

"I became a part of Black and Pink as a pen pal while awaiting trial against an off-duty white queer police officer in 2009," said James. "Since then, I have collaborated and supported Black and Pink with a many projects and campaigns. Black and Pink is so important because we do the necessary work to build family oriented relationships with folks on the inside that support each other. These relationships have many benefits and the strongest benefit is the way that we initiate healing and harm reduction through story sharing"

When asked what she hopes people take away from the gathering, James said the most important thing is that formerly incarcerated people are amazing and awesome people with a lot to offer the movement toward social justice on a variety of fronts, and should have a respected position at the table during these discussions.

"If you market yourself as leading the way on social justice and your organization is not prioritizing those that are most impacted by injustices, like formerly incarcerated black and brown bodies and trans bodies then I beg you to do a more transparent job with your intentions around this work," said James. "We are just as powerful with our lived experiences as you are with your academic book sense. I am a living testament that formerly incarcerated folks are powerful in every way. I am the poster child of restorative and transformative justice."

See for more information .

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