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Black in Chicago
Before we were straight or gay, we were Black
by D. Kevin McNeir

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A monthly feature exploring the lives, challenges and success stories of Chicago's African-American community, starting with the premise that before we were straight or gay, we were Black.

From community activism to spirituality, Chicago's Black LGBT community continues to be on the move—making heads turn and providing opportunities for a better quality of life for sisters and brothers 'in the life.'

With that in mind, we focus this month on a new church—Praise Center Chicago, led by the Rev. Kevin Tindell; say farewell to two outstanding brothers at Horizons Community Services; and give kudos to the leaders of Chicago Black Lesbians and Gays.

Can you say 'hallelujah?'

On a very brisk Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I was invited to worship with a small but LOUD group of Christians, some who are gay or lesbian, all Black, on the campus of the University of Chicago. And it was a wonderful time for those like me who enjoy 'getting their praise on.'

According to Tindell, that's one of the reasons he was led to become a charter member of Praise Center Chicago, which is affiliated with the Church of the Full Covenant.

Not only is he the founder and senior pastor, but he also serves as the COFC board secretary and eastern regional apostle. And that's just his 'part-time gig.'

'We celebrate wholeness through the radically inclusive ministry of Jesus,' he said. 'Our church's motto—glorifying God and edifying people by reaching, teaching and unleashing power to transcend boundaries and restore hope. And while our numbers right now are small, we are finding that the way we lead praise and worship appeals to more and more Black LGBTs. It's just a matter of them finding out about us.'

The church claims about 20 members and refers to itself as a neo-Pentecostal denomination. Several members on the ministerial staff are currently receiving training at Trinity United Church of Christ under the direction of that church's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And one of the most important aspects of the church, besides its openness to the 'gifts of the spirit [including speaking in tongues]' is special outreach to the Black LGBT community.

'That's what attracted me here and it's put me on an important road in terms of my own ministry,' said Minister Phyllis Pennese. 'When you're used to a Pentecostal kind of worship experience and you're out, it's difficult to find a place where you feel you can be yourself. I found that here.'

Joining Tindell and Pennese are associate ministers Marlene Brown, Eric Edwards, Pam Harris, Borris Powell and Lee Patterson. Tindell and Pennese are an awesome one-two punch. But recently Pennese announced that she will be leaving the church to form her own place of worship—something she's been praying about.

Still, Tindell continues to work with her and says it won't change their relationship. Perhaps that means we'll see new ministries developing with these two outstanding followers of Christ that will be of benefit to the Black LGBT community.

The church is currently preparing for its ordination service on Saturday, March 15 at Chicago Theological Seminar, 5757 S. University. Special guests will include Apostle Alex Byrd and Dr. Yvette Flunder. The location of the chapel will be announced. Contact Tindell at

So, are you ready for a place where you can let your hair down, shout for Jesus and allow things like speaking in tongues, laying on of hands and other gifts of the spirit to become a part of your regular religious experience? If so, Praise Center Chicago may be the place for you.

Giving honor to 'The King'

While we certainly hope to talk to the new leaders of Chicago Black Lesbians and Gays as they work this year on changing the focus of the organization and bringing in a new cadre of leaders, we had to say congratulations to them for an outstanding 8th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Breakfast, held Jan. 20. Windy City Times [and last month's BLACKlines] showed you who was there in a photospread, but the photos could not begin to describe the feelings that the Black LGBT community shared and expressed as program participants and as members in the audience.

It was a good beginning for the organization which some feel had lost its voice and direction.

According to Robert Schultz, CBLG steering committee co-chair, the organization is going through 'growing pains' but is definitely on the right track.

As always, Boris Powell, who is also a minister at Praise Center Chicago, shared his unique brand of leading a program—maybe we should call Borris 'Mr. MC.' Each speaker and musician contributed to the excellence of the program—albeit a bit too long for our taste. Vernita Gray's sharing words of encouragement and the Rev. Alma Crawford's testimony were especially moving. But by far—the best part of the morning was the sermon by the Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Hill who offered both a challenge to everyone present and gave us a sense of hope as we left.

We promise to get him for an interview. It's clear that his is a voice that must be heard in our community.

Looking ahead and reflecting on the past

It was with sadness that we said good-bye to Frank Oldham Jr. as he recently left Horizons Community Services for a great opportunity focusing on HIV/AIDS for the City of New York.

But Oldham will be back in March, on Saturday the 8th to be honored by the Southside HIV/AIDS Resources Providers (SHARP). Joining Oldham will be Phyllis D. Rodgers, director of Volunteer Services, CORE Center. Both will be presented with the Dr. Sherry L. Luck-Jarrett Excellence Award. And in addition to the wonderful dinner and live entertainment, there will be a special tribute to Bennett Williams and Derrick Hicks.

It's an evening that promises to bring a smile and tears to many of our faces.

Finally, at press time we learned that Steve Bailous has also left the fold of Horizons. We promise to corner acting director Tico Valle along with Bailous for comments on what happened and why. But for now, we wish Bailous all the best. We just hope that Chicago remains his home.

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