Founding National Director of the Black Youth Project ( BYP100 ) Charlene Carruthers gave the keynote address at Affinity Community Services' annual kick-off event, Burning Bowl: Re-Imagining Tomorrow: Serving Our Communities Future, Jan. 13 at Morgan Park United Methodist Church.
This event celebrates the work completed during the previous year and allows individuals to burn the things, written on specially treated paper, that are no longer serving each individual so they are able to move into the new year with a fresh start. Attendees were also encouraged to write down their goals and put them in envelopes that Affinity would mail to them mid-year.
Both Affinity Board Treasurer Jas Thurmond and Morgan Park UMC Pastor Dennis C. Langdon welcomed the approximately 200 people in attendance. Thurmond noted this was the first time the event was being livestreamed on Facebook while Langdon explained that having Burning Bowl at the church was an extension of the parish's membership in the LGBTQ-affirming Reconciling Ministries Network.
Affinity Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon spoke about the work Affinity has done over the years including the HIV/AIDS prevention programCOIL ( Community Outreach and Intervention Leadership ) and the organization's peer-led groups.
Following an introduction by Affinity Board President Anna DeShawn, Carruthers ( a Black, queer, feminist community organizer, award winner and author of the upcoming book, Unapologetic: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Our Movement ) began her remarks with a song and said it takes a special commitment to do activist work.
In speaking about the commitment to loving Black people, Carruthers noted the words of Chicago's Gwendolyn Brooks' poem: Paul Robeson, "We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond."
Carruthers asked if Brooks' words in the poem were correct and for her it is complicated. She said it is both yes and no because there is still a lot of work to be done. Carruthers explained that in this moment the government, corporations and other entities are harming Black people.
"I am sure you have heard the latest comments from the white man in the White House," said Carruthers.
Carruthers noted that the question people ask now is "which comments?" She said his verbal rhetoric goes hand-in-hand with the policies he and his administration are rolling out across the nation.
Addressing the issues faced by Black women overall, Carruthers spoke about the violence perpetrated on them including the four Black lesbians and their children who were killed over a one-week period at the end of last year. Carruthers also asked, "Who is killing Black trans women?" She said all Black women face hatred and discrimination and to help combat this everyone has to show up and not just at a protest.
"Black queer and trans and gender nonconforming people have been told that there is a certain way to be in the world," said Carruthers. "We have been told we are not enough and we have to move in the world in a specific way."
Carruthers noted the importance of building things up, not just tearing things down, and said if this happens a transformation will occur.
The Barbara "Robbie" Smith Award of Excellence was bestowed on UIC professor, researcher and Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Phoenix Matthews. The award is given to someone in Smith's memory who exemplifies leadership, perseverance, strength, compassion and integrity.
Smith's widow, Phyllis Johnson, presented Matthews with their award. Matthews said Smith was always a presence in their life since they arrived in Chicago and helped guide them in their early years in the city. Matthews, choking back tears in remembering Smith, noted that they accepted this award as a promise to keep doing the work that warranted the honor.
The late Jackie Anderson ( a lesbian pioneer, civil-rights activist and early supporter of Affinity ) was honored with powerful tributes by Quare Square Collective, Inc. Executive Director and writer M. Shelly Conner and poets E. Nina Jay and Lucy Shumpert.
The Drum Divas opened and closed the event with their unique and rousing brand of music.
See affinity95.org/ for more information .