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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Affinity lights the way forward with Burning Bowl, new ED
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2016-01-11

This article shared 4 times since Mon Jan 11, 2016
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Affinity Community Service's annual Burning Bowl has traditionally dispensed with the old by setting it to flame while the ashes of lessons learned during the past year provide the fuel for determination to improve and so be empowered to create and celebrate the new.

However, the 2016 event offered something starkly different from previous years.

The enthusiastic Jan 9. audience of Affinity supporters and allies packed into St. Martin's Episcopal Church—a West Side first for the 20-year-old organization—took the occasion to, this time, honor both old and new.

The flames of the Burning Bowl set up beyond the beautiful stained glass of the church building served to ignite a torch passed to new leadership and a new direction.

The extensive and painstaking search to replace Affinity Executive Director Kim Hunt—who left in 2015 to helm the Pride Action Tank—culminated in the introduction of Imani Rupert-Gordon. She took the stage and Hunt's former position to exuberant applause.

Rupert—Gordon has a lifelong history of fighting for social justice. She has served as the Director of the Broadway Youth Center ( BYC ) and is the founder of the Social Fiction Conference ( SFC ) which used science fiction, fantasy and gaming models to facilitate greater discussions between attending students and faculty about issues such as identity and how to dismantle societal bias and oppression.

She will officially become Affinity's Executive Director on Feb, 1. While describing her appointment as an "honor", Rupert-Gordon is also well aware of the mountain of work which lies ahead.

"We see that trans women of color face unfathomable violence and discrimination," she told the audience. "We see our young Black sisters, brothers, sons and daughters being killed at the hands of people that are sworn to protect us. But every time I get discouraged about fighting the same battles we did 20 years ago, I am struck by another constant: Affinity."

"For Affinity, Black lives have always mattered," Rupert-Gordon added. "That's what makes me proud of, not just our past, but for our future. In the next 20 years we will continue to serve in trans communities, we will prioritize Black voices and highlight the experiences of lesbian, bisexual and queer women. We will work to eliminate wage gaps and experience education. We will work to ensure that people like us are informed about voting and policies that matter to us. We will continue the legacy. Who knows what we will be coming together to celebrate again? Who know what past pains we will be ready to burn?"

For the present, Board President Ebonie S. Davis celebrated Affinity's accomplishments in 2015 and acknowledged the myriad of people who helped found, shape, nurture and expand the organization over the past two decades not the least of whom was Barbara "Robbie" Smith who passed away in March last year.

Davis described the Affinity founding board member as a "friend and mother to many that walked through Affinity's doors. For at least 13 years of our existence, she kept the financial growth of this organization in a manner we could only dream of."

To that end, this year's Burning Bowl included the presentation of the Barbara "Robbie" Smith Award of Excellence —created to honor an individual who exemplifies her legacy through leadership, perseverance, strength, compassion and integrity.

The recipient was Mary F. Morten—president of the Morten Group who has received multiple accolades for her tireless leadership in social change, public policy and advocacy.

Morten aided Affinity through a year that was not only transitional but defining in its level of accomplishment and number of new partnerships forged.

"We saw an increase in funding for programs across the board," Davis said. "We received some of the largest grants in the organization's history for HIV services and to provide direct services and assistance for seniors in the LGBT community. We were also instrumental partners in bipartisan laws that went into effect on January 1: a ban on conversion therapy for LGBT youth and the first ever law specifically allowing transgender individuals to specify gender identity in funeral and burial arrangements."

Yet Davis also noted the long list of work to be done such as addressing the systematic and unlawful detainments of Black trans women, unspoken rapes and sexual violence against Black trans men, the rate of pregnancy, STD and STIs among Black young people, immigration reform and the coming battle against a Religious Freedom act currently being pushed by Springfield lawmakers in response to marriage equality.

"No longer can we say we are allies. We must be advocates," Davis said. "We must take back our lives. Affinity is up to the task."

This year's Burning Bowl therefore required a more unilateral effort and declaration. Participants were encouraged not only to burn their own personal negative experiences but those affecting the community at large—homelessness, prejudice, injustice, gun and domestic violence, unemployment and silence were just a few written on a large sheet of paper that was the first to be put to the fire.

They were replaced by a collective agreement to bring—among other things shouted out by the audience—love, positivity, activism, joy, peace and justice in 2016.

In delivering her keynote address after a prolonged ovation in gratitude for her years of unparalleled service to Affinity, Hunt recalled a quote from author Octavia E. Butler's Earthseed that has defined her life "All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you."

Hunt asserted that the event's theme of Passing the Torch was not only fitting organizationally but for the days ahead.

"I am literally in awe of the organizing work that's going on among young Black activists today," she said. "They are really honoring the history of resistance of Black people from the time we arrived on these shores. It brings me great joy to know that there are Affinity connections in terms of the organizations and collectives moving this work forward."

"Organizations like Affinity are precious gifts to the LGBTQ community," Hunt noted. "They are rarer and rarer."

According to Hunt, for Affinity to continue to pass the torch successfully involves planning and recognizing its imperfections, embracing fear, letting go and understanding that "you don't have to have the torch to have it right."

"In times of change, we have to remember to offer each other grace, benevolence and patience," she said. "We have to be flexible. We have to face hard truths through transitions because our ultimate goal is about serving the people. Giving up the torch frees your hand to accept new possibilities and accepting the torch allows you to build upon the progress and the lessons of the past and light the way forward."

Masters of Ceremonies for this year's Burning Bowl were internet radio show host and "peace and love poet" Niki Gee alongside veteran social service organizer and Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame inductee Pat McCombs.

A rousing spoken word performance was provided by celebrated poet and Windy City Times 30 under 30 honoree Nikki Patin.

For more information about Affinity, visit: www.affinity95.org .

Quote for Affinity:

"Imani will be sorely missed and we wish her much success with her future endeavors. Her vision, compassion and dedication took our work at the Broadway Youth Center (BYC) to new levels. Affinity Community Services and the whole community will benefit from Imani's leadership. We look forward to continuing to work with Affinity in responding to the needs of underserved communities."

Howard Brown Health bids farewell to Imani Rupert, Director of Broadway Youth Center, now Executive Director of Affinity Community Services

(Chicago, IL January 11, 2016) — At the end of January, Howard Brown Health will bid farewell to Imani Rupert, director of its Broadway Youth Center (BYC) and an integral member of Howard Brown's Senior Leadership Team. Imani leaves Howard Brown to continue her career as Executive Director for Affinity Community Services. In response, David Ernesto Munar, President and CEO of Howard Brown Health, released the following statement:

"Imani began her career at Howard Brown Health serving as a social work extern for BYC from September 2012-June 2013. In December of 2013, she accepted the position of Director of Broadway Youth Center, and handled the opportunity with grace and determination to make a difference. She accomplished many things as director of BYC, helping expand the array of vital services for LGBTQ youth, worked to obtain a special-use permit ensuring continuity of care without interruption, greatly improved BYC's relationship with area residents, and engaged more donors to maximize BYC's budget. Her many talents will help further Affinity Community Services' mission and will undoubtedly enhance its stellar work in Chicago."


This article shared 4 times since Mon Jan 11, 2016
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