"Be transformed by rejuvenation!" That was the battle cry at the 2014 Affinity Burning Bowl held Jan. 11 at the Christian Theological Seminary.
"No matter where you come from, today we are family," Mistress of Ceremonies, actress, model and entrepreneur Brandee Young said before encouraging the 300-plus enthusiastic attendees to rise and hug each other. "Burning Bowl is a long standing event of purging, celebration and fellowship," she added. "There's a purpose and a reason why you are here today!"
Audience members were encouraged to write down a list of thoughts, actions or associations that had affected them negatively in 2013. The lists were then taken to an outdoor fire that had been set up outside the Seminary offices and "purged" through the act of throwing them into the flames. The act was followed with each attendee making a list of objectives to focus upon in 2014. Those lists were placed in a self-addressed stamped envelope that Affinity volunteers will mail in June in order for participants to determine if their goals are being met.
Affinity is a social-justice organization focusing on civic engagement, health, wellness and leadership development. The organization works with and on behalf of Black LGBTQ communities, queer youth and allies in the causes of freedom and human rights. Next year will mark the 20th anniversary for the organization and the Burning Bowl event.
In looking back over the organization's achievements last year, Affinity Board Chair Ebonie Davis said that the organization "brought the voices of Black LGBTQ people and allies to Springfield, Washington DC, Raleigh, Orlando, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles and throughout Chicago. We did that and more with two part-time staff, our Board, volunteers and supporters who made sure we were in the room."
Davis, who recently appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show discussing colorism discrimination, said off-stage that being in the room meant increasing Affinity's visibility. "We need to identify emergent needs under the promise of equal rights," she said. "Instead of political leaders bringing issues to us, we need to bring our issues to them."
Setbacks in fundraising for Affinity in 2013 led to the suspension of their Scholars Program that develops future leaders in the LGBTQ community and has brought young participants to the White House. However, the day's rejuvenation helped to spur Affinity Executive Director Kim Hunt forward to new achievements in the coming year. "Affinity has always done a lot of work around bringing awareness to heath disparities of black women and black queer and trans women in particular," she told Windy City Times. "But we are also moving more into public policy work that takes us beyond marriage equality and into access to health and wellness and looking at violence in our communities. All of those issues are important to us."
Hunt introduced the day's keynote speaker and co-founder of Affinity Community Services, Christina M. Smith, to a standing ovation. "When we think about the power of rejuvenation, what it means to our lives is probably as complex as all of us are in this room," Smith said. "The power is in how we decide to use whatever strengths we need to make our lives better."
Smith talked frankly about her own challenges fighting unemployment during the economic downturn of 2008 along with diagnoses of diabetes and colon cancer. "Know your body and show up in defense of your life!" She urged the audience. "Hope is fragile and it has to be nurtured. I wish you all rejuvenation this coming year and all the love and joy you can stand."
The event included rousing performances from Drum Divas, Gira Dahnee and Stacy Rene. A lunch and reception followed.
Two young participants, 13-year-old Michael Angelo and 12-year-old Michael Thomas, summed up their feelings about Burning Bowl after they had incinerated their own challenges of 2013. "That felt great!" Thomas said.
To make a donation to Affinity or for more information, go to affinity95.org/acscontent/ .