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Burning Bowl passes torch to community
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2015-12-30

This article shared 5065 times since Wed Dec 30, 2015
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For over a decade, Chicago social-justice and human-rights nonprofit Affinity's Burning Bowl event has kicked off a new year with attendees bringing past and future together in empowering affirmation on a deeply individual level.

However, Burning Bowl 2016 promises something different both for those who attend and the organization itself.

It is the start of a new era for Affinity. The passing of the torch from former Executive Director Kim Hunt—who will serve as the event's speaker—to a new leader who will be formally announced at the event is not merely this year's theme but an idea of deeper significance.

Affinity Board President Ebonie Davis and member Malissa Rainey sat down with Windy City Times to talk about the Jan. 9, 2016, event to be held at Saint Martin's Episcopal Church on the West Side. It is expected to draw more than 300 people from Chicago and beyond.

"It is at St. Martin's for the every first time," Davis said. "It's a historical moment for us that speaks to the expansion of Affinity's work that we want to do citywide. What you can expect from this Burning Bowl is a change in format and really getting participants and constituents involved in more of a community-type ceremony this year."

The decision by Affinity's board and staff for a communal rather than individual feel to the event was made following what has been a tumultuous 2015 for the City of Chicago and nationwide—from the cold-blooded killings of Black community members by police officers to the rise in crime and gun violence to the horrific numbers of transgender women of color who lost their lives to societal ignorance and hatred.

According to Davis and Rainey, this is a time for healing.

"Out with the old and in with the new," Rainey stated. "We want to lift out some things to remove from the community and put them in the fire. We will open it up to those who can to call those things out. Then we will call out the change that we want to create in our community."

"For us to move forward and be intentional about the work we do, we really need the community to come together," Davis added. "What better time to do it than at Burning Bowl?"

Davis described Burning Bowl 2016 as a "call to action."

"We want to allow people space to talk about things that they may have experienced and to share their experiences but also walk away educated about the upcoming issues that Affinity plans on tackling for 2016 so that the community can participate in those events," she said.

One of those goals includes a voter-rights campaign. "A lot of changes come about because of the vote," Davis asserted. "We can't just talk about [Cook County State's Attorney] Anita Alvarez being put of office, we have to vote her out. We have to educate and organize around things like that. When we pass the torch, we will do so invigorated and ready to do that kind of true social justice work on the ground."

Affinity attends to address the continual violence and poverty suffered by transgender women of color as well as much needed immigration reform in much the same way. "We're planning a town hall meeting in February to highlight these issues," Rainey said. "Most of our base is women who are very interested in justice all the way around, so at the meeting we are hoping to bring more awareness, discuss strategies for next steps and get folks excited about that."

"We have a panel discussion at Creating Change this year that will focus on immigration education for the LGBT community," Davis said," and a lot more information about our initiatives will be available at the town hall."

The date of that meeting will also be revealed at Burning Bowl.

"There's more to passing the torch than just the change in the executive director," Rainey asserted. "It's also about expanding our areas of influence and interest, the services we provide and our presence in the community—continually focusing on more and more people. I hope that this isn't the first and last year that we as a community burn things and then set an agenda."

"We will be coming out of our 20th year," Davis added. "That is huge for us in terms of the work that we plan to do in the next 20 years and beyond and how that work is structured. There's a lot of violence in the world and the city of Chicago. We want to focus on the intersectionality of women of color and provide more direct services. So it's more than just a change in leadership, it's a shift in the organization as a whole."

That shift that has already been felt throughout the offices of Affinity and among its constituents.

"We are nationally known now," Davis said. "So we are being very intentional about the work that we pursue. There isn't an organization like Affinity that provides direct services to women of color. We recognize that the time is now to get that work done."

"We don't want to be isolated anymore," Rainey added. "We want to represent all people in our community as we talk about improvements all the way around."

Interspersed between the old and the new will be performances which have always been one of Burning Bowl's definition of the unique. However, Davis would not betray any early secrets.

"We have some amazing co-hosts this year," she said. "We do have some great performances who I will just identify as 'special guests'. I'll leave it to people to anticipate who those individuals are."

Regardless, Burning Bowl's attendees will still feel the sense of cleansing and renewal that is the event's trademark impression.

"We're coming together to release things for ourselves but also locally and internationally," Rainey said. "We will write things down as a group and we will declare things that we want to work on together as to how we can make things happen for ourselves and for our community."

"My hope is that people walk away with a renewed sense of purpose in the work," Davis added. "After they leave Burning Bowl, they will realize that they are an important part of the community. It is their voice and their seat at the table that is going to stop the onslaught. They are important. They are Affinity."

For more information about Burning Bowl, visit: affinity95.org/acscontent.


This article shared 5065 times since Wed Dec 30, 2015
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