Pictured CBLG members: Back row, from left: Robert Ames, Lois Bates and Ronald Lee. Front: Kashaun Collier, Alexia Johnson-Payne and Lalisha Payne. Photos by Lynnell S. Long
With the theme of 'Community Building for Building Our Communities,' the Chicago Black Lesbians & Gays ( CBLG ) held its 10th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration on Monday, Jan. 17 at St. Kevin's Church on the city's Far South Side.
And despite wonderful dramatic, vocal and spoken word performances, what was clearly missing in the event was a keynote address that connected the words and works of King to the mission that today faces the Black LGBT community of Chicago.
The morning began with Alexia Johnson-Payne pouring libations in honor of the ancestors accompanied by drummer Robert Hillman. Speaking in languages from the Mother Country, and with members of the community moved to dance, it was a fitting opening to the service.
CBLG member Lois Bates served as the mistress of ceremonies and as is always the case, interjected her own style of humor to keep the service moving.
In the morning welcome, given by CBLG Steering Committee Co-Chair Robert Ames, he thanked the small but lively audience for braving the cold to honor the contributions of one of this country's greatest warriors for peace and equal rights.
'It's important that we come together to acknowledge the impact of Martin Luther King's life on the freedoms that we enjoy today,' Ames said. 'When you look back at the difference he made in the civil-rights movement, one cannot help but recall the personal struggle that he endured. But his contributions continue to live on and we hope that by our celebration of his legacy that we can serve as an inspiration to those of us from the LGBT community to follow in his footsteps. Like King we must we willing to correct what is wrong in our world. But we can only be successful if we stand together.'
In most services honoring King, the words of his more powerful sermons are usually played on audio or video. But at this celebration, with the dramatic skills of members of Dereque Whiturs' Happy Nia Productions, the audience was given the opportunity to 'see' King in action as his moving 'I've Been to the Mountain Top' sermon was reenacted with two accompanying singers.
It was a unique mixture of drama and music that emphasized the songs of the civil-rights movement and their powerful effect on their listeners.
The guest speaker for the celebration was Lloyd Kelly, director, Let's Talk, Let's Test, a program supported by Illinois State Rep. Constance 'Connie' Howard, from the 34th District.
Kelly is well-known in the community for his ability to mobilize forces and for his dedication to bringing improved health services to the Black community in the wake of the AIDS epidemic.
'It is amazing the kinds of things that Dr. King was able to accomplish in such a short life, in fact it is really awesome when you think about it,' Kelly said. 'But the key question for us today is what are we going to do?'
At this point in his presentation Kelly chose to turn to the political maneuverings that have been going on in Chicago and in Springfield as a result of his program and those bills sponsored or co-sponsored by Howard.
'We need to look at HIV/AIDS and its effects on the Black community,' he said. 'In the Black community, we all live with it in some way or another.'
Kelly went on to emphasize recent statistics that indicate the disproportionate number of Blacks who are living with HIV/AIDS.
'It is estimated that 54 percent of all cases will be Blacks, but we only make up 12 percent of the U.S. population,' he emphasized. 'And 72 of 100 new infections are Blacks. What correlation should we make given these disturbing numbers? That AIDS is the 21st century version of Black genocide.
'Have you gotten tested recently? If not, do it, and do it regularly. It's important that everyone know their status. And if we're going to save the Black community we must begin to understand politically what is going on—this is a public policy issue.'
In his close, Kelly shared information about a new bill that Howard has taken to the floor which would benefit both Black youth and those Blacks currently incarcerated in the state's prison system. He invited those present to consider coming to Springfield when the next session begins.
But this writer was disappointed that Kelly did not use the opportunity to teach the younger members about the work of King while making specific connections to work that can be done today. Still, his efforts were laudable as he highlighted the major health threat to the African-American race today.
Vicky Nabors gave a brief testimony about why she has become involved in the Gay Games VII, a sports and cultural festival scheduled for July 15-22, 2006. [ www.gaygameschicago.org . ]
'We have the opportunity to meet other LGBT people from around the globe when they come to Chicago next year,' she said. 'Already committees are being formed and there is certainly a lot of revenue to be made for those who can offer services during the games. There will be wonderful opportunities to attend parties and gatherings and share our dreams and our fears with others. But we need to make sure we will be at those parties and functions—not looking from the outside in but from the inside out.'
But the highlight of the celebration was the spoken word 'Contradictions' performed by E. Nina Jay. Jay has become a regular fixture in the Chicago spoken word community, a prize winner at several highly competitive events and a young woman who continues to share her gifts and vision as a self-proclaimed 'lesbian/woman activist.'
What's most impressive about Jay is how she has survived both rape and incest to use her writing as a tool for healing, light and power.
Her complete text is highlighted in this month's edition of Identity.
Finally, because of CBLG's generous sponsors, a sumptuous brunch was offered at the end of the service free of charge.
CBLG is an organization that exists solely through volunteer efforts and Ames, along with co-chair Kashaun Collier, and seven other dedicated officers and members, need your help. Contact CBLG at ( 312 ) 409-4917, send in your membership fee and become involved.
Far too often we in the LGBT community complain about what is or what it not but never become involved to bring about positive change.
Thanks CBLG for another year and for honoring 'The King.'