Community Renewal Society (CRS) highlighted a new partnership with the Washington, D.C.-based Bayard Rustin Liberation Initiative (BRLI) as part of a virtual Martin Luther King Day observance on Jan. 18. The event paid tribute to the legacy of Black gay civil rights Bayard Rustin, and took note of a key legislative victory for the Illinois House Black Caucus earlier in the month.
CRS focuses on addressing issues tied to racism and poverty in Chicago. The BRLI partnership allows it to more easily pursue funding opportunities for programming and projects impacting members of the LGBTQ community.
"We cannot talk about race and poverty without being in solidarity with our LGBTQI community partners," said Waltrina Middleton, executive director of CRS. Rev. Jason Carson Wilson, who is Bayard Rustin Liberation Initiative's founding executive director, is leading CRS' LGBTQ advocacy efforts; he also spoke during the presentation.
Kim Hunt, executive director of the Pride Action Tank advocacy moderated the panel, which she opened by asking each of the participants about the first time they experienced racism.
Author/activist Danielle Buhuro recounted that, when she was a child, she was cited by a teacher for being too noisy in class. She said, "All African-Americans have logged experiences of racism, sexism or homophobia before they were even conscious of it. … Usually we get red checkmarks in the box that says 'talks too much' on our report cards."
The memory of Rustin, who was at the center of the national civil rights movement while still largely closeted, provoked a discussion about finding a place in the larger Black communitysome members of which have occasionally not been open to conversations about sexual orientation and gender identitywhile still being honest about one's own identity.
Buhuro called for resisting the notion that the Black community can only make space for fighting race-based discrimination, a myth ultimately perpetuating ignorance of anti-LGBTQ bias. She said that the issue was especially pertinent with regards to the murders of Black trans women, additionally noting that those killings are rarely publicized nor confronted with the same outrage and urgency that incidences of police brutality are.
Hunt concurred, adding, "When things are right for Black trans women, they're going to be right everywhere."
Artist/activist Avery Young said, "This idea, that we can only work on one thing and not address another thing, means we're never going to get that first thing."
Buhuro said that many details behind Rustin's life left her sad, since the activist chose to remain behind the scenes for so much of his civil rights work. But Young suggested that Rustin thought that he was doing work "that was bigger than him."
State House Majority Leader Greg Harris spoke during the forum, praising efforts by the Black Caucus, which on Jan. 13 successfully pushed a criminal justice reform omnibus bill through the House. Among the tenets of that bill was the elimination of cash bail bond requirements in the state.
Harris said it was "exhilarating" to be on the House floor when the legislation passed, and praised state Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch's being named as the new speaker of the house.
Other participants taking part in the CRS event, which was introduced by Keron Blair, executive director of Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, included Rev. Benjamin Ledell Reynolds of Chicago First Church of the Brethren and activist John Adewoye, who works primarily with LGBTQ asylum seekers.