The Coalition for Justice and Respect ( CJR ) and the Coalition for Justice and Respect Foundation ( CJRF ) will host "Bolder Than Out ( BTO ): Breaking the Silence: Chicago International LGBTQSGL Black African-American Community Social Justice Identity Conference" April 4-6 at Northeastern Illinois University's Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies.
"Bolder Than Out" is an annual event in its second year. This theme of this year's conference, "Breaking The Silence," according to CJR's website, is "dedicated to the eradication of silence within the community and finding ways to provide voices for underrepresented Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Chicago and nationwide."
"The most important thing is not the conference, but the work that comes out of the conference," said CJR Executive Director Marc Loveless. "We are embodying the work of social justice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year's theme, 'Breaking The Silence,' is directly taken from the speech of the same title, where Dr. King talked about how resources that cause war overseas were exploding in the form of neglect to domestic needs. We here in 2014 find ourselves in a very similar situation. This conference is the end of the beginning and the work begins day one."
The main name "Bolder Than Out," Loveless said, means more than just being out; it means being present.
"[It's] being present in the community that we're in, that we're a part of and responding to the priorities and current issues," said Loveless.
Founded in 2007, CJR is a Chicago-based organization dedicated to the education, empowerment, freedom and liberation of Black LGBT communities.
"We are trying to create change within our community and we believe that you can't have change at all unless you look within the community first," said Adam McMath, CJR's managing director. "We're building a united front with this conference. This conference is an open conversation. We really want people to ask questions or challenge things that they don't agree with and then we'll have an open discussion about that. So the conference is really built to bring our community together, to glean some insights about where we're at as a community and where we need to go and some of the things that we need to improve upon so that we can improve things our future generations will experience."
Individuals scheduled to speak include Chair of the Democratic National Committee ( DNC ) LGBT Caucus and President/CEO and Founder of the Center for Black Equity Earl D. Fowlkes Jr.; clinical psychologist and University of Illinois at Chicago's College of Nursing Associate Professor at Dr. Phoenix Matthews; activist the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.; and former ambassador and U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, among others.
"Across the board they're people within the community or outside of the community that have dedicated their lives to some kind of cause that affects the community," said McMath of the wide variety of speakers vetted for the conference. "They all bring something to the table when it comes to offering insight that would benefit our community as a whole. It brings value to Chicago because it's putting the spotlight on some of the great things that we have to offer within IL and Chicago for the LGBT community. Obviously, in all of our cities there's work to be done, but we believe that Chicago can be an epicenter for change throughout the LGBT SGL community."
The conference, McMath said, welcomes anyone from anywhere, especially those who can offer insights or are looking for answers or group discussion about the issues facing the LGBT, SGL ( same-gender-loving ), African-American community.
Matthews will be attending BTO for the second time. Also serving as the principal investigator in the Department of Research at the Howard Brown Health Center and conducting a clinical trial of a culturally targeted smoking-cessation intervention for LGBT smokers, Matthews will discuss tobacco issues in the LGBT communities with a particular emphasis on the role of mentholated cigarettes in increasing health disparities among African-American smokers.
"The goal of the conference is essentialto share information, resources, and to establish collaborations between community members, advocates, social service providers, and researchers," said Matthews. "I believe in the work that the organizers and other across the country with similar visions are trying to achieve."
Matthews described educating the audience and providers within the audience about the need to address tobacco use in the African American LGBT community, along with the importance of increasing access to evidenced-based and culturally appropriate smoking cessation treatment programs as an important pieces of her part at the event.
"I want this conference to be the beginning of the movement," McMath said. "That's not to say the movement hasn't started. It started years ago, but I want it to be the beginning of a new movement to really truly recognize that there is still discrimination within the LGBT community and outside the LGBT community. We're slowly starting to shift over, but it's really something that will take time and then it's really something we need to make sure that we are educating ourselves about too."
For more information on "Bolder Than Out: Breaking the Silence," visit cjrchicago.org .