Dr. Carla "C.C." Carter is back.
After being away for a few years and embarking on a few adventures (like graduating from seminary school), Carteran acclaimed writer, poet, and performeris back in Chicago as managing director of the Beverly Arts Center. The Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame honoree recently talked with Windy City Times about adjusting to her new role, being in the LGBT Hall of Fame, and noticing the differences between where she was and where she is now.
Windy City Times: You've been away for a few yearsand you were in Arkansas, correct?
Dr. Carla "C.C." Carter: Correct. So, a lot of people don't know that I left [Chicago] specifically because my father has passed away, and my parents had retired there. My family had contacted me, saying my mother wasn't doing well. So [partner] Ronnie [Fortenberry] and I went down there to visit and realized she wasn't doing well. Then, Ronnie said, "You only get one mom if you're lucky" so we dropped everything and [moved] there.
For the first year and a half, my [employer] here didn't want to lose me so I'd spend two weeks in Chicago and two weeks back in Arkansas. After that, I became a consultant at Philander Smith College. From there, the president saw I had been a teacher so I became an instructor there. Then I co-wrote an application for a $900,000 grant and became department chair for visual and performing arts.
WCT: But you also went to seminary.
Carter: Yes. So I graduated from Jacksonville Theological Institute, but it was the Christian education part of teaching, not necessarily seminary.
WCT: Okay. I think different people have different ideas of what is involved with attending such a school. What did you learn?
Carter: So it was no-brainer, actually. I was looking to get my doctorate in the arts, and I also wanted to be in a space that affirmed all of my intersections. And I'm also a PK [preacher's kid]…
WCT: You and Grace Jones.
Carter: [Laughs] YesTHAT kind of PK. Those who saw me on stage would say, "Wait-what?" [Both laugh.] But there's something very spiritual in the erotic so, to me, they coincide.
But this school had one of the few programs that was hybrid even back then [in the 2010s] so I could do it online. I had to travel to defend my dissertation but it was a path I really liked because I could incorporate the counseling component with vocational discernment. I wanted to not bring a religious vibe to the classroom, but bring a practical and spiritual approach. My doctorate is in Christian education, with an emphasis in educational leadership. I recommend it to anyone who's thinking about going.
WCT: Let's talk about Beverly Arts Center and your role.
Carter: Growing up in Roseland and Chatman, Beverly was like Oak Park/River Forest for the South Side; it's where Black upper- and middle-class folk livedalthough there was the Great Migration to places like Beverly and Mt. Greenwood. The center was a place where you got your formal introduction to the fine arts: dance, theater and visual arts. It's one of the few community art spaces that's not specific to one genre; we specialize in all the major art forms.
Everybody here now is new. Our artistic director, Kevin Pease, is dynamic; he graduated from Northwestern. There is a full professional theatrical program, unlike what you'd find at a community theater. Our actors are getting paid and we're focusing on Chicago stories, directors and artists.
And my job is managing director so we co-lead the organization. It's working on fiscal management, grant writing and development, and marketing.
WCT: I didn't realizeand I'm not sure you knowthat it's been exactly 20 years since you were inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame.
Carter: Oh, my goodness. I didn't know!
WCT: What do you remember about that night in 2002?
Carter: I felt like Sally Field: "You like me. You really do like me!" [Both laugh.]
Honestly, I was just doing the work I lovedand to be recognized for doing spoken-word poetry and being part of A Real Read and for doing the work I was doing on the South Side for LGBTQ folk… We had the first all-lesbian and transgender Vagina Monologues and I had just written a book of poetry. To be recognized for doing that is something I will always cherish. I still have the award.
Twenty yearswow… I was 38 when I got that; I'm 58 now.
WCT: So my last question is something I've asked a lot of different people. Over the past two years, we've all had to deal with COVID and quarantining, we've seen the George Floyd murder and experienced the aftermath, and we've had a lot of time to think. What did you learn about yourself?
Carter: Hmmm… I'm back in Chicago so that should tell you something.
So Arkansas was interesting, and being in Little Rock was even more. In New York and Chicago, where I spent my formative year, and being able to hold my partner's hand in public, I was able to be a vocal and unapologetic Black woman. Being in the pandemic exacerbated all the pressures I felt about the intersections that I felt before it. It was unsettling to see and feel the silencing of Black folk during the time of Black Lives Matter, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. In Arkansas, very few people were vocal.
It was quite unsettling to see the proliferation of Trump ads. I had never been in a space like that. However, I'm grateful for that experience because I saw what real advocates had and have to deal with in spaces like that to make even the smallest impact.
I think about Chris Jones, a graduate of Morehouse, who is running for governor in [Arkansas] now. People think he doesn't have a chance; maybe he doesn't, but what we isn't afraid to do is bring the issues of the people to the forefront. That is huge right now.
But I also think about the trigger states and Roe v. Wade. Arkansas [has] all three abortion banswhether the mother's life is in danger, or if incest or rape is involved. So some forward-thinking people, including myself, bought Plan B; I was going to give it to the nurses in my schoolbut the nurse cannot accept it. So there are repercussions for Black, Brown and poor people; Arkansas is one of the few states in which there are more poor white people than people of color.
So you have all thatabortion, the pandemic, the NRAwas starting to build. In essence, I needed my later years to be my greater years. And when I needed it, this job came along on Indeed. Last year, I said, "God, for me to move back to Chicago, I need a job that wouldn't have me go downtown every day. It has to be perfect arts-related job that's financially sustainable because the snow in Chicago is no joke." [Laughs] I pushed the "Send" button on Sunday and I got a call that Tuesday for an interview; [soon after,] I was offered the position. I have been ecstatic.
Some of the programs taking place at the Beverly Arts Center this season include The Fantastics, The Christmas Schooner and A Raisin in the Sun. More about Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St., is at thebeverlyartscenter.com .