By Cornelius A. Fortune
FERNDALE – Activists and board members of Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center met last week in hopes of continuing discussion about allegations of racism and multicultural issues at the center.
Members of One Voice 4 Justice, a group of local activists seeking dialogue on race issues, sat in on the meeting to voice their concerns.
Ken Rosen, board chair president, who moderated the meeting, expressed his commitment to working out the problems.
“Let’s begin the dialogue to make sure multicultural diversity isn’t just something we talk about, but it’s something we do,” he said. “Maybe the LGBT community needs to take the lead and teach the rest of the metro Detroit community how blacks and whites and Asians and everybody else can get along.
“I pledge that as long as I’m chair of this board that this organization now is and will continue to work on that. We can’t resolve this tonight. As we move forward, we (will) learn how to solve this problem.”
Author and activist Michelle Brown stressed that action should be taken, and requested that the comments given by One Voice 4 Justice be included in the minutes.
“This is real,” she said, referring to the issues discussed. “You say you are going to talk about it, but when are you going to talk about it? I think it’s great to go through the process but if you’re serious about doing this, we don’t have to go through processes, you can set the date and do the next step.”
The talks were sparked by the departure of black employees Kimya Ayodele and Vanessa Marr from their positions with the community center during the week of Oct. 2.
“It’s not just about race – this is a long-term issue,” said Johnny Jenkins, One Voice 4 Justice. “I’m concerned that multicultural issues need to be addressed. To me this is not just about human resources issues, it’s about the entire cultural issue of Affirmations going into the next 20 or 25 years.”
He went on to say that he didn’t believe that Affirmations was racist, but that the organization needed restructuring. “It (the problem) needs to be addressed from the top down, so that symbolically people feel that the board is taking it seriously.”
“What we have here is a collective of people who people who can’t deal with race,” said Terry Howcott, a community activist. “This is a local issue but it is also a global issue where you have failed, white people have failed, Democrats have failed – it’s just a bunch of fucking failures. I don’t love Affirmations at all.”
Affirmations volunteer and former board member Alice McKeage, gave her own testimonial concerning the problem, she said that she loves Affirmations but sees the need for change.
“This whole issue pains me deeply. My finger pointing starts with me,” she said. “I want to belong to a community center where every single member of our GLBT population believes that they have the same opportunities that I’ve had to find support, and to find friendship, and to find joy. I beg you please can we all find a way to work together so that neither of us has to ever experience (this) again.”
Imani Williams, of One Voice 4 Justice, recommended that specific anti-racist training be implemented.
Kimya Ayodele, a former employee of Affirmations, said: “This is not an angry black woman issue, there are many people: black, white, short, fat, trans, straight who have issues with this center.”