By Alice J. McKeage
Let me start by saying that I love Affirmations. I have been a member since either ’92 or ’93 and a Center Partner since ’94. I’ve served as a board member and a volunteer. Through participation in Affirmations I have found comfort, I have found friendship and I have even found joy! I feel blessed that Affirmations Lesbian & Gay Community Center is part of my life.
But I also have known Kimya Afi Ayodele for many years. This whole episode of Kimya losing her job at Affirmations and the subsequent fallout has been a painful period for me.
On National Coming Out Day, I walked across the street at the Affirmations Comedy Show to greet those who were protesting Kimya’s dismissal and to offer whatever comfort and love I could to Kimya. When I reached out to hug her, we both lost it and cried in each other’s arms. I am grateful she trusted me enough to be able to share her anguish.
During the next week, as I considered the issue and read articles and letters in Between The Lines about Affirmations and racism, those moments with Kimya remained etched in my memory: I can still hear the anguish in her voice as she wailed and I can still feel the tears that started down her cheeks run down my neck and I can still feel the enormous tension in her body.
And a week later, as I considered what comments I might make to the Affirmations Board of Directors, I realized that my moment with Kimya had given me a gift I didn’t expect … a hard, cold look in the mirror. My finger-pointing has to start with me. I have heard my black friends talk about the irrelevance of Affirmations in their lives and the need for a community center of their own. I have heard other charges of racism leveled against Affirmations. But I stood safely in the cocoon of my white privilege, enjoying the many benefits Affirmations brought to my life, without acknowledging the valid perceptions of those who felt shut out. Oh, I made annual donations to Karibu House and supported other events held in the black community, but I never closely examined any of the reasons my friends did not feel served by Affirmations. That cozy cocoon was torn open by the cries and tears of someone I care about. And I must acknowledge my own culpability in this issue … because I have not been part of the solution, I AM part of the problem.
So I write this viewpoint today, not to point fingers, because most of my fingers point back to me, but to beg all of you to look in your own mirror. Perception IS reality to the perceiver and we need to deal with the perception and the reality of the racism that is endemic to this entire local community. I want to belong to a community center where all members of our local glbt population BELIEVE they have the same opportunities I’ve had for comfort and friendship and joy. I want to belong to a community of glbt people who feel safe crossing the 8 Mile Road divide in BOTH directions. I want to belong to a glbt community that is made richer in spirit by the participation and contributions of ALL of its many diverse constituencies.
We need both individual and organizational leadership on this journey to ending racism. Affirmations cannot blot out racism within its walls if the community remains divided. We need open minds to ask tough questions of ourselves and open hearts willing to go where the tough answers lead us. We need hands willing to reach across the divisions to link with others of good will. We need to challenge our organizations to examine their organizational behavior, but we also need to challenge ourselves to examine our personal behavior. We need to ask ourselves: How do we shift from being part of the problem to becoming part of the solution?
Several years ago, I found this quote in a PFLAG newsletter: “We who know where the answers are and fail to pursue them will only perpetuate the wounding of tomorrow’s children.”
On National Coming OUT Day, I stood in the cold night holding a wounded child who felt shut out. PLEASE, can we all work together to end the divisions in this community so none of us ever has to have that experience again?