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Big Bash raises money for Affirmations

By |2018-01-16T17:14:31-05:00March 24th, 2011|News|

View a gallery of snapshots from the evening.

When 21-year-old Angel Carrion left the stage at Affirmations’ Big Bash last Saturday, the room was a swirl of cheers, hugs and handshakes from many of the 400 supporters who came to the eleventh annual fundraising event. Although the evening was filled with gay community dignitaries, sparkly Detroit Fly House aerial performances, and tables full of auction items, it was the stories shared by Carrion and fellow Affirmations staff member Kim Phillips Knope that reminded the donors in the room what the evening was all about.
Carrion grew up in southwest Detroit, a place he said has no resources for LGBT youth. “I knew from an early age that I was attracted to men,” he said. “I didn’t know that society viewed that as wrong until I was watching TV with my family and there was a gay scene. Just watching the reaction on my family’s faces made me feel like I didn’t belong. It was hard for me to hide myself.”
To deal with the rejection from his family and the bullying at school, Carrion too became a bully. “I started to feel angry and bullied others who had the courage to be themselves. I didn’t want everyone to look at me like I was gay,” he said. A friend took Carrion to Affirmations and he fell in love with the community center, taking bus trips there often.
“Before I found out about Affirmations I didn’t feel good about myself,” Carrion told the audience. “(The center) helped me get my transcripts so I could go to school, and now I’m a medical assistant.” Carrion participated in the Youth Empowerment Program, and is now a member of the YEP staff. “I can help others who are gay going through the same thing I did. My dad used to call me faggot, but now he calls me his son,” he said. “I would love for Affirmations to stay open for the next generation to come.”
Knope, who is the director of programming at Affirmations, also shared her story with supporters. “I came out when I was 14,” she said. “The year was 1989 … The AIDS epidemic was exploding. We had no legal protections. There were no gay TV characters. If there were openly gay politicians, athletes, teachers or parents, I certainly didn’t know about them. I remember feeling lonely, isolated and afraid. So, to try and find other people like me, I did what any 14-year-old would do: I went to the only gay bar in town, a place called Tramps. Nice affirming name, don’t you think? I got in with a Red Cross donor ID card that I borrowed from a friend. With my mouth full of braces and a baby face, I didn’t look old enough to vote, let alone drink. But for me that was the only place to go where other gay people might be.
“As I crossed the street, a car driving by yelled ‘Dyke!’ at me and I was terrified when I walked in. But it was the only place I knew where I could go and be me. Our youth program is that place. It gives young people the opportunity to be who they are in an environment that is age appropriate, is substance free and is safe.”
Big Bash attendees help fund Affirmations and programs like YEP, along with other resources such as counseling, a help line, a resource library, a computer center and space for activities and support groups.
The evening also featured updates on some of the changes happening at the community center. Former Executive Director Leslie Thompson was thanked by Affirmations’ Board President Mary Rose MacMillan for her ten years of service and for helping steer Affirmations into its new building at 290 W. Nine Mile Road in downtown Ferndale. The center will hold a celebration for Thompson on April 3.
MacMillan also announced that the executive director search is still ongoing. The search committee interviewed candidates in March but did not find an ideal match, so the it plans to interview four more candidates in April.
Three awards were given out. The 2011 Jan Stevenson Award was given to Paul Schiavi, who is a pharmacist at Rite Aid, a professor at Wayne State University’s School of Pharmacy and an active volunteer. Schiavi helps with Affirmation’s health fairs, gives Hepatitis A and B vaccines through Access and he also trains Affirmations staff.
Parents and Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays Downriver founders Mike and Janice Neubecker won the 2011 Lorna Utley Outstanding Ally Award. The parents of a gay son formed a support group for themselves and other families, and they actively support second parent adoption in Michigan, which would grant gay and lesbian couples parental rights.
The final award of the evening went to George Westerman, the head of the past Capital Campaign, which afforded the center its new location. Westerman also leads the current Campaign for the Future, which seeks $1.2 million to keep Affirmations open and operating. Westernman has also forged relationships with donors, including his own employer, IBM. Thanks to his help, the community center has attracted millions of dollars in funding.
“It’s amazing,” said Gary Roberts, one of the founding members of the Affirmations board in 1989. “Back then there were people who were afraid to sign the articles of incorporation because it was a public document. Look at how far we’ve come,” he said as he looked around at the sea of people openly celebrating their lives. He recalled how the organization moved around from small places and people’s houses, before moving to the old office in Ferndale, just a block away from their current 16,000-square-foot community center where it serves more than 30,000 individuals each year.
The amount raised by the Big Bash is not yet known, but the organization gratefully met their sponsorship goals and sold almost all of the 400 tickets. MacMillan told the crowd, “We thank you for your generosity, for your belief in yourselves, and for your belief in each other.”
For more information on Affirmations, check out

About the Author:

Crystal Proxmire is the editor and publisher of The Oakland County Times. She loves covering municipal governance and cheering on community efforts.
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