By Crystal Proxmire
Coming up as a young black gay male, Curtis Lipscomb had a hard time finding longstanding training and mentorship. “When I was younger, the HIV/AIDS epidemic wiped out everyone older than me. People that would have been my educators were gone,” said the 47 year old executive director of KICK. “I survived the HIV/AIDS epidemic and now I want people to have greater opportunities. I want to pass this work on to the next generation in a way that they can be better organized and better able to help themselves.”
That’s why Lipscomb is grateful to receive a Knight Foundation Grant that will specifically help fund one year of a new training program called LEAD. The LEAD Project will train 20 young, black gay men (ages 18-30) how to be effective community organizers.
The grant was given to ten projects in the Detroit and Philadelphia areas to increase youth activism, and the grant to KICK was the only one with an LGBT component. The $20,000 Knight Foundation Grant will be combined with a $15,000 Unity Michigan Grant to fund the first year of what Lipscomb hopes will be a three-year project.
“Imagine an academy for leaders, a way of educating people to train up,” Lipscomb said. “We want people to learn basics of LGBT 101, and give them classes on social justice, community activism, civil leadership, and community building. We’re seeking experts in these fields who can come in and teach what they know.
“It will be a six week program that we hold twice a year, one in the spring and one in the fall, ten students at a time.” He is currently creating the curriculum for the program, which will be centered around what speakers he is able to bring on board.
“We have a number of young adults coming to KICK and asking how to participate. There are people who want to step up, but they need social justice skills. I am grateful for the resources to be able to do this,” Lipscomb said.
From the path of a young gay black male seeking guidance in a world that didn’t treat him fairly because of who he was, to the executive director of a large community organization, Lipscomb said he “worked with many great people, but we had to figure things out as we went along.”
Lipscomb was the founder of KICK magazine, a national magazine for gay black males launched in 1994.
“In 1994 people were still dying of HIV, and there was no internet or email to share information. It was all print. There were all these black and white zines popping up, and that is how people were sharing information. So with KICK we sought out talented writers, artists, and photographers and we distributed it all around the country. There was a magazine put out on each coast, and then KICK for Detroit. Detroit had a very unique voice, and people took note of Detroit culture.”
As the magazine grew, so did the community organizing associated with it. In 1996, they were instrumental in organizing Hotter Than July!, the first annual pride celebration for LGBT people of color in Detroit. Along with Black LGBT community groups including the Baldwin-Parker Society, Billionaire’s Boys Club, Men of Color Motivational Group, A.L.O.R.D.E. Collective, Project Survival, Ladies of a Current Affair and Full Truth Unity Fellowship Church, KICK Publishing helped bring candle flames of effort together for a fire of inspiration.
Hotter Than July! was so hot that other projects sparked from the fuel and eventually KICK’s focus became less on publishing and more on community activism and social justice.
In 2003, KICK transitioned from a business to a nonprofit and zoomed in their focus on organizing and helping. Last year the group moved into a community center space at 41 Burroughs Street, Suite 109 in Detroit. Lipscomb was also invited out to a holiday reception at the White House with President Barrack Obama and family in December as a result of his activism work.
2012 is looking promising for Lipscomb and the many volunteers who keep KICK vibrant and progressive. Their ongoing discussion series Live and Learn continues to grow and tackle tough topics, and they are working on community organizing for the upcoming election. The Knight Foundation Grant is a good way to start the year as well.
“I am very excited about the opportunity,” he said.
Find out more about KICK at http://www.e-kick.org.