By Tara Cavanaugh and Ruchi Naresh
“It’s really tough reaching the African American gay community,” says Curtis Lipscomb, the new executive director of KICK.
“We have a long history of people that beat us up within our own community. If you don’t know anyone like us, you have these mischaracterizations about us. It’s hard.”
KICK, a Detroit nonprofit for African American LGBTs, is dedicated to combating those stereotypes while providing safety, education and a place for community. Its efforts have not gone unnoticed: Recently, it attracted its largest grant ever, acquired a new space, and hired Lipscomb as its first executive director – all proving that the organization has made great strides in the community, and it’s set to make even more.
So what gives KICK its kick? A wide variety of services, for starters.
KICK’s services fall under three programs: Receive & Restore provides health and wellness information, Learn & Live provides education workshops and Help & Heal provides faith-based support and resources for men who are HIV-positive or who have AIDS.
Every evening between 5 and 8 p.m. the office has daily programs, such as book clubs. It also provides gathering space for other organizations – usually small groups with limited budgets.
While KICK provides space for hands-on-education and grassroots efforts, it is also working beyond its programs on bigger issues, such as bullying.
A new project, called Detroit’s Safe School initiative, has attracted the help of Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, who is also a member of KICK.
“The fact the we as responsible adults who are gay and know that (bullying of gay students) is going on and doing nothing about it – we are enabling that to happen by our inaction,” Pugh says.
The Safe School initiative would provide sensitivity training to public school administrators, teachers, counselors and other staff members so they could help students struggling with gender identity and sexual orientation.
Students need to know that “it is okay if they don’t fit the norm,” says Tiffany McLean, the board president at KICK, “and if something bad does happen to those students, then Detroit Public School stands behind them and makes sure they have a safe learning environment.”
Pugh, along with other organizations that are supporting the initiative, have presented the Detroit School Board with an outline of the curriculum. According to Pugh, this process is long and can be discouraging, but Lipscomb remains undaunted.
Another big issue that KICK is unafraid to tackle is LGBT acceptance in black churches. It partnered with other area nonprofits to sponsor a spirituality summit in April.
And just as KICK uses other organizations’ resources to help its community, it also helps the greater LGBT community statewide. It has collaborated with Equality Michigan, the ACLU of Michigan and Affirmations in planning a series of town hall meetings throughout the state about including LGBTs in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which protects many minorities against discriminatory practices in housing and employment – but not yet LGBTs.
“KICK does tremendous work in the African-American community,” says Michael Gregor, the director of communications for Equality Michigan. “As we expand our advocacy efforts statewide, we need voices from all communities to build the movement for equality and fairness.”
A financial kick-start
An organization with such a wide reach and big goals needs money. KICK survives off of corporate sponsorships, grants and donations from its 200-plus members. And this year, KICK got a big boost.
The Arcus Foundation gave the organization a $180,000 two-year grant, which is the largest total grant it has received to date. The money was used to hire the first ED, move into a modern new office space in Detroit’s Tech Town and expand programming.
When KICK was preparing for its move into the new space in February, Lipscomb told BTL that the grant opens up all kinds of opportunities.
“This will allow us to work with more established LGBT nonprofits – locally and nationally,” Lipscomb said, “and to do more social justice work.” Just last month, for example, Lipscomb spoke at a national NAACP conference in Detroit, and is working on creating connections between the black LGBT community and powerful organizations like the NAACP. Creating connections and sharing resources can only help their community, he says.
Creating a brighter future
“When you think of Michigan, you always think of Detroit,” Lipscomb says. “While Detroit is politically Democratic, the state is predominantly not. When it comes to education in the African American community, they need to know that they are a part of that solution.”
But, Lipscomb says, most members of black gay society feel invisible – and they aren’t aware of what the solution could be.
Many in the community don’t know what it is to be married, to have equal rights, to be able to adopt, he says. Many also attend churches that don’t recognize such injustices.
So KICK is there to educate all involved – LGBT or not – about those problems and how to fix them.
“I think one of the things that makes KICK so wonderful and so dynamic, is that we are all about building relationships,” McLean says. “Through those relationships the dialogue can take place.”