Affirmations LGBTQ+ community center Executive Director Antonio Dave Garcia has announced his intention to step down at the end of the year. Newly hired Deputy Executive Director Cheryl Czach will take over Jan. 1. For the next six months, Garcia said he will work closely with Czach and that he expects a smooth transition. The decision to leave, Garcia said, had been made some time ago.
Garcia, who first served as ED from 2012-2015, spent five years in California before returning to Michigan and the ED post in 2019. His first contract was only for three years.
“But Covid happened, and then when three years came I was ready to step down then but we didn’t have a good transition plan,” he said. “So, I didn’t want to see what’s happened in the past happen again.”
What happened before is that the center’s board did a massive, costly national search in 2015, which ended with the hiring of Darrious D. Hilmon as ED. But Hilmon left the center after less than year. Czach, who previously served on the center’s board, including as president for a time, was brought on as deputy ED in April. And a plan was set in motion.
“When I joined it was with the idea that there was a transition coming,” said Czach. “But I didn’t know it was going to be me. The board decided that they didn’t want to spend the time and money on a search. Historically, searches have not worked out well for Affirmations. Some of them have cost, like, $50,000.”
With that in mind, Garcia began looking in-house.
“I wanted to develop a strong internal candidate and then it would be up to the board whether to accept that candidate or do a search,” Garcia said. “The board made the decision to forgo the search. We all believe Cheryl is going to do a great job.”
Czach, who first started with the center as a volunteer in 2014, was an obvious choice, according to Garcia.
“I trust Cheryl,” he said. “I’ve known Cheryl for a long time now. She worked very closely with me as board president. She’s a passionate, intelligent leader.”
Garcia said he looks forward to having Czach “by his side” for the next six months as he prepares her to take over. Filling Garcia’s shoes, she said, will not be easy.
“It’s daunting, of course,” said Czach. “These are big shoes to fill with Dave. Not only has he done an amazing job turning the center around, but he is very loved in the community. What makes me feel comfortable about it is that I have a lot of faith in the staff.”
The board, too.
“Our board is pretty phenomenal,” she said. “It’s more diverse than it’s ever been. They’re very involved and they’re very engaged. And because I was on the board, I have strong relationships with them and we have a lot of mutual trust.”
For his part, Garcia said that stepping down from the ED post does not mean he is totally leaving Affirmations. Instead, he’s going to stay on contract as a consultant.
“I’m going to do arts and culture, and advocacy and certain projects Cheryl might need help with,” he said, adding that he also wants to do contract work with other centers across the country. “I feel I’m at the point that I want to do something bigger. Heading in the 2024 election, I think my talents can best be used to help us in 2024.”
“I just felt it was time to do more policy and advocacy,” he continued. “We’ve done some. But I haven’t been able to do as much as I’d like.”