Antonio David Garcia, known as Dave by most, is back at the head of Affirmations in Ferndale, returning to the role of executive director on April 29 after a break of five years.
Garcia, a Michigan native, left the LGBTQ community center in 2014 after two and a half years as the executive director to move on to a new position as director of policy and community building for the Los Angeles LGBT Center in California.
“Over the past five years, I have been honored to work for the largest LGBT organization in the world here in Los Angeles. I have learned a tremendous amount and have grown both professionally and personally. While LA is truly an amazing and inspiring city and the work of the Los Angeles Center is unmatched across the globe, Los Angeles is not my home. I’m coming home,” he said.
This announcement follows the news sent out four months ago that Affirmations was experiencing financial difficulties. The center has been without an executive director since March 2018 when Susan Erspamer resigned. Lilianna Reyes was appointed as interim executive director until she resigned in November 2018 to join the Ruth Ellis Center. Despite facing an impending shutdown, the board of directors pledged to continue operations and embarked on a “discovery and listening tour” to understand what the community wanted in the next executive director.
“The community expressed a strong desire for the next executive director to have an intimate knowledge of the Michigan LGBTQ community. Other stakeholders requested the executive director have a proven track record, and the board envisioned an executive director with foresight, strategic thinking, and strong administrative and development skills. Dave Garcia is a known leader that meets all these requirements, and we are excited to welcome him back to Affirmations,” said Mike Flores, Affirmations board president.
According to Cheryl Czach, board vice president and committee chairperson, several candidates for the permanent executive director role presented themselves and, “David Garcia stood out due to his extensive non-profit background and increasing leadership roles at the local and national level.”
Garcia first made news back in 2000 when he walked nearly 60 miles from Swartz Creek to Lansing looking to bring attention to the discrimination LGBTQ people face. He was forced out of an administrative position with Swartz Creek Community Schools when he tried to start a gay-straight alliance, and he ultimately won a settlement in a lawsuit over his First Amendment rights.
Garcia then went to work for the YMCA camp in Holly, produced a documentary called “Fences” about finding himself as a gay man, and produced a play in Flint called “Candy Corn, Christ and the Convoluted Creation of Golf!” In 2009 he went to work as executive director of the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center.
During his time at Affirmations, Garcia helped with a three-year strategic plan, strengthened diversity with the Multicultural Advisory Committee, and reached out to seniors, people of faith and transgender people with connection-building initiatives.
Beyond an improving financial environment on his watch, Garcia was known for making the organization more political and more cooperative. He and other executive directors from community centers around the state got together to create the Community Center Network. Together they participated in Shore 2 Shore, went to Lansing to protest anti-gay-family legislation and staged a 100-day relaying strike called Hungry 4 Equality.
Upon return, the first thing on Garcia’s agenda is to strengthen the board of directors at Affirmations.
“It’s really important to develop the board,” he said, pointing to nine open seats that need to be filled. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think the small group of board directors that we have now, that their heart wasn’t in the right place, and it is.”
Working at the largest LGBT center in the world has prepared Garcia to accomplish this task.
“When you’re required to be at every board meeting for the last five years, you learn a lot about how a truly functional board, not just an LGBT board, should be working,” he said. “And I think this board has that potential, especially as we fill those next nine seats. I’m not scared about where this board of directors goes. I’m looking forward to it.”
After four months of reorganizing, stabilizing and re-establishing key donors, Affirmations has repositioned itself for the future. A future that can only be successful, Garcia said, if “the community rallies and we do it together. There is a lot of work ahead and no one person is going to be able to turn this thing around, and I think everybody knows that.”
Garcia was quick to say that he’s not coming back to Michigan as a savior, but he’s coming back as someone with a lot of experience.
“I’ve gained a lot of professional and personal experience in the last five years working out here. I want to bring that back home,” he said. “I want to improve my community back home, but no one person can accomplish this alone. It has to be the community.”
“When Dave first told me that he was being recruited to return to a critical LGBTQ leadership role in Michigan, I wasn’t surprised. I’ve known and worked with Dave for more than a decade and his skill, leadership and dedication are rare. While he was using his talents here, to the great benefit of our Center and our community here and across the globe, his heart never left Michigan,” said Lorri Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. “For the last five years not a week passed that he wasn’t talking about his home state of Michigan, and how what we do in Los Angeles would be invaluable there. I’m sad to lose Dave, but I’m thrilled he’ll be doing such important work in Michigan.”
Affirmations and the Los Angeles LGBT Center will work closely over the next 30 days to ensure both organizations continue to support their community members as Garcia transitions.
There will be an opportunity to hear more from Garcia about his future plans for Affirmations during the center’s annual Spring Bash fundraising dinner on March 30 at the MGM Grand Detroit.
“I’m excited and looking forward to really telling the community at that time about my ideas and the direction I want this organization to go in,” said Garcia, who is flying in for the event.