Kofi Adoma has dreamed of seeing the creation of a community center for lgbts of color for more than a decade now. The center would institutionalize the Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of Kwanzaa, and serve to unify Detroit’s various people of color communities. Though he didn’t conceive the idea, Adoma credits the late activist Clifford Weems for inspiring her, and others, to action.
About 30 folks showed up to a meeting at Full Truth church in 1997 to talk about the concept. A planning committee was formed and, after the group received its 501c3 status, a board of directors was installed. But incorporating proved to be far easier than creating the institution itself. A monthly co-gender rap session was initiated, but beyond that, additional programming was limited – as were resources on the whole.
Support for such a center, a radical idea in metropolitan Detroit, was slow to come. Meanwhile, board members of Karibu House, as the initiative came to be called, were taxed and often splitting their precious free time between several different causes.
“We’ve had a struggle finding consistent board members,” said Adoma, who now serves as president. “The people on our board who identify as lgbts of color are often overworked and stretched and burned out. There are very few board members who have stuck through it all these years.”
Time aside, the task of selling of the idea for the center to the community at large, including the various people of color communities the board hopes the center will one day serve, has not been easy.
“From the very beginning, we were very conscientious about being inclusive in our diversity of people of color,” Adoma said. “We tried to get various groups involved and get them on the board and at least let them know what we were trying to do. We wanted to get a more full population of people of color, but those efforts have not been successful.”
The struggle, however, has not lessened Adoma’s determination.
“I knew Clifford and it’s almost like keeping a promise to keep the dream alive,” she said. “A part of me feels obligated and responsible for making sure that it happens. This mission is just too important.”
Reynaldo Magdaleno agrees. He is currently Karibu’s vice president.
“I became involved with Karibu because I believe in the mission of the organization,” he said. “We stand for a good cause, which is social and racial justice. We’re trying to bridge the racial divide. Karibu is trying to work with all people of color to respect and celebrate every culture, and also to unify them.”
But can any one group do that? Can any one entity really serve all the various people of color communities in Southeast Michigan? Do the needs of gay Asian-Americans match the needs of gay Latinos? How similar are the concerns of African-American and Arab-American lgbts? Do these groups even want to be unified?
It’s questions such as these that Angeline Smith hopes to help Karibu answer. A Detroit-based consultant, Karibu was able to bring Smith on board thanks to a grant from the Arcus Foundation.
“They initially approached me because they wanted to develop a fund development strategy,” Smith said. “How I operate is I do a strategic planning process and within that comes the fund development planning.”
Smith, who will facilitate a retreat with the Karibu board in March, said the process will take approximately six months and help Karibu with capacity building.
“I’m pretty much serving in the role of facilitator, someone that’s objective that can pose questions to them and have them make some informed decisions,” she said. “You have to make sure that you’re on the pulse of what your population wants and not just assuming that you know.
“You have to bring them in based on what their wants are,” Smith continued. “Then keep them by serving their needs.”