Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
DETROIT – The year was 1999; the place Oakland, Calif. Alice McKeage was attending a Creating Change conference and dropped in a session sponsored by The Color Triangle, a Chicago-based group that examined racism in the LGBT community. It didn’t take many minutes of listening before McKeage began to consider the need for a similar group in the Detroit area.
“When I listened to all the things that they were doing it sounded like a lot of work,” McKeage recalled. “But one of the things that struck me is they said they started by getting together and going out to dinner.”
When she returned to Detroit, the first person McKeage reached out to was Howard Israel.
“She came back and she said, ‘We’ve got to do something about race in the gay community,'” Israel remembered. “And I said, ‘We’ve got to do something?'”
Soon enough, Israel was on board. But he and McKeage were both white, so they went looking for their black counterparts. After all, a group dedicated to dialoguing about race had to be multi-ethnic. So McKeage asked Kofi Adoma, and Israel approached Roland Smith, both of whom were African-American, and the group started to brainstorm.
“The four of us met a couple of times and sort of fantasized about what we would do and our mission,” said Israel. “[We tried to find] a method by which there would be a consistent dialogue between races and genders in the gay community.”
To that end, the group had to practice a little racial profiling.
“We decided that we had to be very conscious of that kind of labeling people in order to get a good mixture of people and to get a reasonable representation from the lesbian and gay community,” Israel said.
McKeage also decided to make one minor adjustment from the way that the Chicago group had started. Meeting at a restaurant seemed too impersonal.
“We decided that a potluck at somebody’s house was perfect,” she said. “We, here in Detroit, like to do that.”
Israel added, “We were very conscious and thoughtful about how we planned events. We wanted to have events in people’s homes and offices or some alternative spaces. We wanted to share foods. It’s much harder not to like people when you’ve shared a meal in their home.”
Before long, the group was up and running. They met one Saturday a month. The four took turns facilitating. And a powerful dialogue began.
“I’ve learned a great deal being a part of it, even about myself and my own personal biases,” said Torrena Dye, who has been a part of the group for about three years and now acts as one of the group’s two secretaries. “The group is like a family to me. Jay Spiro [who is white] is one of my best friends, and prior to Race Matters I never thought I’d be able to say that. And that’s only because of conditioning and mistrust that comes out of things I’ve been through as an African-American.
“For me, personally, being perfectly honest, it was not until Race Matters that I found myself being able to refer to non-blacks as not just friends but family,” Dye continued. “It’s given me a little bit of insight and I think that the group has learned a lot. Those that came in not knowing that racism is alive and well and they were hearing what the African-American members were going through on a daily basis, they starting being more cognitive of it and paying attention. And it’s not just the race that we deal with. We deal with gender issues as well.”
But in order for the conversation to continue on an even keel, it’s important that the group remain gender and racially balanced. As of late, that’s been a problem and the group has had difficulty attracting African-American men.
“We’ve put out an appeal,” said Smith. “We’ve all actively asked people to attend. It’s usually the same people over and over and over who are tied actively to other groups and they’re just tapped out. And that’s okay.”
Dye says that in order for the group to continue to thrive, they must find some new blood.
“We’re having a problem having people of color show up and I think that still has to do with some of the problems we have in the community regarding race, not quite understanding what Race Matters is and not wanting to share their feelings with people who are not African-American,” she said.
Now, Race Matters is putting out an appeal. If you’d like to help keep this important dialogue going, and this innovative group alive, please email Dye at email@example.com. But be warned, the group is looking for individuals willing to make a long-term commitment.
“It isn’t a Dew Drop Inn kind of group,” said Smith. “You have to committed.”