A small crowd of about 15 passed by the Ruth Ellis Center Drop-In Center in Highland Park Sunday for the annual Ruth Ellis Day celebration. The Ruth Ellis Day tradition actually began a few years before Ellis died in her sleep at age 101 in 2000.
“A few years before Ruth passed we knew that we wanted to celebrate her while she was here,” said Kofi Adoma, a co-founder of the Ruth Ellis Center and a friend of Ellis’s. “We didn’t wait until she died. [But since she passed] this is a tradition that we have kept going.”
Ruth Ellis Day takes place each year in February.
“We hold Ruth Ellis Day during Black History/Herstory month because we considered Ms. Ruth to be a part of black history,” Adoma said. “In fact, I still think we need to put her on a stamp.”
Adoma admitted that the event draws a small crowd and that numbers have been dwindling.
“I think we should have about 50 people here but because it doesn’t get marketed out there and it doesn’t get promoted out there … I think the biggest we had was at Full Truth Church.”
Adoma called on the youth at the event to keep it going.
“We really need to have a standing committee to present it each year,” she said. “Dr. Kofi is getting old and I have a lot on my plate. So I did what I could to hold it down. I’ve been holding a lot of things down for a long time.”
Adoma gave attendees a brief quiz on African-American LGBT history and a tutorial on African-American LGBT history in Detroit. But, mostly, she talked about her friend Ruth. She was born in 1899 in Springfield, Ill. She moved to Detroit in 1937 with her partner Cecilene “Babe” Franklin. The two were known for hosting parties for the city’s underground black LGBT community in their home, which also served as headquarters for Ellis’s small printing business. Ellis was also known to take in strays in the LGBT community and let them stay in her home during times of trouble.
“She welcome people to come [into her home],” said Adoma. “A lot of them were young people and she helped them to go school and gave them whatever money she had.”
When a group of community activists got together in 1999 and set out with the mission to build a shelter for homeless LGBT youth, Adoma suggested the name Ruth Ellis Center. Ellis, herself, was on hand for the dedication of the first drop-in center, which was located near the corner of Woodward Avenue and Six Mile Road. A month later, she was gone.
“She went in peace knowing that something was going to happen … that we were going to open up and give young people a place,” Adoma said.
Today, the Ruth Ellis Center Drop-In Center services about 500 youth a year. There is also the Ruth Ellis Health and Wellness Center on premises and off-site there is Ruth’s House, an Intensive Treatment Unit (ITU) that is a licensed and contracted 9-bed residential care facility specifically for self-identifying LGBT youth between the ages 12-17 who are under guardianship of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ child abuse/neglect or juvenile justice divisions.
For more information, visit www.ruthelliscenter.org.