For almost five decades, I have marched, mobilized, and advocated on behalf of my Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and same-gender-loving (SGL) community. As a southern Black lesbian and a social justice activist, I have witnessed, firsthand, how Black LGBT/SGL people are too often left out of our national agenda, and I have worked tirelessly to carve out a significant space to address our needs. In 2003, I co-founded the National Black Justice Coalition when the radical right was exploiting African American religious and civil rights leaders to oppose marriage equality. There was an entire segment of the Black and LGBT/SGL family that was being erased–those of us living at the intersection of racial justice and LGBT equality. As our movement gains momentum, we run the risk of being erased again if we don't act now.
It's no coincidence that I returned to my roots at NBJC to serve as the National Coordinator of the Bayard Rustin Commemoration Project. Every year, during the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, we hear the iconic 'I Have a Dream' speech, which was delivered at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Yet most people did not know that Bayard Rustin, an out Black gay man, was the key organizer for that groundbreaking event. America needed to know that Bayard existed. So I worked with NBJC to ensure that Black LGBT/SGL people and allies knew that Rustin stood firm in his identity and, by his very presence, challenged others in the Civil Rights Movement to overcome homophobia. So for two years, we co-hosted screenings of the documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin and panel discussions. We spread the message about Bayard Rustin far and wide across the nation. With the help of many community partners, we petitioned for him to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, which he was awarded by President Obama in November 2013. Finally, we co-hosted a commemorative event at the historic Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C., with civil rights leaders such as the Reverend Al Sharpton and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. in attendance. I joined forces with NBJC because I knew that NBJC was the right organization to anchor and preserve Bayard Rustin's memory.
The sad reality is that money fuels this fight for human dignity and the hands shaping what our priorities look like seldom belong to our black and brown brothers and sisters. In fact, over 85% of non-profit funding comes from public and private foundations. It's time we take our movement back!
NBJC has embarked upon a rigorous empowerment campaign to highlight the defining moments of our movement and rally our constituents to provide the support it needs to continue fighting for equity and equality on behalf of the Black LGBT/SGL community. The launch of the Emancipation Campaign is our way of breaking free from the sole reliance on foundations and turning to our community for uplift and self-sufficiency.
That is why I am standing with campaign ambassadors and veteran activists: Dr. Wilhelmina Perry, a fierce community and clergy organizer with LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent in New York City; ABilly S. Jones-Hennin, an out bisexual elder that has advocated for bi people for over half a century; and Dr. Imani Woody, president and founder of Mary's House, a residential facility in Washington, D.C. for older LGBT/SGL adults.
As elders, we join the next generation of leaders that kicked off this powerful campaign. We know this movement's past and present, intimately. We are ready to secure its future and the future of NBJC. The time is NOW!