At BlaqOut’s second annual Empowerment Summit in Kansas City, Dominique Jackson, who stars as Elektra Abundance on the FX television series Pose, was the keynote speaker. Black LGBTQ community members and allies attended the Aug. 10 summit amid a weekend of Black Pride events.
The BlaqOut organization has been dedicated to improving the health of Black queer same-gender-loving men in Kansas City. It announced at the summit that it will broaden its scope to include all Black queer and transgender community members.
Summit-goers also heard about an outline for a Whole Health Access Model, as well as an architectural concept for an educational and cultural safe space for members of the Black LGBTQ community.
News and views from speakers
Joel Barrett and David Seymour served as masters of ceremonies during the event at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which included a program and luncheon.
Earl D. Fowlkes Jr., president of the Center for Black Equity (CBE), welcomed the attendees. The center, which he founded in 1999, is an international coalition of Black Pride organizations based in Washington, D.C. Since 2012, CBE has included health, economic and social justice in its mission.
BlaqOut’s board vice chair, Lawrence W. Crawford, announced that the organization has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Administered by AIDS United, it was a competitive grant earned as part of a new initiative to reach Black gay men.
Kirk Isenhour, executive director of the Truman Medical Center Charitable Foundation, spoke about the foundation’s dedication to improving LGBTQ health in the Kansas City region. The Empowerment Summit itself was made possible through this organization’s generosity as a presenting sponsor.
In a segment titled Positive Images, Devin Hursey, a BlaqOut board member, and Sean Alexander, a community member, reflected on the groundbreaking 2014 photo exhibition Visual AIDS, which was at Outpost Worldwide, a Kansas City production company. Through the exhibit, 11 African American, gay, HIV-positive men boldly shared their stories. San Francisco photographer Duane Cramer shot the portraits in Kansas City, and the men took control of the narrative to become agents of change in their community.
BlaqOut secretary/treasurer Tusday Dudley briefly reviewed the 2020 Vision Survey, the comprehensive health and wellness needs assessment for Black queer/same-gender-loving men in the Kansas City area that was completed last year. She went on to detail the organization’s new, inclusive Whole Health Access Model, which has six components: mental health, health-care access, PrEP access, standards of care, provider trainings and LARTC (linkage, adherence, and return-to-care).
BlaqOut board member Godfrey Riddle and board chair Seft Hunter laid out the organization’s road map for the future, including the news of an architectural concept called BlaqBox, a social, educational and cultural safe space for Black LGBTQ people.
Dominique Jackson calls for respect
Keynote speaker Dominique Jackson, the performer, activist and actress, is most recently known for her role as Elektra, the mother of the House of Abundance on Pose, a TV series about 1980s ballroom culture in New York. She reminded audience members to look past their differences and recognize the humanity of each individual.
Jackson noted that society has set up an expectation that individuals should always strive to be better than the next person. Instead, she believes that we should aim for equality.
Transgender people are often forced into exploitative professions in order to survive. Jackson said that LGBTQ people, allies and society itself should insist that trans people have access to respectful employment.
In addition, she said, trans people should be present at the table when decisions are made. “You cannot make decisions for someone whose circumstances you have not lived,” she said.
Inclusivity, respect and a willingness to learn about others are key, Jackson said. Trans and gay people don’t necessarily need acceptance, she said – they need respect.
A poem for the occasion and workshops
Local poet Natasha Ria El-Scari composed and shared an original poem about mothers specifically for the event. She was flanked by moms from the audience as she read, and she received a standing ovation.
Blaqout founder and president Rashaan Gilmore took the lectern briefly to thank his family, colleagues, allies and sponsors. Gilmore is an assiduous leader, and his work and commitment form the foundation upon which BlaqOut is built.
Jackson, whose Pose character is known as Mother Abundance, was on the dais. Gilmore’s mother and grandmother were also in attendance. The cadre of mothers was available to give out hugs to anyone who needed one.
After a break, three workshops were also offered. They addressed:
- Benefits and mechanisms of telehealth and distance medicine, in a session facilitated by Shelley Cooper of Diversity Telehealth, a Kansas City company.
- Safe spaces for Black LGBTQ people, featuring four of the 20 designs and models that students from the School of Architecture & Design at the University of Kansas did as part of a five-week intensive course (ARCH 502 Accelerated Design Studio) taught by Thom Allen, who also works at the Kansas City Design Center.
- Educator, artist and activist Michael Roberson conducted a ballroom history workshop. He and Jackson chatted about ballroom culture, which is central to her show, Pose.