This is a post I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time! Last year, I met a ‘play-cousin’ of mine through an online forum that is geared toward Women of Color who operate in Social Justice Ministry. Little did I know that she would become one of my dearest friends in the city of Chicago and that she would co-found one of my favorite non-profit organizations while pursuing her graduate degree (…aaaaand doing a billion other things. Alicia Crosby is badass)!
We had many lunch / brunch / wine-on-the-couch chats about the work of Center for Inclusivity (CFI), “a faith-engaged, 501c3 public charity rooted in the city and people of Chicago that promotes and facilitates healthy exploration and growth for individuals affected by the perceived divisions surrounding issues of spirituality, sexual orientation and gender identity”. They do this through facilitated conversations and open gatherings with community members on these very topics. They offer training and education for individuals and organizations who are looking to foster more inclusive atmospheres. They offer pastoral care and officiate non-denominational wedding services for same-sex and different-sex couples. In the years to come, they are moving toward offering even more services, including webinars, counseling, pre-marital counseling, and more.
This past weekend, CFI had a Gala to commemorate their first full year of service! I was asked to share a bit about my experience with the organization and why I valued this work. You can find the edited and abridged remarks below, as well as some fun pictures from the incredible photographer, Lizzy Bilbrey:
“A few years ago, I began crafting a personal mission for my life and my work. It is ‘to offer information, ideas, and counter-cultural narratives that will empower people to thrive – and to lovingly & creatively challenge systems toward greater inclusion’. I believe it was this mission and Divine Providence that led me to meet Alicia Crosby and subsequently, to CFI.
Initially, I trusted the work of CFI because I trust Alicia. From our conversations, I knew her heart for justice, her love for others, and I knew that I would be walking into a safe atmosphere where she was involved. It takes a special person to get me to not go immediately home after work on a Monday, but to go to an open gathering instead. So, I figured, I’ll go once to support and then… we’ll see…
I was very quiet at the first dialogue I attended. The co-founders and community would quickly realize that I love talking after that initial meeting. But at that time, I wanted to get a feel for the community itself. Everyone was greeted with respect and dignity. We shared our gender pronouns and we shared our experiences. Multiple perspectives were honored, even if the conversation was uncomfortable. I especially appreciated the care that Jason Bilbrey and Alicia (co-founders) brought to the work. Jason shared beautiful words about the importance of sharing a meal with community members. He made conversational space for those who were quiet at the gathering.
So many things come to mind as I reflect on why the community at CFI is important to me. I could say that it is because this organization is on the prophetic edge of a movement for social justice. I could say that what’s special is the way they open both physical and emotional space / access for those so often pushed towards the margins. Yet, all that I would say is wrapped up in the framework of Ubuntu.
In his book, ‘What is Not Sacred’, Laurenti Magesa (2013) explains that the concept of Ubuntu is prevalent in many forms of African spirituality. This ideology represents highest and fullest humanity built through deep, sustained community. So, I understand that to become the most actualized version of myself, I need to be in community with others. I need to grasp their joys and triumphs. I need to understand that the systems used to oppress others, oppress me as well. I need to get that liberating works, liberate me as well. CFI is an organization, but it is also a liberating work – for that, I am immensely grateful”.
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Photo Credit: Lizzy Bilbrey
Image Slideshow P.S. *(Ya’ll see how she caught me and my partner giving the camera some at this fancy Gala event?! LOL! #Twerkliberationtime)
What Is Not Sacred? African Spirituality. By Laurenti Magesa. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2013. Pp. xii + 220