AN ASTOUNDING EXPERIENCE
Sorry for the delay in speaking about the Black Lesbian Conference 2018. Schoolwork as a Masters in English candidate has kept me busy.
The “Work as Memoir” title of the Black Lesbian Conference 2018, hereafter referred to as BLC2018 was about legacy, activism and self. BLC2018 was a three-day sold out event held on the historic Barnard campus. BLC2018 is in outgrowth of the organization Beyond Bold and Brave which works to “increase the visibility of *Black/African Descent Lesbians in our communities.” Beyond Bold and Brave supports the production of programs, projects and events that uphold honestly and conscientiously the black lesbian experience. BLC2018 was a smashing success for me. Although I didn’t get to attend as many sessions as I wanted, those I did attend were fantastic. What I loved the most was the energy of the participants, presenters, volunteers and co-founders Kim Ford and Alyce Emory. Lesbians of all ages and from around the world came to BLC218 with a sense of comradeship. It was an international affair with travelers from Belize, the UK as well as the U. S. A sense of sisters in the struggle permeated the conference and yet there was also hope and camaraderie that said working together we can overcome the many challenges, (I don’t say obstacles or problems because they harden the work) that beset us.
The presenters ranged through academics, activists, authors, and artists and yet I never felt unimportant. I had a wonderful discussion with Wilhelmina Perry before I found out she was a panelist or a doctor. The age ranged from “youngers” to “olders” as Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, would describe generations. A sea of black, bold, and beautiful lesbians descended upon the spacious campus of Barnard to speak, revel and soak up a unique, enlightening and encouraging experience.
An intriguing panel discussion was “Faith and Sexuality: Overcoming Harm, Hurt and Exclusion” with Elyse Ambrose, (Ph.D Candidate, Religion and Society), Dr. Pei Derosiers, (Social Worker and Ordained Minister), Kyndra Foster, (Associate Pastor of Pastoral Care & Counseling) and Dr. Wilhelmina Perry, (Community Educator & Activist, founder of LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent). They reminded us of two things: faith has been the cornerstone of the African American community and not always was this idea upheld when it came to the LGBT community and especially lesbians. Some ideas thrown out to consider were Foster’s comment “impoverished religious theology.” Her explanation included people suffered from Religious Trauma Syndrome, repression because of normal cognitive thinking and individual thinking condemned. Derosiers spoke of “our story is about reclaiming our faith and our narrative.” She, I believe, also made a stunning and profound declaration, “People don’t stop believing in God, they stop believing in institutions.” Ambrose presented a stirring PowerPoint presentation in which she had elicited comments about religion from a wide range of women. Storae said, “seek spaces and community outhat are reflective, communicative, and actively seeking healing and growth.” Amber’s comment, “Whenever you make a decision to leave a toxic environment or cease participation in your own demise or the demise of others, you are doing the right thing.” Two final quotes from the presentation are from Storae again, “I didn’t feel seen,” and Amber, “I didn’t experience the bullshit until I…started going to a Christian church.” It was a captivating panel discussion that looked at how the church has harmed more than helped and that women had and must continue to seek their own spiritual paths.
The next fascinating discussion was the lunch I attended. The guest panelists included Jewelle Gomez (Author of “The Gilda Stories), Jewel Cadet, (Center for Anti-Violence Education), and moderated by Zakiya Lord, (Astraea Lesbian Foundation). From this enthralling conversation the following comments came forth. From Jewelle Gomez, “see the links between our struggles, and “think of everything you do as activism. The invisibility of women and the invisibility against lesbians was paramount at that time.” Lord said, “Time and place plays upon identity.” My favorite is about activism. What I got from this statement is our lives should be a political act.
On the final day an extraordinary brainstorming session took place. Here the audience got a chance to comment on what they’d like to see in the next biennial conference. Some suggestions included: having a BLC cruise, increase sessions and or time so thing are not scheduled concurrently, an opening tribute to the elders, and a challenge to add more scholarship spots (this year 30), an alternative healing space and to build in more outside partners to name just a few.
Barnard was founded in 1889 by Annie Nathan Meyer as a response to Columbia’s refusal to admit women makes it a dynamic spot for a conference devoted to lesbians of color. Another fact about Barnard and it relevance to BLC 2018 is its membership in the Seven Sisters, which include Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Wellesley, Vassar and formerly Radcliffe which was absorbed by Harvard. Whereas some of the above have either been absorbed or went co-ed, Barnard remains an all-women’s college. Kudos to the Barnard Center for Research on Women and its director Tina Campt as fiscal and physical host for this event.