Through the Kaleidoscope's lens

Ruth Ellis Center fundraiser celebrates voguing, LGBT youth

by Jessica Carreras

DETROIT -

The 103-year-old walls of the historic Scarab Club in Detroit vibrated with club beats and hands clapping in unison Sept. 23 as the Ruth Ellis Center brought voguing out of its drop-in building and into the public eye for their Kaleidoscope fundraiser.

The event was held to raise funds for the center, which provides shelter and services to at-risk, runaway and homeless LGBTQ youth in metro Detroit.

In attendance were many members of the LGBT community, as well as several local politicians and hopefuls, including Detroit City Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins, state Sen. Buzz Thomas, Oakland County commissioner candidate Mike McGuinness and Southfield City Councilman Kenson Siver.

Head of Friends School of Detroit and former Ruth Ellis Center Interim Executive Director Kevin Howley also attended, making a strong case for supporting the center with monetary contributions. "There are more kids that need to be served. There are more nights that the center needs to be open," Howley said. "Right now, they're open two nights a week. It'd be nice to open it a couple more nights a week, but that takes money."

Proving that donations to the center go to great causes were REC youth, several of which showed off their dance moves to attendees with a voguing demonstration. Their dancing provided a live supplement to the focus of Kaleidoscope, which was the unveiling of the documentary on voguing created by REC youth Rafel Moore, employee Frank Johnson and Diana Nucera of the Allied Media Project, which teaches media skills to groups to promote community building.

The documentary took viewers through the elements of voguing, including hands, duck walk and drop; what voguing is all about; and what it means to youth at the Ruth Ellis Center. Indeed, admitted Moore in the video, "Sometimes I'm walking down the street and I can't help but start dancing."

In the process of creating the documentary, Nucera shared, they created their own community. "Not only did we become a little family in creating this video, we learned a lot about the process of investigating, asking critical questions in order to engage people and understanding what voguing is," Nucera said. "And we were able to tell our story and allow people to accept the fact that this is what this community does, this is how (the youth) communicate with each other and this is a huge part of the Ruth Ellis Center and a huge part of the voguing scene that keeps them together and keeps their heads up every day."

It was a factor, admitted Executive Director Laura Hughes, that she knew little about when she began running the Ruth Ellis Center just over a year ago.

"When I first saw the young people voguing in the drop-in center, I was like, 'So is that why I always hear all this noise in my office?'" she joked. "But what I really learned from it - and I think sometimes as adults, we really need to take time to listen - is that our young people have very powerful voices, and voguing is tied to houses and family and extended kinship networks that these young people may otherwise not have."

Moreover, added Hughes, Kaleidoscope served as a viewer through which center supporters could see all the different dimensions of REC youth: their resilience, their uniqueness and their passions.

"If a kaleidoscope is, indeed, a reflection of a constantly changing pattern of shapes and colors, then the homeless and runaway youth we serve are a prism through which we see our society," Hughes poetically stated. "And if young people are a prism for the Ruth Ellis Center kaleidoscope, then tonight is a celebration of the (youth) who have all been residents of Ruth's house; all of them who have taken tremendous steps in their own lives."

Hughes continued, "Tonight is also a celebration and a reminder ... for the young people who come into our drop-in center for their first meal of the day, the young people who call and the young people who are on Ruth's House's waiting list. This is a message that until we live in a world that fully affirms who they are, we will continue to advocate on their behalf. We will provide a safe space. We will provide a home. We will foster a family."

And, added REC employee and facilitator of Kaleidoscope Adriel Thornton, voguing is a way that those youth persevere. "This is much more than just dancing for the sake of dancing," he said after the documentary was shown. "This is an expression of who they are, and ... this is a way that they have found to express themselves, to bond, to create a family.

"Still to this very day, when I think about it, makes me want to cry and really floors me, because I don't know if I'm as strong as some of these kids."

To see the full documentary, go to {URLwww.youtube.com/watch?v=BJWQRa1bibc}.

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