Category Archives: Friends

From Stonewall to the demise of DOMA, we are the family and friends of Harvey Milk, Marco McMillian, Matthew Shepard, Ebony Whitaker and Amanda Gonzalez-Andular. We are following in the legacy of other great Movements: Women’s Suffrage, European Liberation, Farm Workers, and Civil Rights. We are leading the growing chorus in this fight.

Ally Profile: Ellison Bennett

Ellison Bennett_FP

It is said let no one judge another.  If we can find the time to love as Jesus did, we would be more happy with ourselves.  I AM an ally, because I truly understand that people are of God. 

Ellison Bennett is a native of Pensacola and graduate of Booker T. Washington High School, noted as the historical Black high school in Pensacola. He grew up during segregation and understands the pain of discrimination and bigotry first-hand. Ellison has championed social justice issues most of his life and credits God with his unwavering commitment to equality for ALL people. He served as president of the Pensacola Chapter the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) from 1998-2004. Ellison has served in various capacities within the community including as a volunteer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, mentor with Warrington Middle School, board member with The National Movement for Civil and Human Rights, Inc., board of directors with S.L. Jones Christian Academy; feeding the homeless, and Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina efforts.

The very beginnings of the SCLC can be traced back to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which began on December 5, 1955 after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on the bus. The boycott lasted for 381 days and ended on December 21, 1956, with the desegregation of the Montgomery bus system. The boycott was carried out by the newly established Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). Martin Luther King, Jr. served as President and Ralph David Abernathy served as Program Director. It was one of history’s most dramatic and massive nonviolent protests, stunning the nation and the world. The boycott was also a signal to Black America to begin a new phase of the long struggle, a phase that came to be known as the modern civil rights movement.  The SCLC is a now a nationwide organization made up of chapters and affiliates with programs that affect the lives of all Americans: north, south, east and west. Its sphere of influence and interests has become international in scope because the human rights movement transcends national boundaries.

Ellison is a Vietnam War veteran serving from 1970 – 1975. He served as a police officer in the early 1970’s and graduated from Mortuary School in Miami Dade in 1977.  He was the first Black letter carrier in Haines City, Florida, and received death threats daily because of his race. From 1984-1987, Ellison served as a member of the Haines City Council. He established Pensacola Caskets in 2014 and continues this efforts as a tireless servant leader.

Among the many honors and awards Ellison has received are: 1986 Haines City, FL Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. award and the 2004 Vietnam Vet Rev. H. K. Matthews award.

Ellison met Jayda Dunham (age 8) while working on equality efforts with her family in Pensacola.  We profiled Jayda and her mothers back in October.  Her mothers have instilled in Jayda that, despite the world’s differences, all lives are important and matter.  As a seasoned advocate, he mentors a new guard of community activists championing for the equal treatment of all people.

Ally Profile: Chevara Orrin

Chevara Orrin_FP

“Being an ally isn’t an option, it is a way of life. I recall my mother, a white Jewish woman saying to us when we were little girls, ‘It is absolutely the responsibility of those in positions of power and privilege – the oppressors (whatever form that takes) to be actively engaged in the liberation of those who are being oppressed.’ I believe that as human beings, we are inextricably bound.”

With a passion for social justice, a rich legacy of civil rights, and the ability to inspire and engage, Chevara Orrin founded and co-created, We Are Straight Allies in direct response to the August 2012 Jacksonville City Council vote rejecting Bill 2012-296, better known as the Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) which would have added sexual orientation to the current non-discrimination policy.

Chevara has worked in the profit and higher education sectors for more than 20 years and has served as a community advocate for more than 40 years. She is an award-winning diversity & inclusion strategist, social entrepreneur, published author, social justice activist, independent filmmaker and dynamic public speaker. Her earliest memory of activism was as a three-year old, sleeping in concrete building tubes across the street from the White House in support of the Bangladesh Liberation War and protesting famine in Pakistan.

Chevara is a forward-thinking catalyst who is passionate about igniting organizational transformation. In her current role as Chief Creative Catalyst for Collective Concepts, she is best known for having conceived and co-created We Are Allies, a national advertising campaign to support equality and move towards passage of inclusive policies to protect the LGBTQ community and #WhiteAndWoke™ an initiative to raise awareness about racial inequality and promote equity through intentional action.

The Allies campaign has drawn the participation of prominent figures such as feminist icon Gloria Steinem, Olympic gold medalist and civil rights attorney Nancy Hogshead-Makar, cultural and faith leaders, and superstars from the corporate world, including the CEOs of Florida Blue and SunTrust Bank. Chevara is executive producer of an independent documentary, “The Story of Denise” that explores the transgender experience and family acceptance.

Chevara’s work and passion lives at the intersection of gender parity, racial equity, LGBTQ equality and arts activism. She is an innovative leader with more than 20 years of experience ranging from senior management in the arts and higher education sectors to consulting with Fortune 500 clients. Chevara is a frequent conference presenter, lecturer and motivational speaker. An outspoken advocate for the eradication of sexual violence against women and girls, Chevara founded WhiteSpace SafeSpace, a monthly support group and forum for incest survivors and will soon be published in  #LoveWITHAccountability, a collection of writings that examine how accountability is a powerful and necessary form of love needed to address child sexual abuse.

Chevara is deeply inspired by the legacy of her parents. She is the daughter of a white, Jewish mother who served as the lead coordinator for the 1967 March on the Pentagon in opposition of the Vietnam War and a Black father who was a fiery top lieutenant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a driving force behind many critical civil rights campaigns of the 1960s, including the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade, 1965 Selma to Montgomery March and Voting Rights Act. Chevara is also a survivor of childhood poverty, incest, teenage pregnancy, and domestic violence. It is because of, not in spite of, her personal journey of tragedy and triumph that she is inspired to use her experiences and voice as a catalyst to ignite social transformation.

While serving as an administrator at a university in North Carolina, Chevara co-founded the first-ever Gay-Straight Student Alliance. Seven months later, she was instrumental in the drafting and subsequent passage of the university’s first non-discrimination policy inclusive of sexual orientation. It was a unanimous decision by the Board of Trustees. This trailblazing work caught the attention of the White House Office of Public Engagement and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Chevara has collaborated with numerous LGBTQ organizations, including the Campaign for Southern Equality, PFLAG, and Equality Florida.

Chevara has been recognized by the White House and the Human Rights Campaign as a leader, advocate and ally for the LGBTQ community and featured in publications including The Washington Post, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Feminist Wire. She has also been a featured guest on SiriusXM Radio and highlighted in John Blake’s 2007 book Children of the Movement, a powerful glimpse into the heart and soul of the Freedom Movement of the Sixties as seen by its children. Her numerous awards for community service include the Hands on Jacksonville Unity in Action award, University of North Florida Woman of Influence, Jacksonville “Who’s Who for Justice award, Jacksonville Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women honoree, Girls Inc. Jacksonville “Women of Vision” award, Spelman College Game Changers award, Triad Business Journal “Forty under 40” and Winston-Salem Urban League Community Leader of the Year. Chevara is a 2010 graduate of Leadership Winston-Salem and a current member of the Leadership Broward Class XXXVII.

Chevara has facilitated workshops and dialogues across the U.S. from TEDx Jacksonville to serving as keynote speaker for the NSA (National Security Agency) Diversity Speaker Series to co-hosting ‘Jazz Under the Bridge’ with legendary Tony award-winner, Ben Vereen.

She believes that “There is a human cost when we fail to connect. Ideas unborn. Dreams unrealized. Communities un-ignited.”

A native of Washington, D.C., Chevara was raised in Memphis, Tennessee and earned a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication from the University of Memphis. She is a 2017 graduate of Georgetown University’s Strategic Diversity and Inclusive Management Program. She is the proud mother of Michael, a graduate of Columbia University and senior trainer with The Posse Foundation, and William, an actor, yogi and college student in Atlanta, GA who is featured in “Wait No Longer,” the true story of the 1964 race riots in St. Augustine, Florida.

 

Rabbi Joshua Lief, Congregation Ahavath Chesed

Rabbi Lief is the Senior Rabbi at The Temple in Jacksonville. He grew up in Wheeling, West Virginia where he was active in all sports, music, and was an Eagle Scout. He attended Princeton University, where he swam on the varsity squad, competed on the debate team, and graduated with a degree in History. Learn more: http://wp.me/p3PnKk-jV

Follow Us on:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wearestraightallies
Twitter: https://twitter.com/WeRStr8Allies
Instagram: http://instagram.com/werstr8allies
Tumblr: http://wearestraightallies.tumblr.com

SOTRU Trans Families Live Listening Session

We Are Straight Allies and WJCT partnered with State of the Re:UNION to present a very special opportunity to listen to SOTRU’s most recent episode – “Trans Families” – hosted at MOCA Jacksonville on Wednesday, October 15 from 5:30-7:30pm. We’d like to thank our sponsors SunTrust and Human Rights Campaign for making this event possible.

We’d like to extend our deep appreciation to Al Letson for bringing this episode to light, for giving voice to families who support their loved ones, and for sharing the cross-section of beauty and challenges that is the “trans experience”.

To our panelists – Tricia, Brad ley, Cam – thank you for your courage and willingness to share your personal experiences and journey of transition with an audience that is eager to learn how to be allies of the trans* community so that we are empowered with ways to create change in our community and bring equality to all people.

To the allies who tuned in – thank you for questions and contributions to the conversation – let’s all make a commitment to keep the conversation going, to encourage more people to listen to the episode, and to find ways to eradicate the misinformation shared about our trans* loved ones.

….because nothing is more important than our humanity.

SOTRU Live Listening Session

For more photos from the event, CLICK HERE

The Entire Episode: Trans Families

One Spark Creator Project No. 20207

We Are Straight Allies is excited to be a Creator in this year’s One Spark Crowdfunding Festival. It’s estimated that over 150,000 people will flood the streets of downtown April 9-13. Volunteers will staff our Creator Booth to help us engage with visitors and advocate for equality!

Each day of the festival, we will have live performers, equality pledge forms, opportunities for visitors to email City Council and be photographed in front of an “I’m Coming Out as a Straight Ally” backdrop as well as learn more about our collective efforts towards equality.

Read our recent OneSpark press in the Florida Times-Union

Visit Our OneSpark Creator page

Check out our schedule of performances each day of One Spark!

WEDNESDAY 

4p-6p ‘On A Journey’ with DJ T.M. Underwood Kicking off our 5-days of peace, love and music, DJ T.M. Underwood will be taking us on a journey through some of the iconic Dance Music that we can all shake our booties too! http://www.facebook.com/TMUnderwood

THURSDAY

5:30p-6:30p Mondo Mike & The Po Boys  To see 62-year-old Mike Bernos on stage in the persona of Mondo Mike jumping up and down with his guitar like he was about to crowd surf, is to witness a man born again into the holy spirit of music. Bernos is aided by his five band members, the Po Boys and Spice, who are 20 to 30 years his junior but, by his own admission, light years ahead of him musically. Each in their own way has provided the channel for his metamorphosis – expression to his music and his phoenix. But none more so than Brittany Wescott, a.k.a Spice, the winsome and disarmingly charming 27-year-old African-American lead singer of Mondo Mike and the Po Boys.  http://www.mondomikeandthepoboys.com

7p-9p Spark This! with Al Letson [Poet, Playwright, Actor]
Enter the world of multi-disciplinary artist, Al Letson. An accomplished playwright, performance poet, actor and public radio host, Letson’s distinctive voice, insightful prose and unique vision have garnered national acclaim and inspired a growing number of fans and followers. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Al Letson national recognition, critical acclaim and devoted fans. Early in his career, Letson established himself as a heavyweight in the Poetry Slam Movement, which reaped artistic credibility and renown. He has performed on a number of national, regional and local stages, including such venues as HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, and CBS’s 2004 Final Four PreGame. http://www.alletson.com/contact.php

FRIDAY

4p-6p Cafe Groove with Jay A. Terry (and special guest Christopher Page) An entertainer since childhood competing in various talent shows, Jay honed his performance skills through formal voice, acting, and dance training. At 17 years of age he moved to New York City to pursue a career in professional acting. It was during that time that he began writing music while collaborating with other musicians & bands.  Jay is a previous One Spark Creator.  His musical influences include Jason Mraz, Matt Nathanson, Ray Lamontagne, Patrick Park, and Joshua Redman  http://www.reverbnation.com/jayanthonyterry

7p-9p Love Reigns | The Evolution of a Poet Born and raised in Miami, FL Taryn ”LoveReigns” Wharwood has been writing poetry since the tender age of 5 years old and has been performing for as many years. She began performing professionally in 2006 in her current home town Jacksonville, FL. LoveReigns is an avid volunteer, community supporter and mentor. She is a creative writing teacher at a Duval county public school and spends her free time speaking to youth in and out of school among other things. Her first CD is entitled ”The Evolution of a Poet”. She also has a mixtape entitled ”Collard Greens and Collabos”. She is working on a chap book called ”IamLoveReigns” and book of poetry/semi autobiography to be released later this year called ”When the Reign Comes”. She was recently the first spoken word artist signed to

ParriScope Entertainment Records, an international force that will continue to help LoveReigns become a household name. http://www.facebook.com/iamlovereigns

SATURDAY

12p-2p Rob Walker the Vibalist
Rob Walker the Vibalist is a Keyboardist, Vocalist, Songwriter and Entertainer. Rob’s styles range from Jazz, RnB, Pop, Rock, Neo soul, Country, & Gospel. Performing as a solo act or with full band,  Rob brings strong energy behind any soloist or band and has worked with some amazing artists from all over. Locally, you can usually catch him performing with Mama Blue.  www.rwthevibalist.com

4p-6p  Orchestra Equality: An ensemble of professional and student musicians from the Jacksonville area, equally lovers of music and pioneers for the rights of all!

Join us for a very special performance by musicians from the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, students from UNF and Jacksonville University Music Programs, as well as Douglas Anderson School for the Performing Arts, gathering in one space to support the rights of our LGBT community.  We will be treated to solo pieces, a string quartet, a bassoon quartet, clarinet and bassoon duets, trios and more!

8p-10p “Music is Freedom” with Catharsis, aka Scott Petersen, is a producer, DJ, remixer, enthusiast, VW freak and just a man among many… Since 1999, he has worked with gifted engineer, Phil Green, providing the production force and extreme talent. Phil and Catharsis have been signed to numerous electronic music labels worldwide including OM Records and have appeared on CD compilations alongside Depeche Mode, Moby, Faithless, Dubtribe Sound System, Swayzak, and many more. They have over 50 vinyl releases, 3 full-length albums entitled “Keepin On” and “Deep Down” & “Canvas of Sound”, and appeared on 40 CD compilations on labels around the world. PC Synergy and Catharsis have performed all over the US alongside some of the most innovative electronic artists “in sound”. http://about.me/dj.catharsis

We Are Straight Allies T-Shirts are now available!  You may purchase yours for $25. Shipping costs will be waived if you pick your shirt up during the 5-day event, just use the promo code ONEFREE! To order, please use one of the following links:

Men: http://goo.gl/XO1hXw
Women: http://goo.gl/u7u6yh
Unisex: http://goo.gl/rfMJ5C

men_s_heather_charcoal_back_3 women_s-black-front_1

TO SIGN UP TO VOLUNTEER: 
1. Click this link to go to our invitation page on VolunteerSpot: http://vols.pt/mP5Rih
2. Enter your email address: (You will NOT need to register an account on VolunteerSpot)
3. Sign up! Choose your spots – VolunteerSpot will send you an automated confirmation and reminders. Easy!

**Note: VolunteerSpot does not share your email address with anyone. If you prefer not to use your email address, please contact us and we can sign you up manually.

Facebook OneSpark_2