KIM: Everybody has a purpose. It’s about extending an invitation to folks, an invitation to participate, an invitation to dream, an invitation to convene, and being very intentional about that invitation, because it’s not true that we get our liberation one group at a time. Our liberation is going to come from a collective effort, and it’s to come from people growing in ways that they didn’t know that they could grow, and sitting next to people who they never thought they’d sit next to.
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ALIDA: Welcome to the Care Work Podcast. I’m your host, Alida Miranda-Wolff. This podcast is for anyone in the business of providing care. Whether you’re being paid for it or not, you’ll discover what it means to offer care and how to take care of yourself in the process. For the last ten years, as a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging practitioner, a care worker myself, I’ve focused on providing care to other people for a living. Now, with this podcast, I’m hoping to create a culture of care in my community and help you do the same in yours.
How do you facilitate collective liberation when so much of activism focuses on special interests? What steps help ensure that these initiatives actually jumpstart real change? Kim Hunt is a devoted activist storyteller and executive director, Pride Action Tank, a product of AIDS Foundation Chicago. In her long, varied career in urban planning, public policy, and activism, Kim has learned how to help maximize the incredible potential of a community’s diverse set of members to team up with government institutions, organizations, and each other to create widespread social change.
Hi, Kim, and welcome to the Care Work Podcast. I’m so excited to have you here specifically because when I was working with you through the Illinois Justice Projects Communications Initiative, I just remembered that you had such an incredible story, so I wanted to invite you to introduce yourself, but with the lens of how you provide care to people.
KIM: How I provide care to others. I’ll start by saying that I was at a leadership conference. Um, we were asked to talk about our leadership and how we would describe it. That process helped me develop a personal, uh, vision and mission statement. And the vision statement is that I’m here to co-create the beloved community that Martin Luther King and others have talked about. And my personal mission is to make sure that all the co-creators are at the table, and, if needed, to define what the table is. And that is something that just sits with me because a lot of my work is around working with communities to create a space together that helps remove the barriers that keeps us from bringing our full selves.
ALIDA: I think it’s so interesting that you talk about tables and not only making sure that the co-creators are there, but that you can define what those tables are because you’ve spent so much of your work in these very interdisciplinary and intersectional spaces. So, you know, you have been in social justice, health, well being. You have focused on the LGBTQIA2+ community, but you’ve also focused on people of color. And so how do you work to define these very interdisciplinary spaces? And what do you do to make sure the right co-creators are there?
KIM: You know, I’ve always considered myself a generalist. I have a degree in journalism. I have a degree in urban planning. I have a degree in public policy. And those are all spaces that require folks to show up with their stories, right? Folks to show up with a sense of power, and sometimes not having that sense of power, but helping them see that, you know, they have a lot to offer in terms of defining what the future can look like for their communities, whether it be their physical neighborhoods or community writ large, like with the LGBTQ community. And it’s an iterative process, right? We don’t get it right the first time through. I think it’s more about the integrity and authenticity with which I try to do the work and enter the work with. It isn’t about perfection, and I think that’s an important thing to note. It’s about the practice of bringing some humility to the process, but also just recognizing that everybody has a role to play. And everyone is important in finding ways to help folks work with me honestly to co create those spaces, because it’s not about me defining the table, and it’s not about the table being defined once honestly. It’s an ongoing process of definition and redefinition screwing it up from time to time, but also having that skin in the game, if you will, to signal to folks that I’m here for the long haul. And I hope they are, too.
ALIDA: Can you think of your earliest memory professionally, of when you offered care?
KIM: Something that comes to mind was when I was at the Chicago Transit Authority, and this would have been in the 90s, CTA was contemplating shutting down what we know now as the green line in Chicago for repairs because it was in such bad shape on the south and the west side of the line that to do the repairs while the trains were operating would have taken probably, I think the projection was a good ten years. Whereas shutting the line down would take about a year and a half, two years. But then the question is, what do you do? Um, you know, people are making work trips and what we call discretionary trips throughout the day and still need to do that. They can’t afford to have no transit service. And so this was fairly early in my career, you know, I had the opportunity to work to figure out what that could look like. And it was the first time in my memory of CTA and all the things that I’d read about in terms of urban planning around actually bringing community together to figure this out. And it wasn’t because CTA was leading with, hey community, let’s come together to figure it out. It’s because community was saying, look, you cannot just shut this line down and we don’t have the trust in this institution that this line will come back.
The project became building trust as well as providing that temporary bus service and all the things that needed to happen, including changes to the fare structure and transfers and all of that, just to make sure that folks still had the line that they needed. So, to be involved in that process, I think actually just really opened my eyes to how community and these resources can find a way. And so that’s one of the early examples of providing care is being involved in that process and actually meeting with community groups and individuals as a representative of an institution that was not trusted at all and being a part of the success of that project.
ALIDA: What strikes me about your example is that you ended up at Affinity Community Services being on the other side, so not representing the organization that has failed to build trust and develop relationships, but instead largely supporting folks who have been failed by the systems and structures that exist. And I’m wondering how you have been able to bridge those experiences to better serve others and specifically thinking about your work with the health and well being of LGBTQIA2+ BIPOC people.
KIM: Yeah, that’s a great question, Alida. And I think having those multiple perspectives has been super helpful in the work at Affinity. So it is interesting being on the side of folks who have seen systems fail them over and over and over and over again and then working towards changing that, changing that experience, but leading with folks who have had that horrible, multiple horrible experiences with systems. And, you know, resilience is a word that’s used over and over again. But I’ve just seen folks make a shift from, I have had this horrible experience, I don’t want to deal with this institution or this system anymore, to sort of changing their personal narrative and moving that story from an individual story of harm, to more of a story of this broader systems change. And it is a journey that I’ve learned to respect and understand that people want to see change even in systems that have harmed them or tear the system up in some cases and start completely from scratch. Which is also hard to imagine because, unfortunately, many of these systems aren’t going anywhere. But folks don’t want to see the same harm that they’ve experienced happen to other people. And I have found that with working with my peers who are in the LGBTQ community, many of the folks I worked with at, uh, Affinity were older than me and had experienced so much more in terms of our really flawed history around race and uh, gender identity and sexual orientation and they were still in it.
ALIDA: And who has been a role model of providing care. Who has given you care that has allowed for you to interrupt these systems of harm?
KIM: You know, the first person I think of is my mother, right? Who some would argue that’s her job or was her job, she’s no longer with us. But I’ll say that the care that I’m thinking about is beyond her role as a mother. I’m thinking about her creating a table, literally, just to feed people. Our house was the house that many people came to, whether it was her friends, my siblings friends, my friends. She always cooked massive meals, especially on a Saturday and a Sunday. And people would just show up at our home, you know, because they knew that there would be a meal. And sometimes these weren’t people who were hungry for food, necessarily, although that was the case in some instances, which I learned about later. They were hungry for community. They were hungry to be engaged with other people.
So she would cook massive pots of spaghetti or fried catfish or chicken and have spades and domino games going on all the time. And so we just had this community of all kinds of folks, from the preachers, the church folks, because she did go to church, although it wasn’t about religion, it was about spirit for her. Um, family members, pimps, drug dealers, street workers, all kinds of folks. They would just be in our home. And it wasn’t anything unusual, but that was a kind of a level of care that I saw that was just so natural. And she wouldn’t call herself an activist at all, but, you know, information was shared. If folks needed to be on what we called food stamps, you know, there were other folks who were on food stamps that could say, this is what you need to do. Urban renewal was a big thing, um, when I was growing up. I didn’t know the name for it at the time, but my mother worked at the office where decisions were being made about, you know, people’s homes being torn down or taken through imminent domain. And she would say, here’s how you make sure that you get the maximum out of this situation. You’re not going to get market value. You’re not going to get the value, uh, of your home to you, but here’s how you maximize on this situation based on these rules. So all that kind of stuff was going on just around the table, literally around the table. And that is a level of care, meeting people where they are and providing them with what they need. From food to information to direct resources, that I saw just as a natural extension of who you are. And I think that’s the kind of care that really resonates with me and what I try to offer, no matter what the project is that I’m working on.
ALIDA: It’s a really beautiful example of community care, because you’re describing all of these people around the table engaged in give and take and the folks are not necessarily in immediate transactions, right? So maybe your mom is the one making the pot of spaghetti, but it’s someone that you don’t know who is telling you how to access food stamps. And so it’s really creating this space where folks are accountable to one another. But in the larger context of the group, which seems so different than how things are, especially in our current moment, it seems so far away and out of reach as somebody who now builds these communities, why is it so hard?
KIM: You know, I don’t think it’s as hard as people think. I think it becomes hard, can be perceived as hard when we try to bring the structures from institutions into community engagement. So even in the work that I do at Pride Action Tank, when we are in space, for example, we have food, we have artists, we have storytellers, we have an environment where people can relax and also be a part of creating something. So being very intentional about not having the kind of agenda that’s like a meeting that most people have to deal with in their work, but having an agenda that is about care and intentionality and meeting people where they are. And so it is on us as folks who are from organizations or institutions or wherever, to make sure that that is a space where they can relax and participate. Offer childcare, offer transit cards, and all the things food, all the things that people would have at my mother’s table, right? In my mother’s home where all that community work was happening, but didn’t feel like community work. What makes people think it’s hard is that you have to build relationships. This is not transactional work. Building relationships does take time. It’s not hard, but it takes time. And it also requires a level of vulnerability and accountability from our organizations and institutions if we’re representing, you know, that perspective.
ALIDA: Something that is really resonating with me because, um, a few years ago, I started hosting reciprocity rings. Where the idea was that I would invite folks who didn’t know each other, usually like 20-25 people, to a space where we would do some kind of meditation, movement, music. There would be food, and everybody would come with an ask. And the idea was, someone in this group should be able to help you. The structure was kind of hard because it was like, how are we going to get through all of these circles? And then what sort of happened was this pressure to formalize so the pressure to set a schedule, have a budget, obtain sponsorship, have people pay to participate. Now I have a board. Now we’re applying to become an official, recognized nonprofit. And I had this just major realization of but I didn’t want to run another organization. I wanted to have these reciprocity rings. That’s all I wanted. I didn’t want the newsletter or the Instagram account or the website, but I felt that I was supposed to do that. And I wonder, why do we succumb to that pressure of something that we can see, we don’t want, but perhaps feel that we should do?
KIM: Wow, that’s a doozy right there. We’re part of this society that defines success a particular way, and puts pressure unseen and seen on us to say, this is going well, therefore we need to do this, and therefore we need to do this, and therefore we need to do this. And like, you said, if you follow that logic, you wind up doing things for a different reason. An early project with pride action tank called Chicago Restroom Access Project, otherwise known as CRAP. It became it was something that was brought to us by community members, because when we began pride action tank, which I should say is we initially thought of as a project incubator and think tank on LGBTQ issues. Now we’re more focused on the thinking and the action part than so much the incubation of projects. But someone came to us and said, hey, here is an issue that I face every day. I’m a, uh, non binary person. Go to the restroom that calls to me at any given moment, and I’m clocked or asked often, or told that I’m in the wrong restroom. And I think this is something we need to deal with as a community. So we’re like, okay, don’t know what this looks like, but let’s take it on.
And for a year, there were maybe a core group of twelve to fifteen people who met in each other’s homes. We had food, we had wine or beer. And we just talked about this issue of access to restrooms and not feeling like, you know, you are breaking the law by going to the restroom that aligns with your gender. And eventually came to some ideas about how to address the issue. And, um, we weren’t called CRAP initially. We were just a bunch of folks meeting. And the goal was to eventually allow for, um, businesses to have multi stall all gender restrooms. And we found many points along the way where that just couldn’t happen automatically. So we had to do these little mini projects in between, one, bringing awareness to the issue. So we had a survey, a restroom sign survey, at a national LGBTQ conference that was in Chicago one year. Then we realized we had to change the human rights ordinance at the city. So we did that. And then we realized we needed a state law. Let’s start with single occupancy restrooms and make those all gender. There’s no reason for them to be male and female. There’s only one person in there. And then it was like, but we really need to get back to this multi stall all gender, because for many reasons and it’s not just around gender identity. It’s about parents who are a different gender from their children and may want to go to the restroom with them. Other caregivers who are taking care of someone who is not the same gender as them and need to be in that restroom with them. And so we have piece of legislation in the state now for the third time, I think it’s going to pass this time that would allow, not mandate, but allow businesses and institutions to have multi stall restrooms.
That Chicago Restroom Access project, now the Community Restroom Access Project always CRAP has never been formalized. It has always been whoever is interested shows up. We put a little structure on it. Now, it’s never been funded, but this is the oldest project that we have under Pride Action Tank. It’s a week younger than Pride Action Tank, and is the one project that we do consistently over and over again. And while maybe it’s good that it’s never been formalized, it’s never become, it’s never been staffed, although we staff it, there’s no one paid explicitly to do this, and it is remaining community driven, it has resisted formalization, and it has been the most successful thing we’ve ever done.
ALIDA: Well, and this is something that you’re doing at Pride Action Tank, but you do in so many ways, in so many other spaces. And so I’d love to use this as an opportunity to ask you about Outspoken, what it is, how you made it, what it does.
KIM: Yeah, Outspoken is a gift that came to me when we didn’t know what it was going to be. I was contacted by one of the owners of Sidetrack, uh, wonderful bar in what I will always call boystown in Chicago, who has a friend who owns a theater and said, hey, do you be interested in doing storytelling at your bar? Maybe we do one show. Art Johnston is one of the owners of Sidetrack, and he’s like, I’ve never gone to a storytelling performance at all. Uh, his friend took him. He loved it. And then he’s like, I need a co host. I’m going to call Kim Hunt. I was at Affinity then, and so he calls me. And Art Johnston, many people may not know him, but he is LGBTQ history in Illinois. One of the first owners, uh, LGBTQ owners of an LGBTQ bar that just grows. People come from all over the country to go to that bar. Also instrumental in expanding Illinois’ Human Rights Ordinance and Chicago’s Human Rights Ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Early, early, early days of this, when few people in few states were working on this issue. And so he’s calling me. When I saw his name on the caller ID, I’m like, oh, this is interesting. Art Johnson is calling me.
So he says, hey, thinking about doing this storytelling show here. Wondering if you would like to do a story. And I’m like, oh, my God, I love the moth. Right? And I do a lot of public speaking, but I’ve never considered myself a storyteller, even though telling stories was something that I witnessed constantly in my family. So I’m like, I’ll do this. Yes, I want to be a part of it. And he calls back 2 minutes later and says, will you co-host? I’m like, you want me to co-host and tell a story? All right, I’m in, let’s do it. So we had that first show, and it was packed. It was just packed. People were having a great time. It was so enriching and fulfilling, and I thought it was a one time thing. And he says to me afterwards, so we’re thinking about making this monthly. Will you continue to be the co-host? Wow, not something I considered doing before, but yeah, let’s do it. Let’s do it. Let’s see how long it lasts. We’ll do it until people stop showing up. People never stopped showing up. We would have the snowiest days. The place would be full. And it just became this thing that people looked forward to, I looked forward to, because it was a sense of community that we just weren’t getting anywhere else. And I like to describe it also as the most diverse moment, an inclusive moment of the month in Boystown, which can be a very white male space. I’ve heard amazing stories on that stage, from animal husbandry to, you know, the horrors of coming out in small towns and religious families to policy changes to parts of, um, American history that we just aren’t aware of. We started incorporating factoids from the Legacy Project, which has Legacy walked on Halstead, the largest and perhaps only LGBTQ focused outdoor commemoration of LGBTQ history in the world. And we had regulars. We have new people. It’s a labor of love, but it is a labor, and none of us get paid to do it. This is all volunteer, and it’s amazing that I’ve been a part of this history. And we were recently inducted into the LGBTQ Hall of Fame in Chicago, so that too was quite an honor.
ALIDA: Such an incredible story and such an incredible, just service to the city. You called it a labor of love, but it’s also, for those who are on the receiving end, uh, it’s a real service to them. Which is so beautiful. And I will say, I am coming out of this time with you with two core takeaways. And one of them is related to this idea, which is just creating a space that people want to be part of and flowing with it. And that might sound really simple, but that’s what I have gleaned from this, of not trying to overstructure it, not trying to make it into something that you have a consumption of, but just to flow with the people who are there. And the consistent piece of community that you’ve named in all of these examples are you’ve got people in a space, usually with food, always talking. And that is something I’m leaving this conversation with.
And the other thing that I’m leaving this conversation with is how to bring people you wouldn’t expect into those spaces. So you mentioned Boystown is very white, very man identifying. You also mentioned your mother’s table, and there were a lot of different kinds of people around that table who maybe wouldn’t have come together in another place. And so a big part of what I’m taking away is that community care comes from thinking about your community as broadly and expansively as possible. Otherwise, there’s so much you miss. But that’s just what I’m taking. For folks who are listening. What would you say is the most important thing that you want them to take away from your story and your experiences?
KIM: Well, I love what you’ve shared as takeaways. And I think related to that is, everybody has a purpose. It’s about extending an invitation to folks, an invitation to participate, an invitation to dream, an invitation to convene, and being very intentional about that invitation. And our invitations at Pride Action Tank extend to folks who wouldn’t normally be a part of the conversation, the folks with the lived experience, but also bringing them together with policymakers and researchers and service providers and all of those different folks. Because it’s not true that we get our liberation one group at a time. Our liberation is going to come from a collective effort, and it’s going to come from people growing in ways that they didn’t know that they could grow, and sitting next to people who they never thought they’d sit next to. That’s hard work. I will not lie. That is hard work. But it is necessary work, too, because at the end of the day, no matter what our jobs are, no matter what our roles are, we are here in this human experience, and we can’t let our roles and our degrees and all of those things mask the human experience that we all share in common. So all of the gathering is about connecting at that human level, and that’s what stories do. So I encourage folks to make stories a part of everything that you do. Whatever your work is, you got to tell the stories. You got to create a space for people to feel brave enough to tell their stories, because that’s what breaks down barriers. That’s what helps bring out the nuances. That’s what helps us co create the future that we want to see. We can’t do that if we don’t connect. We can’t connect if we’re not in spaces together as equals.
ALIDA: Well, Kim, thank you so much for your time today and for such a motivational and honestly optimistic conversation. I appreciate you.
KIM: I appreciate this opportunity. Just this conversation alone, it’s feeding my soul. So thank you.
ALIDA: Thank you for listening to Care Work. Please share this podcast with other care workers in your community so that we can collectively create a culture of care.
This podcast is a collaboration between Ethos and Alida Miranda-Wolff
Your host is me, Alida Miranda-Wolff
Theme Music, vibing introspectively, was written and recorded by Logan Snodgrass
Production assistance was provided by Ivana Savish Grubacitch
Audio Editing and Podcast Post Production were provided by Organized Sound Productions