COLOURS’ community comeback

After two years of leadership changes, relocation to a new space and unfounded rumors of financial difficulties, the COLOURS Organization started 2019 with a new goal in mind: A reintroduction to the community.

The health-services organization that provides free HIV testing among other services is bringing back its “community presence” with new programming and events for the New Year, said COLOURS staffer Jaurez Crosby.

“This year, COLOURS is making more of a concerted effort to host more community events. We’re trying to get the organization back into the community with a strong presence,” Crosby said.

The organization has lurched from crisis to crisis over the last decade. COLOURS began as a social-justice magazine in 1991 that addressed issues of importance for black LGBTQ people. Dorena Kearney, who headed COLOURS from 2001-07, was indicted in 2009 for embezzling more than $130,000 from the organization. Her successor, Robert K. Burns, died suddenly at the end of 2011, and then Lawrence “Fuzzy” Frasier, the executive director who followed him, died in 2014. The organization shuffled through leaders before Damon Humes was named aexecutive director in 2017.

“We need to be as transparent as possible as an organization about the challenges we face,” Humes told PGN last May while refuting unfounded allegations that surfaced on social media that the organization lost its primary funding from the Philadelphia Department of Health. James Garrow, the city’s director of digital public health, told PGN at the time that the allegations were false, saying “we continue to fund COLOURS to provide access to HIV testing, linkage to HIV medical care and referrals and support for individuals seeking PrEP.”

After a year of organizational rebuilding, COLOURS has rolled out new programs and services that will “reestablish that we’re for the community and about the community,” Crosby said.   

As its first step, COLOURS unveiled its new computer lounge in December. The space is outfitted with three new desktop computers and a printer/fax machine. Anyone can utilize the center to explore employment opportunities, work with staff to update resumes and cover letters and access information on HIV-prevention methods and treatment options.

The nonprofit will also start its biweekly movie nights beginning Jan. 15. COLOURS will screen LGBT movies and discussion sessions every first and third Tuesday of the month. The organization is also reviving its vogue group starting Jan. 24. LGBTQ youth are invited to compete in ballroom runway category-competitions every second and fourth Thursday at the Bodies in Motion Dance Studio, 1000 Diamond St.

COLOURS once played a major role in the ballroom community in Philadelphia, said Crosby. “We’re looking to bring that back and engage with more members of the ballroom houses here in the city,” Crosby said.

COLOURS will be offering free tickets to the 24th annual Dorian Corey Awards Ball, held on Feb. 2, for anyone who gets HIV tested at the organization through Feb. 18. Community members can get tested at COLOURS from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. at its location on 1211 Chestnut St. The ball is being held in honor of ballroom legend Dorian Corey, a drag-queen performer and fashion designer featured in the 1990 documentary “Paris is Burning.”

The organization will also be providing free clothing, hygiene products and specialized programs for the transgender community with its new trans group, scheduled to launch later this year.

COLOURS’ programs include rapid HIV testing, STI screenings, support groups, sexual-health counseling, access to PrEP and wellness-navigation services for men of color who have sex with men and are at high risk of acquiring HIV. The organization also participates in community-outreach events, providing low-income neighborhoods in the city with free HIV/STI testing and educational resources on HIV/AIDS prevention-methods.