Thirty-seven year-old, Brooklyn-born Tomik Dash serves the Fire Island community as president of the recently established Black and Brown Equity Coalition of Cherry Grove or BaBEC and is editor of Fag Rag Magazine. The Equity Coalition was created last year in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and outlines their goals according to an agenda driven to achieve equality on the island. Previously a board-centric organization due to obstacles posed by COVID-19, BaBEC will be accepting membership from those interested in the community during the festivities of Juneteenth Fire Island over the weekend of June 18 – 20, 2021.
The Fire Island News (FIN): What is the mission of the Black and Brown Equity Coalition of Cherry Grove?
Tomik Dash (TD): BaBEC aims to carve out and claim space for black and brown people on Fire Island to be heard and celebrated. We seek to develop and implement initiatives to promote equality in Cherry Grove with an emphasis on Black people and all people of color to amplify black, indigenous and people of color voices and promote a more racially diverse Cherry Grove. We aim to do so through active anti-racist practices for all community members to engage.
FIN: What drove you to found BaBEC?
TD: We came about when attention to the Black Lives Matter movement grew and became the forefront of many people’s attention. There was a collection of incidents in Cherry Grove that fueled attention to the movement, both in support and in opposition. Last summer at the Community House, somebody spray painted BLM, and it instigated a dialogue within a private Cherry Grove Facebook group that housed a lot of problematic characters … where people voiced their support and opposition of BLM, Blue Lives Matter, and All Lives Matter. After seeing this dialogue in the Facebook group, which is normally a very quiet group as far as political, or any, discourse goes, my eyes opened to a rhetoric I kind of already knew existed but was never able to formally recognize in the same way I had. What a lot of people never really talked about or acknowledged shifted in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. I wrote an article about it in my publication Fag Rag Magazine, which also started last year, called “A Guide to Being Anti-Racist in Fire Island.” The article listed 16 things white people can do. I talked about the incident that occurred; I addressed how it made me feel as a black person who enjoys the island, both as one of the two black business owners in Cherry Grove and as a black man alone. I talked to two other friends of mine, also black, who work on the island and said, ‘let’s put this together.’ After publishing, the article received more than a thousand shares for seven days straight. I was getting messages from all kinds of people … from people who visit the island … from people who rent on the island. I was getting messages from homeowners who shared sentiments where they expressed that they didn’t know racism existed out here … people who believed Cherry Grove was this utopia. I also received some messages from people telling me that if I really wanted change, I needed to join the community associations to advocate. I had people pay my dues into the community organizations and tried to develop a committee underneath the associations for the black and brown community. I came to understand that if we wanted change, it may be easier to create our own organization.
FIN: What is Fag Rag Magazine?
TD: I used to own another magazine 10 years ago. I was in my early twenties. It was a little fashion magazine in Atlanta that started getting some notoriety named VAGRANT. I did it for a couple of years and then I got tired of it … I got tired of fashion. When I stopped, I knew that I wanted to create another magazine, but I didn’t want to begin another until I had a concrete vision. When I began coming out to Fire Island, walking down the boardwalks, seeing posters for events and parties, I found the island to be very cute and very quaint, but there was no real way to find out what was happening. I found that there were so many micro-communities that all exist out here, where some intersect, some don’t, and some of them don’t even know about each other. I thought a magazine could connect all of these communities and give people a platform. As a black man, I thought the magazine would also be a great way to introduce people of color to the island in print. I think the magazine serves as a resource guide to show people off-island what Cherry Grove and the Pines are all about.
FIN: I see on the coalition’s website a list of initiatives. Can you speak about those initiatives and what they seek to accomplish?
TD: Sure. So, for first, Beyond Diversity Training basically is unconscious bias diversity and inclusion training. The goal of that is really to create a common language. One of the biggest obstacles that we faced last year when trying to become a part of the community association is that they just didn’t really get where we were coming from. Some people didn’t understand why it was needed. It was a lot of trying to explain, even though I wrote a whole article about it. What we want to do is actively carve out and claim space for black and brown people. We want to make sure that black and brown people are getting off of the ferry and stepping into businesses and establishments that have been doing the work to be more inclusive. There is this lingering sentiment that ‘well, everything is fine out here’ as if the island is some paradise free from noise. And until you sit down with other community members and hear about their experiences and just learn about equity, it’s hard to understand that the island isn’t free from outside noise. This is where the community forum initiative comes in. We hosted our first at the Belvedere Guest House last summer. With social distancing guidelines, we were able to accommodate 50 people. At our first community forum, we were able to introduce ourselves to the community. We are going to repeat this forum event to allow community members the opportunity to speak up about what we’re doing or what we think they should be doing. The community forum serves as a safe space where people can hear about other’s experiences here on Fire Island, with an emphasis on those black, indigenous and people of color to understand how those experiences shape our views and behaviors.
FIN: What does the coalition hope to accomplish in celebration of Juneteenth?
TD: Part of our goal was to create opportunities for entertainment and education. We felt Juneteenth was the perfect holiday to encompass that. Juneteenth is a celebration tied to the story of Black people in Galveston, Texas, learning that they had been emancipated, close to two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.We set out to have a Juneteenth weekend to celebrate the contributions of black and brown people with a weekend of curated activities designed to educate, inspire and entertain. There’s a weekend in Fire Island for, I think everyone except black and brown people … with celebrations for the Fourth of July, Pride, and others. We thought there should be a weekend for people of color. We have several different events that will take place, which has been very interesting to plan because when we started, COVID restrictions were very different than they are now. In response, our planning for this has been adaptive. One of the biggest things that we’re doing is we’re having a Black Lives Matter march on the beach. We are working with those leading the Gays Against Gun Violence organization as well to plan celebrations for Juneteenth, which again are still being developed to align with the changing of COVID guidelines. Last year we organized a fundraiser to buy a Progress Pride Flag, which is a flag that has the black and brown and trans stripes. We bought it from the original designer, and he made us a huge one. After the Cherry Grove Pride Parade, which is coincidentally the same weekend as Juneteenth,* we are going to host a flag raising ceremony to unveil the new flag on the dock. We’re also having salon conversations on race and equity. And will host the first black drag pageant on the island. The Miss Fire Island Pageant has been around since 1965, and in that time they’ve crowned four black winners. So, we decided to host our own pageant and make sure we crown a black queen every single year. The pageant isn’t open to just drag queens. It’s open to people of all gender expressions, whatever your kind of drag or art is, you’re invited to be a contestant.
FIN: What work has the coalition already accomplished?
TD: Because of the obstacles posed by COVID, this is the first summer that we are open for membership. Until now, we have been a board-centric coalition with six members but beginning now we will be a full-on community organization. We will begin accepting members on Juneteenth weekend. Despite COVID however, we have been able to accomplish a lot with the help of other organizations. To name a few, we have been working with the Fire Island Artists Residency, Gays Against Guns, and the Cherry Grove Community Association. As I mentioned earlier, we were able to host our first community forum at the Belvedere Guest House with help from the owner, Julian Dorcelian-Eberhardt.
FIN: What types of communication channels does BaBEC hope to open and maintain with the Cherry Grove Community Association and other Fire Island associations?
TD: One thing that I would love to do is promote other formally recognized Fire Island associations to embrace more diverse membership. Almost all of the boards are 90 percent white, if not 100 percent. I don’t know if it’s been actively addressed, although certainly acknowledged. I would love to see that change and promote the initiatives of BaBEC to embrace that change. As Fire Island becomes more diverse and welcoming to the black, indigenous and people of color community, hopefully there will be a shift in how those communities are formally represented. Much of the organizations’ membership is deemed by homeowners. Home ownership is one of the largest and oldest tools of white supremacy and black exclusion that has been wielded against me during my time on the island. I’ve heard sentiments of ‘you shouldn’t lead this organization … nobody knows you … you’re not a true member of the community.’ I’ve been coming out here for seven years. What else do I have to do? I’ve rented out here, I’ve worked out here … I am a community member. By establishing BaBEC with the help of all of those who align with its goals, I hope for a more inclusive Fire Island.
*On June 7, 2021 Arts Project of Cherry Grove announced their decision to reschedule their annual Cherry Grove Pride Parade to the following Saturday, June 26 in order to fully support BaBEC’s maiden Juneteenth Weekend. Learn more about what the BaBEC has planned for Juneteenth Weekend by visiting their website at www.babeccherrygrove.org/juneteenth
Share this Article