The SULI Fund, a LGBTQIA+ community fund founded to uplift, empower, forge a way forward and ensure the survival of people of African descent who are without refuge, immunocompromised, and lack basic physical, mental and health support. With a wide and narrow focus, we have developed a cohort framework to distribute funds.
The SULI Fund is inclusive of various subpopulations within the largely identified LGBTQIA+ community of African descent and will provide immediate resources, no-nonsense grants, and support to those in need. To identify recipients we have devised a national advisory board of individuals with 80+ years combined serving the LGBTQIA+ community. They are queer, trans, lesbian, non-binary, masculine, femme, and gender non-conforming individuals from large cities and rural small towns with significant knowledge in issues directly impacting their/our community.
It was November 1991. “Mommy, I can’t come to NY for Thanksgiving.” His mom responded, “why not, Son”? His family knew he was HIV positive and had a short stint in the hospital that summer. But he was looking for work and had been feeling good, but now he was saying, “My head just hurts so bad. I don’t feel like doing much”. That night he went into the hospital and never came home.
So began the journey that so many young men and women were going through at that time. He was young, fading vibrancy, lagging energy, dramatic weight loss. Rasul Gursel is his name, but his family called him Suli. He was smart, beautiful, and funny. He was too weak for jokes now. But one day, he motioned for his mother to lean down so he could whisper something to her. He whispered, “I have a confession to make.” His mother thought, “My God, what else can he tell me. I already know he is gay, and I know he has AIDS. What is it, baby”? Whispering, he said, “I had a pork chop.” This confession was because Rasul Gursel was born and raised as a Muslim. His mother pulled her head back to look at him and he had the smallest wry smile on his face. He motioned for her to lean in again. “That baby was goooood.” She laughed, probably the first laugh she had had in a while. She said to him. “Suli, would you like for me to get you another one.” He just smiled and shook his head no. That was Rasul’s humor. He was making his mother laugh even in his last moments.
Rasul had lost his job because he was too sick to work. He also had lost his apartment. His family had just got him settled into a new apartment at the beginning of November. Rasul would have been alright because he had family who would do whatever they could to take care of him. But his family could see in that hospital that that was not the same story for so many young men and women in similar situations. And their hearts bled for them.
Sometimes even a small gift to someone who is struggling can be a lifeline. This unmet need is why the SULI Fund exists; to provide support for people of African descent impacted by a pandemic (HIV) that still affects so many people and especially our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQIA+ community. When Rasul decided to “come out” to his mother, he simply told her that “I am in the Life”, and she responded without judgment and simply listened and led with love.
Therefore, “In the life, and listening” is the motto of the SULI Fund. As the founders of the Pan African Center for Empowerment, we believe that the liberation of people of African descent must be radically inclusive and radically nonjudgmental. As such, we have established this fund to honor the community that loved and cared for our son and brother, Rasul Gursel, until his final days. We hope to spread that love and support to other people still facing the unique challenges imposed on people of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Gail W. Boyd, Chair of the Board & Arif Gursel, Founder and Executive Director of the Pan African Center for Empowerment