A safe space. A brave space. An affirming space.
The Magic City Acceptance Center is a space of love, support, and affirmation for the LGBTQ community.
We spoke with Amanda Keller as she reflected on the Magic City Acceptance Center’s challenges during the pandemic, and a sobering thought crossed her mind.
“I just thought of our kids not having this space, and my heart broke,” Keller shared. “I don’t want to imagine what our space would be like without the secure text space server we were able to establish with the help of Regions.”
Keller is the founding director of the Magic City Acceptance Center, or MCAC, a nonprofit originally established as part of Birmingham AIDS Outreach. MCAC is the first and only LGBTQ direct service youth center in Birmingham and provides a brave and safe space for people ages five to 75.
It is a space for those facing challenges to be affirmed—a space for the LGBTQ community to be acknowledged and accepted.
We don’t want a single moment to go by where our community questions if they will be OK.
Amanda Keller, founding director of the Magic City Acceptance Center
Due to COVID, all the organization’s programming was moved to the virtual realm – a daunting challenge for an organization built around one-on-one guidance and support. In addition, MCAC’s previous server could not sustain the speed necessary to meet clients’ needs during the virtual move.
Regions Bank funded a $20,000 grant that enabled MCAC to increase secured Wi-Fi capabilities and expand a secure text space server in its building. The expansion allowed MCAC to not only continue, but also expand, its virtual statewide outreach.
“The donation from Regions allows us to do some of the most important work we’ve ever done,” Keller shared. “It gives the organization expanded access to people who have never been able to enter the organization’s doors. It creates a space for peer support, access to local and national resources, and allows individuals to have everything at their fingertips without having to be in the actual physical space.”
Before moving services online, MCAC staff met approximately 23 new clients per month. Now, MCAC’s reach is far greater than Birmingham. Thanks, in part, to the new server and increased Wi-Fi capabilities, MCAC has supported people in 28 counties across Alabama.
“With the help of the new server, our numbers are going back up. We serve well over 1,200 LGBTQ young people. We have a wide range of ages we support,” said Keller. “We were contacted online by the parent of a very young child seeking our assistance. We are here to help in any way we can.”
The secure text space server is private and houses an app that allows participants to communicate with peers and MCAC staff, while accessing information customized to fit their needs. The app is discreet and text-based, allowing members to be themselves without fear of judgment.
“The app housed on the server has turned into a space of grace for some students,” Keller shared. “We have a 10:00 check-in that has become an immediate place of support that enables them to share any negative situation they may be facing, whether it is at school, work, or home.”
There are approximately 200 people on the server, from Huntsville to Mobile. People who would have never had access to MCAC, its programs, and this valuable opportunity to build a community of allies and advocates.
“I don’t want to imagine what life would be like without having this server for our kids. When we closed last year, we had a moment of, ‘What are we going to do?’” said Keller.
She added that many LGBTQ young people were quarantining in places that were not safe or affirming during the pandemic, and the server provided a space for them to share their needs, concerns, and pain.
“We have people who continue to say, when you open, promise us you will keep this server because this is my family. This server is my lifeline,” she said. “We remind them they can be themselves and live authentically in Alabama. They don’t have to leave the state to live their lives, find an LGBTQ family, or be safe. And for that, we are thankful for the contribution from Regions.”
The organization facilitates virtual weekly and monthly mental health and wellness, social justice and anti-racism workshops, a space to talk about the anti-trans legislation, and any information to help young LGBTQ people navigate the difficulties in their lives.
“Through this server, we want people to know that we are here,” said Keller. “We don’t want a single moment to go by where our community questions if they will be OK. This server provides us the technology to support the integrity that goes into all that we are and everything we hope to be for our community.”