“One thing that will forever be true about Ryan Lee Burris is that, while his physical body is no longer with us, his spirit, passion and love for all he believed in, all he stood for and all he fought for shall live on forever,” Lorraine Barnes, Cape Fear Equality’s former chairperson, says of ILM’s most fierce LGBTQIA advocate who passed away in November. “He is one that will truly never be forgotten.”
Barnes met Burris many moons ago through mutual friends. They shared a lot of the same passions, loves and dislikes, from music to politics. She emphasizes his tenacity and prowess for public speaking.
“The one quote I personally feel sums Ryan up is my favorite quote by Harriet Tubman,” Barnes offers. “‘Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.’”
According to Barnes, Burris always was going the extra mile and reaching the highest goals. “His passion always shined through and echoed loudly in his humble voice,” she notes. “His message was one that rang out in the lowest valley to the highest peak of the mountain tops. It bounced off the walls of the darkest alleyways and roared like crashing waves on the seashore. His message was consistent, welcoming, loving and one for all. His words were all-encompassing and isolated no one.”
“Kind and charismatic,” Chuck Ogiba echoes. Ogiba met Burris before he moved to Wilmington from Asheville in 2008. It was Burris’ charisma that convinced Ogiba to move to the Port City. Upon arrivel he joined Burris to support Wilmington Pride events and rallies.
“He approached me at an event at Ibiza, and he told me about the city and his plans to start a pride organization,” he remembers. “His openness and enthusiasm about the community made me excited about moving here.”
Ogiba remembers Burris as a constant advocate for people who face discrimination without representation. “He was the strongest voice for the LGBT community and motivated others to get involved,” Ogiba continues. “He made Wilmington more aware, open and accepting of the ideas, as well as the contributions of the community.”
While Burris championed LGBTQIA rights, he also served as a fierce advocate for any other disenfranchised groups. In the last few years, he involved himself with the local NAACP, Moral Monday rallies, as well as women’s rights marches.
“He could not stand to sit idle as any group was treated poorly,” Ogiba notes. “His loss is a great one, but his purpose remains with everyone who has ever met him.”
Burris also spearheaded an annual Holiday Toy and Food Drive for eight years. Supporting children and families in need during the holidays was indicative of who he was. Naturally, his friends and cohorts are continuing the tradition on December 9 at the Calico Room.
“Ryan helped deliver hope for the hopeless, peace for those in despair, light for those surrounded by darkness and a belief that a better tomorrow was always around the corner,” Barnes says. “He made believing in true equality for all was a plausible and achievable goal.”
This year’s event will serve as a remeberance of Burris and benefit for Partners in Caring, serving children and families who have been displaced by Florence. In lieu of toy donations this year, Ogiba and company ask folks to come with a minimum $10 donation or donate to their GoFundMe page for essentials like food, utilities and rent: gofundme.com/ryan-lee-burris-donation-page.
“Partners in Caring is the organization Ryan most cared about,” Ogiba details, “and he knew the amazing impact they make on their clients. The benefit needs to go on in his memory, as Ryan loved kids and wanted to do anything he could to make their lives better.”