I grew up in an immigrant community that was steeped in the tradition of collective responsibility where I learned to take care of those around me and to always look for opportunities to support others. In my early years I used my time and talent as an organizer working to transform my community. Now as a philanthropic practitioner I have the privilege of working with foundations and individual donors to support some phenomenal organizations and have come to see firsthand how important it is to financially support the people, issues and movements we care about. And so although I am not independently wealthy, I have developed my own personal philanthropy and am committed to giving to the causes that advance my values.
Today is Give Out Day, the first ever national day of giving to LGBTQ causes so I thought I’d share why and how I am using my treasure in support of LGBTQ organizations that empower and advocate for LGBTQ youth of color. Early in my career as a social change agent I managed a drop-in center at the Youth Health Empowerment Project (Y-HEP) in Philadelphia, PA where we sought to create a non-judgmental safe space for the city’s hardest-to-reach youth to access prevention services and support. During my time at Y-HEP many of the young people that came through my door were gay or transgender and victims of bullying or had been abandoned by their families. I carry the faces and stories of these young people with me every day as I pursue social justice through philanthropy. So it is only fitting that my personal giving reflects my values and commitment to the Y-HEP family as well gay and transgender youth of color across the country.
Today I am giving to the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) and The Gay Straight-Alliance Network (GSA). NBJC is a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering Black LGBT people and their mission is to eradicate racism and homophobia. One of their key priorities is addressing bullying in schools and advocating for federal protections for Black LGBT students. We know that Black LGBT students that are bullied in school are more likely to drop-out and find themselves in harmful situations, so NBJC’s work is critical to saving our young people. NBJC is headed by Sharon Lettman-Hicks, one of the fiercest women I have ever known. I met Sharon about five years ago when I first transitioned into philanthropy and I remember the excitement I had about being able to work with her. I was still pretty young and had never worked at an organization where a Black woman was in a position of leadership. In the short time we spent together, I watched her always speak truth to power and never compromise her values. I applaud Sharon’s leadership as Executive Director & CEO of NBJC and am thoroughly convinced that without them leading the fight for Black LGBT civil rights neither the Black community nor the LGBT community will be able to achieve full equality and justice.
The GSA Network is a national youth leadership organization that connects school-based GSAs to each other and community resources through peer support, leadership development, and training. I got to know the work of the GSA Network through their Senior Manager for Racial & Economic Justice Programs, Geoffrey Winder. Geoffrey and I met a few years ago and immediately hit it off. While waiting for our flights after a conference we talked about the lack of research on barriers to success for girls of color in schools and how the race and gender lens utilized by many in the education justice movement seemed to only capture boys of color. Our conversation revealed that we both wanted to raise awareness about the challenges cis and transgender girls of color face in schools and since then I have been thoroughly impressed with the work Geoffrey has done organizing LBT young women across the country. He and his colleagues at the GSA Network are building a national movement that brings to light the criminalization, harsh discipline and unsafe environments that young LBT women of color contend with. I recently asked him to present on the GSA Network’s work to a group of funders and he made a point of incorporating the voices of the young women he’s working with. Here’s a short video of one of those young women:
As a former youth organizer I have the utmost respect for young people who speak their truth and demand justice for themselves and others. Without organizations like the GSA Network cultivating youth leadership and encouraging young people to stand in their power the voices of girls of color will continue to be silenced.
I am proud to support the National Black Justice Coalition and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network! I hope you’ll join me in supporting young people and communities of color today and every day.