Brave Space Alliance (BSA) Executive Director LaSaia Wade. Image from BSA website
One of the many extensions of the work we do at the Field Foundation is the ability to have conversations with leaders in different sectors, both in Chicago and across the country, around the multifaceted aspects of leadership and what it means in different spaces and sectors. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, these conversations have evolved and have grown more complex, and it has become clear that leaders across various sectors and various communities are facing similar economic, social, and political challenges.
In recent years, Chicago closed nearly half of its mental health clinics widening the gap between needs and services. In fact, a 2017 report by the Chicago public health department showed many facilities that offer mental health services had long waitlists, several with wait times up to a year long. Yet there are incredible leaders that we have spoken with that are navigating the capacity of their organizations—trying to provide greater staff support by embedding wellness into their practices and policies, while continuing to respond to community needs.
One example is Field grantee partner Brave Space Alliance (BSA), the first Black-led, trans-led LGBTQ center on Chicago’s South Side, providing affirming, culturally competent resources and programming for the community, while also responding to the expanded needs of its staff.
I spoke with BSA Executive Director LaSaia Wade about the challenge of finding the balance to meet community needs during the pandemic while also taking care of staff.
Hilesh Patel: How do you balance the internal and external at Brave Space Alliance, making sure the work that is happening inside matches the work that is happening outside?
LaSaia Wade: I think everyone is still trying to find that balance. We built an organization where we are working with or in parallel to the community. In doing this type of liberatory work you deal with more stress because you’re trying to live up to your politics. Some of what we’re taught in school around business or management is true, and you can plug some of that in so that the business of the organization can move forward. How can you combine your liberatory work with the input of an empirical type of management? It’s an ever-changing, ever-evolving accountability process. How can we make sure that your mental and physical health is important but also the work is done at the same time? It’s a difficult balancing act.
HP: What does that day-to-day look like? How do you have those conversations?
LW: Our executive staff got together, and they just came in and were like “I am tired! How are we continuing to do what we’ve been doing and sustain what we’ve been doing because the work is so heavy?” The answer that I gave is “We signed up for this work.” If we are actually breaking down the historical contexts of hiring trans or explicitly Black and Brown trans bodies that don’t have the educational background or even the notion of how to do this particular type of work, we have to be able to educate them to do the work but also surpass that, thrive.
We have this program with BSA where we intern people to see if they can actually work these positions. We do not want to hire someone that cannot do the role. We intern them. We train them. We make sure they get everything they need for that role. We use that 6- to 8-week internship to see if they can actually do that role. So far, of six interns, at least three pushed through and proved they’re willing to do the work. Two have applied to college. The other is applying for classes online to push their educational learning further. We’re not trying to coddle people but we’re trying to tell them that this is a new lane. You have to bring more than just a narrative. Just because you’re Black and trans doesn’t mean they will hire you because of such. We have to change that narrative.
HP: What happens if they don’t push through?
LW: Those conversations are really heavy, right? What is that you’re needing? More reading or writing or more technical skills? We help them learn to do their resume, linking them to job courses, to professional development, with union jobs throughout Chicago. We have a link with Chicago Women in Trades. We make sure there are different routes, so we don’t leave them swimming by themselves.
HP: How are you thinking about support internally, about benefits or human resources?
LW: A year and a half ago we were asking, “Will we be able to get the money we need? Will we be able to push ourselves forward?” We had to understand that we will never be able to pay ourselves our worth and have set a cap on salaries. Explicitly with executive staff, no one’s able to make over $100,000. With that kind of money, we could hire more trans, non-conforming, LGBT individuals to bring them into the space. That’s more jobs. We had a conversation around how we will be able to have insurance and healthcare and dental. We had a conversation: we can either have a pay raise or we can have insurance. And the insurance will be good, health, dental, vision and we will be good. Everyone will be able to keep their doctors or be able to see their dentist or whatever you decide you need to do. It was a unanimous decision. At BSA we tell our staff this is what’s happening with everything. This is not for play for some of them. For some of them this is their last chance.
HP: What does it mean to “lead queerly”?
LW: Every time I walk into a space it is me leading queerly. My body. My political stance. My language. When I started creating BSA, you didn’t hear me when I was saying this is what we needed but you heard me when I applied the cuss words in there. You heard me when I actually had to be the angry Black woman that you did not want to see in these spaces. You heard me when I had to come in these spaces with tennis shoes instead of heels and a dress on. You heard me when my hair was in a ponytail and talking aggressively. You did not appreciate me when I came to you and this is me, LaSaia Wade, MBA, CPA. You didn’t hear me when I said that. You heard me when I was on the street knocking on the door with 200 people behind me. That’s when you heard me.
Today, November 20, is Transgender Day of Remembrance which follows Transgender Awareness Week and honors the memory of transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence. Field Foundation recognizes the work of BSA and many others and their work as they build toward the liberation of all oppressed peoples.
Leadership Investment Program Officer
Dion’s Chicago Dream
Click the pic to see a short video of Dion discussing his initiative, and how Field funding helped him achieve his dream.
Dion’s Chicago Dream is a nonprofit providing food, information and resources to the West Englewood Community on the South Side of Chicago. Its goal is to also increase financial, physical and emotional stability to residents while combating hunger and addressing food deserts.
Dion’s Chicago Dream is a Field Special Considerations Fund grantee. The Special Considerations Fund is a discretionary fund that gives the Foundation the ability to respond to important opportunities outside of our core giving programs, or to develop new ideas and promote innovation in how the Foundation and its grantees operate.
Dion Dawson, founder and executive director, received a $12,000 grant that will fund the purchase of fruits, vegetables and water for community refrigerators in Englewood for a year. A Navy veteran, Dawson was also recently profiled on ABC7Chicago, and featured on WGN Chicago. We are proud to support his vision and this project.
“The Field Foundation was the first major recognition of our movement and it really solidified that I was going in the right direction. The Field Foundation is just a big beautiful thing and it’s allowing people like me to flourish and be the change that I want to see in the world.” —Dion Dawson, Founder and Executive Director, Dion’s Chicago Dream
Save the Date for Field Foundation’s Information Session
The Field Foundation is hosting an information session at 11 am, Tuesday, December 15. The Letter of Inquiry portal for summer 2021 grant consideration also opens that day. The session will provide general guidelines to our grantmaking and include details about our grants in Art, Justice, Media & Storytelling and the Leaders for a New Chicago Award. Registration will open soon.