In my first year of youth ministry I struggled a lot. I often felt like I wasn’t doing enough to support the young people I was in relationship with and I failed to see any good in the work I was doing. It was during that time that my youth pastor and mentor of 10+ years, Steve Case, reminded me to “hang on to even the tiniest of victories” and take time to celebrate.
For example, when a youth reaches out about a problem or issue – that’s a victory. When so-and-so struggles for a B instead of a C – that’s a victory. When a young person comes out for the first time (or any time for that matter) – that’s a victory.
Over the last 6 months, my church community has been fighting to protect safe space for queer and trans youth in our neighborhood. I have been amazed by the many ways in which folks have shown up for one another during this time and the diversity of support we have had. Young and old, black and white, straight and queer – all in support of community safety.
And on January 21st, our fighting finally paid off! Sure, there is still work to do. We have relationships to repair and bridges to build, but today we will take time to celebrate.
With this in mind, I invite you to read these words about the impact and importance of youth work from a seasoned youthworker and one of my heroes, Lara Brooks:
When I was Director of the Broadway Youth Center, I wrote something for a fundraiser in May 2013—right before we moved to Wellington Ave UCC. I thought I would share a few passages before tomorrow’s special use permit hearing, especially for those of you less familiar with the Broadway Youth Center’s impact.
“The work we do is truly incredible and life-changing—it’s youth-centered and authentic and real. What I love most is that it’s constantly evolving and refining itself as we learn more from our communities about what works.
What these numbers [annual quantitative outcomes] don’t tell you is that we have the honor and privilege of focusing our efforts on meeting, in a profoundly holistic way, the needs of youth who are street-based or experiencing homelessness, LGBTQ youth, youth who are pregnant and parenting, low-income youth, and youth who have survived tremendous trauma.
For us, this means the Broadway Youth Center holds some of the highest concentrations of resilience in the entire country. The Broadway Youth Center literally RADIATES determination, guts, and ingenuity—which is why our work continues to be ground-breaking and powerful and relevant.The numbers are impressive. But they don’t tell the story of how we’ve created a stable space for young people to build with one another for, in some cases, more than eight years. That’s the kind of long-termness that builds chosen families.The Broadway Youth Center is a place where youth workers have built multi-year-long relationships with youth participants. And it’s through that type of long-termness—in combination with youth who have a deep relationship with our space and use that trust to build with new staff and volunteers—that we truly get to do the deepest work around healing. And community building. And HIV prevention.
What these numbers don’t tell you is that access to gender affirming, youth-centered, and sex-positive health care is rare in our communities. It’s precious. And we must protect it because we know it works. What these numbers don’t tell you is that the BYC holds incredible pain and injustice. But also so much that is sacred.
I rarely share stories—mostly because I worry that our communities will take hold of one story about a homeless young person and think that that’s everyone’s story. But I’m going to tell you a story about a moment in the life of the BYC.
It’s the story of our weekly community meetings. A place where youth and youth workers gather to discuss resources and issues impacting the community. Picture chips and cookies being passed around. The room getting hot and stuffy because there are 40 bodies all crammed in together. Some young people are sitting with the entirety of their belongings in one bag—next to them. Many youth in the room do not yet know where they are going to sleep tonight.
And then we get to Youth Spotlight—this is the part of the agenda where youth can share a song or a talent.
Two things happened next.
First, a young person takes off her backpack. Removes a one piece, couture unitard with hand sewn bead work (that she has done herself), and puts it on—over her clothes—in less than 30 seconds. This unitard is stunning and sets the tone of wonder for what is about to happen next when a young person stands up to sing.
The performer literally has a soft glow about them—their gender is glowing and dynamic and fluid. And just gorgeous. And this person starts to sing. I can’t even remember the song. But I remember looking around at the other youth and youth workers.
You could hear a pin drop. It was complete reverence and respect for this young queer deaf transgender singer-artist-diva. And even if this young person couldn’t hear or experience the song the same way many of us were hearing it, this person could look into our eyes and hearts and know in that moment that what was coming from their lips was gorgeous. And powerful.
And I remember the clapping and foot stomping that followed. And the way everything seemed to float off the ground.
That kind of vulnerability and trust in a community just blows me away. For me, this is the kind of healing work that symbolizes the BYC. The kind that just fills up your chest and vibrates out-bursting through doors like a powerful wind. It just can’t NOT touch you.”