I wrote in earlier blog posts about my transition from Trinidad to Boston and how difficult that was for me. I wrote about how I was starved for meaningful social interaction, reaffirmation of my identities, new friends and how I picked up smoking. I wrote briefly about the crazy things I’d done during my high school years. What I haven’t really touched on yet are the people that helped make those years successful. The people that have helped me shaped me into the person I am today.
When I joined BAGLY I knew it would change me at my very core. The organization took me, a crazy and unrefined teenager, taught me valuable life skills, and then set me out into the world to fully develop into a force to be reckoned with. I do not write this just to write it, it is true as true as can be for me.
Within the first hour of my first meeting at BAGLY, I met Jessica Flaherty.
Jessica seemed to take a serious interest in who I was, what I was bringing to the group, and what potential I had to develop into a leader. Maybe it was because she was an alumna, or someone who cared about the mission of BAGLY, but Jessica wanted to know the answer to two questions: Who I was? What was I bringing?
To be sure, she didn’t come up to me during the first meeting and say “hey, who are you? what are you bringing?” I probably wouldn’t have had any kind of acceptable answer. She watched and waited. Patiently. After a few months of my being a part of the youth group it was youth board ‘election’ time. My peers told me that it wasn’t anything I should be worried about. They didn’t think that there would be any reason for me to apply for anything…after all, I had just joined a few months ago. I didn’t think anything of it.
Jessica had other thoughts in mind.
Jessica approached me during that ‘election’ season and asked me if I thought about running for any positions. Of course I hadn’t. She saw potential in me and suggested that I run for a meeting facilitator position. I did in fact run for the position (if only to be in a position of power) but didn’t use an ability-based campaign…I used my charisma.
Being a meeting facilitator was no easy task. You had to generate meeting topics for your peers that were meaningful enough to engage folks for at least an hour every week. I don’t know if I could do it today but back then? I was able to generate enough juicy topics to keep my people coming back for more. Eventually, the room I hosted my meetings in couldn’t hold the amount of people that wanted to participate (it was a small room.) For me, Jessica’s point was made; I was a leader.
Jessica taught me what it meant to be sex-positive, feminist, pro-woman, and aware of queer politics. You try.
The next year I had the opportunity to visit California for the first time as a member of the BAGLY delegation to the Creating Change conference produced by the Task Force in Oakland. I remember my constant state of awe – not at the city of Oakland, its people, or even the time change…for the first time, I was surrounded by people who truly believed in youth as a resource – a force to be reckoned with. When I left that conference I had a newfound vigor for Youth Leadership Development. Because of Jessica I had the opportunity to lead a workshop at the following Creating Change in St. Louis and I knew for sure that I had an advocate.
Jessica is one of the few people that I’ve met (seriously, less that 20 in my life) that truly believes in the power of young people. She would talk to me about my development, the development of my peers, and the advancement of the organization. And boy was she smart! It seemed that no sooner had I learned about a change agent she had known about them for least a life time before. She taught me about what are now some of my favorite movies and documentaries:
She had me locked in.
Then college happened.
Throughout my college years I thought incessantly about BAGLY. How would I get back? Would the investment in Youth Leadership Development be the same? The short answer? Yes! I had the opportunity to work on the Queer Activist College – a program designed to maximize the potential of BAGLY youth – to advance its offerings. At that point, I had not been nearly as challenged.
Jessica has a gift for youth development. Being an alumna of the organization she has a unique sense of what the membership is experiencing, where they’re coming from, what fights they’re going through every single day. Unfortunately, those things haven’t changed. Jessica continues to be a listening ear, a lighthouse during the darkest hours and a safe harbor.
I could never say “thank you” to Jessica enough.
About one month ago I was asked by BAGLY’s Director of Development to talk about my experience in the organization and I said this;
Even though I have not been to a BAGLY meeting in 6 years I think about my experience constantly. BAGLY unlocked confidence in me, my experience helped to create a passionate person hell-bent on achieving social justice for all. I could never put a price on my BAGLY experience because I could not be where I am today without the multitudinous lessons learned in that powerful space.
When I completed my last project at BAGLY, Jessica told me that I would always have place in the organization. I have not stopped thinking about that.
Jessica has inspired my current line of work and my thoughts on youth development – that if you believe in the power of youth, they will come through and surpass your expectations. She continues to pour herself into the work with no expectations of what its result will be. She purely devotes her effort to the development of each and every young person that walks through those doors.
Jessica continues to lead the charge of developing youth that come into the organization. I have no doubt that she is influencing and shaping countless lives in a thankless position – and that’s okay.
The only thanks she needs? Knowing that there are more capable and committed leaders in the world.