GLASS Reflects: Sharing stories of the past, funding beautiful futures
By KJ Ward
“Be the adult you needed when you were a child.” That mandate, some alarming statistics, and only a few years of professional experience are all I had the day I became the director of Boston GLASS Community Center – a supportive services drop-in center for LGBTQ youth in Boston and a program of JRI, a Massachusetts-headquartered human services organization.
I would develop some skills over time, but I knew that what I could provide on Day 1 was an example of a relatively well-adjusted, unapologetically gay Black man who had navigated his own choppy waters and found some modicum of success and satisfaction.
I had no idea in 2000 that more than 20 years later, the center would be one of the most important institutions in my life and its former members would be among the people I care most about. In many respects, Massachusetts has led the country in conducting research about, delivering supportive services to, and enacting legislation on behalf of LGBTQ youth. (LGBTQ youth-led social justice organization BAGLY was founded in Boston in 1980, the first gay-straight alliances emerged in Massachusetts high schools in the mid-80s, and GLSEN was formed in 1990). In this context, it makes perfect sense that one of the country’s first 5-days-a-week drop-in centers for LGBTQ youth emerged in Boston in 1995.
On the eve of GLASS’s 25th anniversary, in the depths of the pandemic shutdown, and from across the country in Los Angeles I thought, “I had the privilege of working with some amazing young people – (and talented professionals, by the way) – who are now adults making their own ways in the world. Would any of them be interested in reflecting on their days at GLASS and sharing their stories?” It turned out that the answer was “yes” and GLASS Reflects was born. My hope was that this digital project would be a celebration of an important institution and a resource (maybe even a beacon) for LGBTQ youth trying to imagine themselves one or two decades from now.
What I didn’t anticipate was that less than a year after launching the project, the Boston GLASS community would lose two iconic alumnae. Ta’aliyah “Endego” Jones and Jahaira DeAlto died way too soon but not before caring for dozens of LGBTQ young people even when their own resources were limited and not before achieving academic and professional greatness in a world that consistently told them that greatness could not belong to them. I can only imagine what else these powerful and visible trans women of color might have contributed and achieved.
Theirs was a greatness to be celebrated, and establishing a scholarship in their honor seemed a fitting tribute. A beautiful transracial and intergenerational community of LGBTQ people and allies responded to my call, a great nonprofit organization sponsored the project, and within a few short months we were ready to take nominations. Last month we gave two $2000 awards to people who embody Ta’aliyah’s and Jahaira’s commitment to the wellbeing of community and their pursuit of personal development in a world that – way too many years later – still tells many of us that greatness is not ours to be had.
KJ Ward is a freedom fighter with a love of language and an appreciation of the power of the written word. Earlier in his career he worked as a case manager for the State of Hawaii Department of Human Services and as the director of Boston GLASS, a supportive services and advocacy program for LGBTQ youth. KJ also worked for several years as a communications specialist for McKinsey & Company in Germany.
Today, KJ partners with a small group of clients in service of their communications strategy and organizational development needs. He is a proud and active member of both the board of directors of Gender Spectrum and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and from time to time he publishes his own writing. KJ is also a registered yoga teacher, committed to bringing this practice of individual and community liberation to those whose access to it has been limited.
KJ earned a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and a master’s degree in developmental psychology from Harvard University.