As we commemorate Forward Together's 25th anniversary, we are celebrating the work of our various programs and partnerships. The post below was authored by Maia Weiss of Health Initiatives for Youth.
I work for an organization called Health Initiatives For Youth (HIFY), and I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to collaborate with Forward Together. I first met Forward Together Youth Program leaders Deanna Gao and mai doan at a Queer/Trans Network meeting, a place where a variety of organizations regularly meet with the goal of improving the services we can provide to LGBTQ youth in Alameda County. Recognizing that both of our organizations strive to provide community, safe spaces, leadership opportunities and health education to young queer folks in Oakland, we decided to see how HIFY and Forward Together could support one another.
As this partnership has grown, I have been so impressed by the youth in Forward Together’s afterschool leadership program, and deeply moved by the community and culture that the adult leaders have helped to shape. My first visit to Forward Together headquarters in Downtown Oakland was to facilitate a workshop for the youth on Allyship and the LGBTQ Community. Entering their space felt a little like going to my grandmother’s house. I was asked to take off my shoes and to help myself to snacks. Youth were hanging out, cooking food and doing homework. The environment felt so warm and inviting, I understood why young people would gravitate to this space. As we began our workshop, youth were eager to participate and ask questions. I heard them challenge each other respectfully and affirm diverse points of view; I could tell this was a space where youth engagement was celebrated and the young people felt empowered to make their voices heard. This is both a testament to the incredible youth in program and to their passionate and dedicated adult leaders.
Forward Together and HIFY partnered to throw a mixer for young people interested in connecting over their shared passion for LGBTQ activism and allyship. We held the event at HIFY’s drop-in space for queer youth in West Oakland, and invited BAY Peace, another Oakland youth organization, to lead us in a movement workshop exploring gender identity. It was so exciting to see youth leading both youth and adults in a series of movement and improvisation exercises which stretched many people’s comfort zones. Simultaneously laughing and perspiring and having intimate, difficult conversations about gender, I felt a powerful sense of community in that room that evening. I am so grateful for the work that Forward Together is doing to empower these communities today, and eager to see the new generation of change makers that emerges as a result of Forward Together’s support.
Maia Weiss is a Lead Trainer at Health Initiatives For Youth. At HIFY, she facilitates groups for LGBTQ street-involved youth and leads trainings on a variety of social justice and health education topics. Find out more about HIFY’s work and our queer youth drop-in space at www.hify.org