Note from the editor: This is part of Options Magazine's profiles and events series Surviving A Pandemic: How Providence Is Getting Its Queer Back showcasing the reemergence of Providence and the Rhode Island area’s LGBTQ community after years of a devasting pandemic. This piece, put into words by the insightful Kwana Adams, looks at how Youth Pride is flourishing despite the pandemic with Executive Director Rush Frazier.
Rush Frazier started as Youth Pride Inc.’s (YPI) executive director in November, yet you wouldn’t know that talking with them. YPI has survived through the pandemic under Frazier’s leadership, and this new executive director isn’t afraid to take on sexism, capitalism, or white supremacy to ensure Providence Queer and Trans youth not just survive but thrive.
Rush Frazier was reassessing their ten-year plan when YPI found them. Burnt out, and feeling unfulfilled by projects they were involved in, they filled out the application that was sent by a friend for the executive director position. Frazier is the seventh executive director of Youth Pride in Providence and brings with them 20 years of experience working for racial, economic, gender, and environmental justice. Aside from the many years of experience that they brought to Youth Pride, they also brought their passion, drive, and determination to make a difference and a safe space for LGBTQ youth.
There’s so much more to YPI than a safe space. They take in donations of all kinds such as food, clothing, and books for the center’s library. YPI also offers a full kitchen for anyone who wants to cook up a meal. YPI is also available to youth who just need a warm, dry place to sit, relax, browse the internet, or whatever their heart desires.
On Wednesdays between 2:30 pm and 5:00 pm, youth ages 23 and under can drop in to utilize the Basic Needs Pantry which offers food, toiletries, school supplies, and clothes. This block of time is open for everything the center has to offer. The Pantry is 100 percent donation-based and free to anyone in need. The kitchen is also open during these hours for food prep, while the rest of the center is available for youth who’d like to chat with a social worker, obtain housing assistance, get access to resources like health screenings, and gender-affirming medical care.
Due to COVID restrictions, the center's walk-in hours have been reduced and many of their services went online, but their door is still technically open for anyone who needs it. They coordinate group and one on one sessions through Zoom and Discord. Email email@example.com to get involved in their many amazing programs.
Even though the pandemic has created restrictions on YPI’s in-person work, it hasn’t slowed them down. YPI’s Basic Needs Pantry distributes, on average, 40 shopping
bags of food, toiletries, and school supplies each month. In the last three months alone, YPI has seen nearly 60 youth attend support groups, provided 108 one-to-one counseling sessions with youth, and provided 125 instances of crisis intervention to youth, along with the case management, referral, and advocacy services that come with it. On top of that, nearly 140 youth sign up for virtual and in-person programs every week. Youth Pride also sees roughly 15 youth graduate from their leadership program, OUTspoken, every year. All told, YPI serves over 800 youth a year.
The many things that YPI offers are astounding, and it’s not surprising that people want to work and volunteer with them. Especially people like Frazier, who have dedicated decades of their life to social justice work and trying to change the outdated attitudes, public
policies, and laws we’ve taken as normal in this state. As I spoke to Frazier, I was curious about what they do as executive director and what can make it difficult sometimes, so I asked. On paper, Frazier told me, the job requires management of finances, donor
relations, and development strategy – such as maintaining or acquiring grant funding – but the responsibilities don’t end with the job description:
Honestly, it’s dealing with white and non-Black People of Color who refuse to unpack their privilege or confront the idea that to create an equitable future for marginalized communities means giving some of that power up. It means real solidarity at uncomfortable moments that may not always benefit them personally in the end. One of my best qualities is being able to work with almost anyone to achieve short-term goals in the service of a shared vision. Equity is not a short-term goal. It’s a long haul, and too many people are unwilling to do the work to dismantle internalized white supremacy in order to go that distance.
Frazier is candid about how, being an AFAB (assigned female at birth) Black, nonbinary, bisexual person, they have dealt with difficult experiences and encounters that are next to impossible for them to avoid. “I can clearly see the structures that hold a lot of folks like me back from realizing our potential,” Frazier tells me.
Sexism, transphobia, queerphobia, and capitalism are just a few of the difficulties that Frazier told me they’ve faced in this life, and these are difficulties I, and so many of the youth that seek out the services of YPI face. Many of these difficulties are rooted in white supremacy which can make it extremely frustrating when people are refusing to acknowledge and unpack their privilege. Knowing the uphill climb Frazier deals with, I can imagine that gaining access to much needed resources is easier said than done. Fortunately, there is a community in Providence and the rest of the state that is thriving and refusing to back down and fold to white supremacy. It’s this community that makes it possible for YPI to continue offering resources and space.
As I browsed the YPI's website and read about what they have to offer, I noticed something that made me curious: The majority of the staff were white or white-passing in a city that is the exact opposite. As someone who was born and raised in Providence, it gives me pause when I see organizations and/or companies where the staff are mostly white because the city is mostly BIPOC. I was extremely curious about the demographics of the youth who come into a mostly white staffed center, and if it makes them uncomfortable.
Frazier assured me that while the staff does not reflect the community, they are dedicated to creating an environment where they are not taking up too much space. I learned that the YPI staff are committed to being antiracist, and are encouraged to attend anti-racism trainings with People’s Institute or Race Forward. They also teach themselves Spanish to be able to connect with the community, and they work hard to create connections and strong relationships. I was glad to learn that Frazier trusts that the staff are doing everything they can, and acknowledge their whiteness.
Looking at the demographics YPI serves, one sees youth from every racial, ethnic, religious, socio-economic, and ability group. Over 60 percent identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or a Person of Color (BIPOC). The majority of these youth come from families that earn less than the federal poverty line or are part of the child welfare system.
For Frazier, many difficulties can come with existing as they are in a position of leadership: “At best, it’s tiring. At worst, it’s what’s at the root of why the life expectancy for QTPOC is so low.” Taking time to unwind and take care of oneself is vital. There has to be time for fun
and leisure, and for Frazier that means hiking, cooking, painting, spending time with their pets and plants, joining in on some good old Karaoke, and DJing from time to time.
Talking to Frazier and learning about them, YPI, and what they do in their daily life was refreshing. I learned so much and was even given the opportunity to tour the center. They are in the process of remodeling and moving, so I was only given a quick glimpse, but I’m so excited to see what the center looks like when they’re done.
Westminster St – to coordinate that email firstname.lastname@example.org – or even volunteering in your spare time. Getting involved in the community is one of the greatest things we can do to fight white supremacy and create places where everyone has access to what they need.