Wallace Grace serves as OneGoal’s Director of Partnerships Support, focusing on supporting regions in reaching school partnership, PD selection and Fellow selection goals. Wallace co-leads OneGoal’s LGBTQ+ Affinity Group.
As of late, especially thinking about Pride Month, I’ve been drawing nearly all my inspiration from people who unapologetically and fearlessly speak, stand in, and live out their truth. Over a year ago I had a chance to engage with a group of Black queer-identifying Fellows at one of our partner high schools and learn about their day-to-day experiences in high school. They shared their experiences – the good and the bad – related to their gender and sexuality; their anxieties; their hopes, dreams and resolve for the future; and, their excitement about college. They spoke passionately about trying to bend the culture of their school towards a more supportive one for queer students, a culture free of hateful words, easier for students to be who they are, and one where teachers and administrators stepped in more to address anti-queer bullying.
I was deeply humbled by and proud of those courageous Fellows, and the many other black and brown queer-identifying students, who have the courage – courage I did not have in high school or college – to speak and live in their truth despite navigating anti-black/brown and anti-queer spaces in and out of school.
Here lies the eternal challenge for organizations like OneGoal desiring to support students on their path through high school and beyond. Supporting students’ college aspirations requires a commitment to helping students develop a positive sense of self within education spaces. As the particular type of othering that happens to black and brown queer students can make them vulnerable in high school and college, compromising positive self identity in these spaces, OneGoal must make a firm commitment to understanding the lived experiences of queer students and use that knowledge to affirm and support students.
I’m excited that OneGoal is taking on this challenge and intentionally trying to learn about and understand the experiences of queer-identifying individuals. The day after the shooting a Pulse nightclub in Orlando, our CEO sent out an all-staff email in response to the tragedy, naming the pain we all felt, but particularly the pain that queer-identifying people felt. It was an important step, for me, for staff, for PDs, but particularly for our Fellows, on which we can deepen our commitment to queer-identifying students. Before this, I had no idea where OneGoal stood on queer-related issues. This single act showed me that OneGoal cared how queer staff members and Fellows were impacted by society; an act that has since rippled into a growing commitment to supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
As we jump into Phase III of OneGoal’s aim to serve more Fellows better, I see a huge opportunity to deepen this type thinking and identity work. As Fellows pursue their hopes and dreams, OneGoal and its partners should be affirming queer-identifying Fellows through words and actions and helping Fellows make sense of — and successfully navigate — their schooling and life experiences through a racial and sexual orientation lens.
Advice to students, particularly queer students of color:
Continue being fearless. Sometimes people will try to make you feel like you have to choose one identity over the other, shrink one identity over another, privilege one identity over the other, especially in education spaces. As much as you can help it, don’t give in to this. Show up in the fullness of your beautiful black and brown queer selves. Lastly, know your history and be proud of it! From a Bayard Rustin, Langston Hughes and Sylvia Rivera, to James Baldwin, Audre Lorde and Laverne Cox: you come from a lineage of folks that changed society for the better.