Metro Weekly

Young, Black and Leading the Way

Gay Men's Health Summit

Frank Walker thought his life’s work was with the Chicago Cubs.

”Growing up I was such a huge Cubs fan, and all I wanted to do was work in the front office of the Cubs,” Walker says. Walker worked at the Cubs’ Wrigley Field ballpark during high school. He even started college on that track, pursuing a degree in sports management.

Frank Walker

Frank Walker

But then he started volunteering with Chicago’s The Night Ministry, which Walker describes as ”an organization that has a bus that goes around to different neighborhoods and feeds homeless people.

”There were so many teens, I was so shocked. And there were a lot of gay teens on top of that. And I started to get more involved with them.”

Eventually earning a degree in sociology, Walker saw a need for a youth-led organization focused on improving the education and general wellness of gay black youth post-high school.

”Once you outgrow your youth center, then what? That’s where we come in,” he says of the genesis of the organization he co-founded in 2003, Youth Pride Services. Walker believes it’s the only organization specifically focused on black/African-American youth up to age 25, not the wider ”people-of-color” audience.

”We thought that if youth were trained and developed to be leaders,” he adds, ”they could do a whole lot more, do amazing things. We were pushing that the more black youth that graduate [college], the better for society in the long run.”

Because of its success increasing college graduation rates in Chicago, in the past year the organization has begun to broaden its scope to the national level, even adding ”National” to its name. National Youth Pride Services works with local organizations, including The DC Center, D.C.’s LGBT community center, to recruit and guide promising LGBT black youth, helping them get through college and deal with other issues via peer-to-peer mentoring.

”Our organization is totally youth-run,” Walker says. ”They control the programming, they control the budgeting [and fundraising], they control when we hire, when we go on trips.”

NYPS has about 1,400 members who identify as LGBT and are between the ages of 13 and 25. The organization is working with roughly 100 different organizations, plus elected officials and its youth members, to develop a ”National Strategy for Gay Black Youth.” The DC Center invited the organization to present a workshop – ”Youth at Hope, Not at Risk” – focused on that national strategy at the Gay Men’s Health Summit, as well as a survey of 2,000 youth nationwide that documents, as Walker puts it, ”what it’s truly like to grow up black and gay in their neighborhood and their city.”

”The ultimate goal of NYPS is for there not to be a need for NYPS,” he says. ”We want to create a world where you can be young, black and gay and not have to fight at school or fight on the way home.”

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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