Activist LaSaia Wade, who founded the LGBTQ-centered advocacy Brave Space Alliance (BSA), and is currently its executive director, has been named one of Chicago-based Field Foundation's 2021 Leaders for a New Chicago cohort.
The distinction, for which Field Foundation partners with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, comes with a $25,000 award for the honoree as well as a $25,000 operating grant for their affiliated organization. The awards "recognize and support a diverse group of leaders from communities directly impacted by Chicago's history of structural racism, discrimination, and disinvestment," according to a Field Foundation statement.
Wade initially thought, "I'm still a newbie at being a leader, but thank you," upon learning about the grant," she told Windy City Times.
The Black- and trans-led BSA is dedicated to "to creating and providing affirming, culturally competent, for-us by-us resources, programming, and services for LGBTQ+ individuals on the South and West sides of the city," according to its mission statement.
BSA has expanded its footprint in Chicago significantly under Wade's stewardship the last few years. Besides moving into its own offices, BSA also embarked on a program connecting community members with food and other resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's been a beautiful, crazy journeymore beautiful than crazy," Wade reflected, adding that the recognition is gratifying since she and her colleagues began without a clear idea of how much BSA was capable of accomplishing.
"A lot of people are seeing that we are really about the work," Wade said. "When I say that, I say that with intention, because you should have seen us at the beginning, when we started doing the work. We had to get to the point of getting over our own biases [about ourselves], because we didn't think we could do the work. You have to eventually look at yourself and ask, "'Why didn't I see all this from the gate?'"
Wade said that she will share her award with staff.
"I think it's important that, if you take care of your people, your people will take of you," she explained. "If you perceive of yourself as a leader, you have to take care of the people who have been doing the work from the beginning."
The good news about the award is not Wade's only milestone as of late. She recently welcomed a new baby.
"He is the light at the end of my tunnel," she said. "He's the reason I do this work, because we don't do this work for ourselveswe do this work for the generation that's coming up behind us. [The work is] for them to understand that, "I've been fighting for you from the gate, and for you to be able to live your life as authentically as you want to live your life."
Among other LGBTQ community members receiving Leaders for a New Chicago Awards for 2021 are Tony Alvarado-Rivera, executive director of Chicago Freedom School; and Malik Gillani, co-executive director of Silk Road Rising.