The building that will be the new home of Brave Space Alliance ( a space that belongs to the Let Us Breathe Collective and others ) stands at 1434 W. 51st St, in the Back of the Yards neighborhoodand it has previously been a place of refuge.
"It was a convent, actually. The space was used during WWII, where the convent actually moved Jewish people into the space," LaSaia Wade, director of Brave Space Alliance, explained. After its time as a WWII sanctuary, the former convent was a storage building for decades, until various groups began renovations in January 2017.
Brave Space Alliance aims to help trans people defend themselves against violence, with particular focus on poor queer, trans and non-binary people of color. Wade said Let Us Breathe invited her group into the space because of the unique role it fills.
"The reason why Let Us Breathe reached out to me was like, well, you're the only black trans woman in Chicago that runs an organization, and they wanted my structure in the space," she explained. To Wade, Let Us Breathe has demonstrated a willingness to learn and advocate for all, and she was especially pleased that they abide by brave space agreements, which emphasise language of bravery rather than of safety, updating the "safe space" concept.
"They're really working around my core values," she explained. "No space is safeyou're always going to be triggered. Sometimes when we get a cut, and we put a little alcohol on it, it's gotta burn to be better. For me, constantly talking about what has happened to me allowed me to heal faster than just keeping it to myself. I really wanted to look at how can we create warriors instead of people who's always timid in talking about their truths. That's what Brave Space is all about. Let's turn what you're talking about into your reality, and also into your power. Let's move you to the next level."
And by having a multipurpose space available to transpeople of color, Wade is following in a proud tradition. "A lot of people don't understand that "drop-in center" came from Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson," she explained, name-dropping the famed trans pioneers of Stonewall and beyond. "And I want to run that realization again, that we started it in the community."
The collective space will have lots of features: a free store, an art gallery, a kitchen, a library, a computer lab, a recording studio, and some living space with showers. "I actually wanted a space that is more of a community instead of like a business or a structure," Wade explained.
As the space fills out and gains resources, Wade hopes to begin a variety of programs, including a clothing swap for gender-affirming garments, and discussion groups for transmen and women and gender-nonconforming individuals. More space will mean an expansion of the group's self defense program. The computer lab can be a place where the community searches for jobs and works on resumes and applications.Eventually Wade envisions a drop-in center for food, mental health, and medical needs, and even a garden on the grounds.
Areas like the library and recording studio are important to Let Us Breathe's multimedia approach to activism and community building, which Wade says she, as a strategist, appreciates. She hopes it will attract artists who already have their own platform.
"I work smart, not hard, and if someone's actually doing that work, why not talk to them and actually build our commitment together, and our relationship too?" she said. "Work with them so they can work with people and get their work out there a little bit faster on their networks."
Brave Space has circulated a list of needed items and tasks to be done, and currently is looking for board members. Monetary donations are also welcome, though Wade cautions that for her organization, money does not equate with influence.
"What we're doing now is trying to find the funds, and trying to make sure that we can fix up the floors, to fix up the walls. If people want to partner with us, we'll see what that looks like," she explained. "But we also take silent partners, and what I mean by silent partners is you give us the money and you be quiet and let us do the work that we want to do. You have no say in this space. I want no one but the trans and gender nonconforming people to have say in this space. That brings the power and equity back into this."
It's important to Wade that her community is in charge of its own narrative. "For me, the only way that trans and gender-nonconforming people can bridge with cis folks is that trans and gender-nonconforming people do that work themselves in building those relationships. Transness looks different for each gender-nonconforming person, and the only way [cis people] can understand our story is if we speak our story ourselves, and not allowing them to speak our stories for us, and that's where the power comes in."
Wade is thrilled to bring resources to an historically underserved population, and she feels like she's found the perfect spot for it.
"The location is right in the middle of west and south, and it gives me the ability to be on this particular side of Chicago where the work needs to be done," she said. "There's so many resources on the North Side that really are not welcoming to trans and gender nonconforming people, especially people of color. I want to turn this into a brave haven for people that can actually come in here and get warm, wash their clothes if they need to wash their clothes, get fed if they need to eat, take a shower if they need to get ready for an interview. This space can be everything, and I control this space. I am a Black trans woman, and I have a space for my community, for us to call home."