“Just be yourself and hold your head up high.”
With 2017 being one of the deadliest years for transgender women of color, it can be discouraging for these women to live out their truth for fear of being harmed. Though it may be safer to live under the radar, Stephanie, a member of our O’Dwyer Community Center, refuses to hide who she is because she vividly remembers a time when she was not comfortable being herself.
Stephanie knew at an early age that though she was born male, she is a woman. She naturally gravitated toward femininity, but would try to hide herself by dressing in women’s clothing and wearing makeup only at night. The internal struggle she experienced was so great that by age 17, Stephanie’s confidence was at its lowest and the judgment she received from her classmates was so unbearable that she dropped out of school. She would not return to the classroom until after she embarked on the journey of loving herself.
Now, at age 30, she is one class away from receiving her GED from our O’Dwyer program and is more confident than ever. She credits her success to her favorite teacher, Mr. Horrace, who pushed her to achieve when the material felt too difficult. While she is uncertain of what career path she will take, what she does know for sure is that no one will ever make her feel that she is unworthy of being herself.
At BCS we take PRIDE in not only being an educational resource for students like Stephanie, but also a “safe space” provider where community members can feel comfortable just being themselves.
Janiya & Jamyra
For years, research has affirmed that quality after-school programs play a tremendous role in the social, emotional, and academic success of students. Yet these programs tend to be the first cut from school budgets. Too often the importance of after-school programs is left out of the conversation about education.
At BCS, we understand that after-school programs work hand in hand with traditional school in creating a new generation of leaders like our very own Janiya and Jamyra.
The twin sisters have been in our program at PS 21 since they were in Kindergarten and are now in their final year. Janiya, the oldest, enjoys gymnastics, art, and cooking. She plans on becoming a gymnast when she grows up while making doughnut tasting her side job. The youngest, Jamyra, loves athletics. She is the only girl on the school’s basketball team and wants to one day play in the WNBA. Both sisters understand that to get where they want to be in life, education is the key factor. With the support from their family and BCS staff, the girls have received various honor roll awards during their time at PS 21 and plan to attend college.
Although the girls enjoy receiving homework help from BCS staff, they both agree that their favorite thing about our program is the student clubs. In our effort to develop a new generation of leaders, we understand that excelling academically is only half of the battle. Because of this, we give students space to choose clubs from art to athletics that allow them to explore and develop their passions with a community of other students who enjoy the same activities.
Janiya and Jamyra will be in middle school next year with new challenges to face, but with their family’s support and the tools provided by BCS, the girls are more than ready to take on this next chapter.
Stefanie has been a part of the BCS family for over 20 years. With a bright smile she likes to say, “I know everyone at BCS!” Stefanie is a member of our East New York Clubhouse, a program that helps adults with mental illnesses reach their personal goals in a non-institutional setting. At the Clubhouse, Stefanie can often be seen greeting visitors at the front desk, taking new members on a tour, or encouraging other members to stay on track with their goals. Throughout the years, she has also been a part of our job training program. Stefanie has worked at Goodwill Industries, TJ Maxx and McDonalds.
What really stands out about Stefanie is her dedication to being a part of the community. Stefanie is an avid volunteer and supporter of the causes she believes in. Every year, Stefanie volunteers for NAMIWalks, a walk in support of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Stefanie also raises money for BCS and recruits other clients to do so, leading a team at our annual ONE BK Unite walk in Prospect Park. Every election year, Stefanie works as a Spanish language interpreter at the polls.
Twelve yeas ago, Stefanie was diagnosed with diabetes and decided that she needs to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Stefanie says that losing weight and getting her blood pressure down is one of her proudest moments. Stefanie exercises regularly, does yoga at the Clubhouse and makes sure to eat healthy.
Stefanie says, “I thank God that I’m here today. I’m doing good. I’m thankful for my family. And I thank BCS for everything they’ve done for me.”
Olubunmi Hester, a single mother of twins who suffers from depression and anemia, is currently attending the BCS East New York Clubhouse (ENYCH) program. The Clubhouse helps adults with mental illnesses reach their personal goals in a non-institutional setting. After being hospitalized in 2013 for a nervous breakdown, she was referred to the program by Woodhull Hospital. Our program helped Olubunmi find her first job and drew on the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund so she could reconnect with a sister in Washington state. Born in Nigeria, Olubunmi juggles helping her children, studying for an online master’s degree at Penn Foster College, working at a transitional employment job and keeping her depression symptoms under control. “No one in my family knew this word—depression,” she said. Now, Olubunmi reports that she feels much better since taking her prescription medication. At ENYCH, Olubunmi can be found in front of a computer with a text book, focused on her goal of becoming an accountant. She dreams for her elderly parents in Nigeria to meet their grandchildren. Olubunmi knows that time is precious.
Fabulous Phil, the massive geometric mural in Downtown Brooklyn’s City Point, has a legacy connected with BCS. It’s named after Philip Johnson, a BCS PROS client, known as “Fabulous Phil” for his magnetic personality. Last year, Phil’s positivity caught the attention of Steven and William Ladd, creators of the towering 40 by 40 foot permanent installation. BCS clients, including Phil, were part of 1,000 participants who made the handmade beads for the mural. However, things have not always been fabulous for Phil. When Phil arrived at BCS PROS six years ago, he was homeless due to mental health and substance abuse issues. At BCS PROS, Brooklynites living with mental health barriers receive services to overcome challenges in housing, employment, and education. Since coming to BCS PROS, Phil has achieved several of his goals including securing housing and a stable income. His optimistic attitude earned his special nickname from staff. Phil’s enthusiasm inspired BCS PROS to host Friday dance parties. “They loved to see me on Fridays so we would celebrate!” he said. Now, his namesake, the colorful Fabulous Phil mural, will inspire Brooklynites.