Seven years after founding BreakOUT!, Co-Director Wes Ware is stepping down.
According to Ware, “As a white, queer, transgender Southerner, I set out in 2011 with the hope and intention of growing the organization and transitioning leadership after five years. I firmly believed as I continue to believe that our liberation is tied up together. That none of us will be free until trans youth of color can walk down the street without fear. And that people most directly impacted should be the ones who lead our movements, which is why I hope the organization will transition to Black leadership following my term.”
In December of 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice was investigating corruption and inefficiencies in the New Orleans Police Department. In the course of its investigation, Justice officials met with representatives from Women With a Vision (a community-based nonprofit organization founded in 1991 by a grassroots collective of African-American women in response to the spread of HIV/AIDS in communities of color), Brotherhood Inc. (a nonprofit group that aids young black males avoid the criminal justice system and re-enter society after being incarcerated), and the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. Also at the meeting were a group of young lgbtq people, mostly black transgendered women.
On May 17, 2011 the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia-BreakOUT was born. The group’s founding members were Lhundyn, Amhari, Dee, Kenisha, Milan, Jonathan. Reflecting on why she became involved with BreakOUT, founding member Milan Alexander, who now serves as one of two full-time youth organizers for the group, says, “I’ve experienced racial and gender profiling myself. It actually became the norm of my life. Getting involved with BreakOUT helped me realize that I’m more than just transgendered; I’m a human being.”
The group’s founding was also aided by Ware, who had just received a Soros Justice Fellowship, a monetary grant awarded to individuals who spearhead projects to reform the U.S. criminal justice system. Ware had served as the LGBTQ Youth Director for the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. In that capacity, Ware authored an insightful report entitled Locked Up and Out: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth in Louisiana’s Juvenile Justice System. In addition to serving as Director of BreakOUT, Ware also served on the Advisory Board of the Equity Project, a national initiative which advocates for lgbtq youth in the juvenile justice system.
Upon announcing his departure, Ware issued the following statement: “When we founded the organization as a project of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana in 2011 with six powerful Black transgender and gender non-conforming Founding Members, I don’t think any of us could have imagined what was to come.”
“We have done what our enemies and skeptical allies told us was not possible. We have become a powerful political force in our city with several campaign victories under our belt, including implementing one of the most extensive LGBTQ police policies in the country, Chapter 41.13.1 of the New Orleans Police Department, which puts power back into the hands of the community to hold the NOPD accountable and further protect the rights of the LGBTQ community in New Orleans.”
“We amplified the stories of Black transgender young women from New Orleans through a collaboration with Ping Chong + Company called Say My Name, Say My Name, which was a beautiful demonstration of creative resistance, the healing power of storytelling, and political education.”
“We released a participatory action research report about the experiences of queer and trans youth of color and the New Orleans Police Department.”
“We installed a billboard to lift up the lives of transwomen of color murdered across the country and what real safety looks like.”
“And this year alone, we’ve already worked to help defend four transgender young women from deportation, secured 30 name changes for our transgender members through the Trans Defense Fund that was launched after the 2016 election results, released the Vice to ICE Toolkit with the Congress of Day Laborers about powerful collaborations across organizing bases, and launched our first Building Our Power Institute in Spanish as part of our work to make our programming more accessible to all of our members.”
“We have marched, we have advocated, we have celebrated, we have created, we have resisted.”
“We have also suffered great loss over the years, including members Diamond D’Maree and Ciara Aliyah Love, and community members Penny Proud, Ciara McElveen, Chyna Dupree, Penny Proud, Githe and Brenting, and so many more.”
“Over the past year, I have worked to fundraise our 2018 operating budget, relocate the office to a beautiful old home on Canal St., and grow the organization’s internal capacity through hiring additional staff to ensure its long term success. It took me six years, but I couldn’t be more excited to now step aside to allow new leadership to flourish at the organization while we are in such a pivotal moment in our organization’s history, strategically poised to have an even greater impact when our movements need it the most.”
“Growing an organization, like all of our work in this movement, is a labor of love. We create vehicles while driving them and hope that they will be able to move in the service of our collective visions. We make mistakes and work to be transformed by them. We give all of ourselves to this work and to transforming our movements, and in return, we can be truly transformed ourselves.”
“In fact, so many in our movements have acknowledged that we must ourselves first be willing to be transformed before we can transform our movements, our worlds. It must come down first to our willingness to change in order to affect change, which is why BreakOUT! began doing more intentional somatics work this year as well by sending our staff to Generative Somatics trainings. The mandate from Southerners on New Ground, that we must be willing to be transformed in the service of the work, has never felt more true.”
“I am eternally grateful for BreakOUT! and all of the people whose lives we touched along the way, who have all truly transformed me. In this movement and in our various roles of leadership, we are tested and we make choices every day to rise to new challenges, continuing to remain grounded in our vision and values of collective liberation, interdependence, and transformation. As white people, adults, or masculine-presenting people, we must also practice humility, learn how to use our skills to fortify movements, leverage resources and access to power, take leadership from others, and get out of the way.”
“We can also be transformed by the bold collaborations that are happening now more than ever, powerful alliances based off of shared liberation and shared fate as trans people, queer people, people of color, immigrants, and allies/accomplices. This work is no more present than in the Deep South, with its long legacy of front porch organizing and neighbor-to-neighbor relationship-building. We have political opportunity now more than ever in the South to organize across these lines.”
“We can see what can be possible if we truly recognize the humanity in one another and actually believe that our liberation is tied. As the Right makes attacks on TGNC, immigrant, Black communities, and young people, it is becoming more and more clear that we have to be willing to re-ground ourselves and weave our movements more tightly together.”
“The future doesn’t have to be so bleak if we can dare to be transformed together.”
“BreakOUT! is also on its own path toward transformation. With my transition, we also have the opportunity to think more critically about what leadership in a youth-led organization can look like, what can be possible under POC leadership at the organization, and what transformation at BreakOUT!, in a new location celebrating new growth, can look like. If it’s anything like it was in 2011, we have no idea what possibility is on the horizon for our movements and I can’t wait to find out.”
“BreakOUT! will be moving to an Interim Director for the next few months as we search for more permanent leadership at the organization. We are grateful to our powerful team of consultants who are helping us navigate this transition. Stay tuned for more info!”
Last month, BreakOUT! was honored at the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana’s Annual Oracle Gala, an event that recognizes an organization or individual who has made a significant contribution to LGBT+ history.