Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Non-Profit Spotlight: Destination Tomorrow

Preparing LGBT Communities today

DESTINATION TOMORROW is a grassroots agency located in the South Bronx that provides services to and for the LGBTQ community led by the passionate and laser focused Executive Director, Sean Coleman.

Mr. Coleman has dedicated himself, up to and including his personal finances to ensure that the youth of the South Bronx do not have to leave their community to search for needed services and support which enables them to strive and thrive in space they can call their own.

As a local, Mr. Coleman knew first hand the challenges of growing up struggling to reconcile his own identity. As Coleman shared, “It was truly a struggle because when I was dealing with issues of gender identity there were no centers that focused on these types of challenges. I am from a Christian upbringing, raised by my grandmother so it never felt like who I was would be understood. I felt like there would be support if only I could articulate what I was feeling. It took a lot of years and soul searching to get the words to define who I was.”

He feels he was one of the lucky ones as he shared the strength and support he received from his grandmother he says, “My grandmother instilled in me that as long as I worked hard I could accomplish any goal I set my mind to.” He carries and shares that message with the young people with whom he works.

When asked about the first place he knew he could turn to for support? Mr. Coleman lights up and shares “Without a doubt, the House and Ballroom community saved my life. This underground social network made up of what society deemed as the “Urban” Gay community became my strength to live in my truth. In that community, I found folks that were whom they wanted to be and didn’t give a damn who didn’t like it. We called each other family and supported one another when our birth family turned their backs, or our community disowned us. We had each other, and it was the best feeling in the world to belong to those who truly understood you.”

Sean Coleman
Founder and Executive Director, Destination Tomorrow

Coleman sharply observes ”Support for Transgender people has almost become trendy in that everyone wants to appear knowledgeable. It has also become more about others writing our narrative and telling our stories. While I am happy that “Trans is trending”, I am sad that there are not more trans led nonprofits or businesses. While our resources and emotional labor is tapped for other’s programs and needs, leadership development is not supported for Transgender folks. We need funding that supports Trans led agencies in order to continue making strides in this movement.”

Coleman has many hopes for the Transgender Community and as he puts it, “My hope for my community is that we are allowed to lead our movement and tell our stories. I hope that the world sees our leadership skills, and life experience as monetarily valuable allowing us to earn a living wage. The average wage for a Trans person of color is $10,000 a year. Who can live on that? We need to begin working to develop the Transgender community into the leaders of tomorrow.”

Coleman started Destination Tomorrow in 2009 out of a frustration that those that are the most at risk were not receiving the care or services needed to improve their overall health outcomes. “When Bronx Community Pride Center closed I recognized that there would be a gap in services. That the LGBT community of color that we had fought so hard to engage would be left without resources. You may think that’s being a bit dramatic since there are other LGBT centers in other boroughs. But when you consider the fact that according to a recent report by Strength in Numbers, the two biggest barriers to care are lack of transportation and food insecurity it makes sense. Many of the clients we served could not afford to travel outside of their neighborhood for services, nor should they have to.”

Seeing the need, Coleman set off to do what he saw fit. “Destination Tomorrow started as a volunteer based services that worked online to assist those looking for competent medical providers. We would make referrals to providers we had relationships with and felt understood what the community needed. In 2012 I took DT offline, cashed out my 401k and set up shop at the Sunshine Incubator located in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. Initially my goal was to continue to provide referrals to those who needed them and create a safe space for LGBT young people, those who had previously been clients of Bronx Pride. We created a drop-in space that allowed the young people to access a safe space while allowing me a chance to really get to know them and their needs. We held focus groups, trainings and workshops around economic empowerment. We learned from our clients that housing and employment were the two most important things in their lives, they needed help finding safe housing and employment that afforded them a living wage. At the same time, we recognized that the Transgender community had a large presence in the Bronx but didn’t have knowledgeable providers engaging them. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of spaces that dealt with “prevention” around HIV/AIDS, but nothing that was working to build support or community. Our goal was to ensure that every member of the LGBT community was supported and had the space to grow into productive members of society. Fast forward, we are now offering: Medical and Mental Health referrals in partnership with Montefiore and NYU, Supportive counseling, support groups, the Haus of Code; a computer coding class, TASC; GED prep course, Financial Literacy in partnership with TD Bank, and Job readiness.”

His hard work and dedication has received attention from Forbes, where Mr. Coleman and Destination Tomorrow are featured as leaders in the community they are lifting up. Click here to read their story

As Mr. Coleman looks to the future he states “The way forward is for all members of the LGBT community to understand that in order to survive we need each other. In the current climate where funding or support from the government is not guaranteed, LGBT businesses will be tasked with helping ensure the lifesaving work done by nonprofits can survive. At the same time, those nonprofits who focus on advocacy and policy will have to work to include protections for small LGBT owned business, speak up about health care and its impact on small businesses. We have to find mutual ground to build sustainable businesses both nonprofit and for profit. I truly believe that happens with the support of nglccNY. You guys set the tone and I am humbled to be a part of something so life changing.”

Coleman is hopeful to help the youth get the support they need to overcome the latest challenge on the horizon. “With the resurgence of Heroin, we have started a syringe exchange program. Clients are allowed to bring their used needles in and are given five new needles and a sharps container for safe disposal. We have applied for our Clia Waiver to be allowed to HIV/STI testing on site or on a mobile unit. To address the housing concerns, we are beginning a supportive housing program for LGBT youth who are aging out of the system. Our goal is to continue to meet our clients where they are, providing them all the skills, tools and support they need to succeed.”

Mr. Coleman was kind enough to answer some intimate questions about the Transgender community and how we can do better to include and lift up the ‘T’ in LGBTQIA+

What are the 3 biggest misconceptions about Transgender persons?

Perhaps the biggest misconception is that Transgender people are confused about who they are, and are mentally unstable. Another is that Transgender people are all sex workers, drug addicted or sexual deviant. Lastly, I’d say that Transgender people are fooling people because they don’t always share their “truth”.

What are things that well-meaning people say that are actually NOT supportive but hurtful or divisive?

One of my favorite is “Wow, I would have never guessed you were born a woman” or allies that want to lead the movement, taking up space that a Trans leader could be in. Creating programs and services thru a lens that is not representative of what Transgender people need or expressed that they wanted. I think we have to redefine what it means to be an ally.

How can LBQTIA/SGL community be Supportive and Active Allies of the Transgender Community? 

Sometimes the best thing well-meaning people can do is just listen, and follow the lead of those who are living this experience.

What are things people CAN do/say that demonstrate support for the Transgender Community?
“What do you need from me/us/ my agency?” Ask that question and then follow up with “how can we create space for you?” In addition, begin sharing the platform that the LGBT community has, raise the questions about violence against Transgender women of color, show up when violence happens to us, invest in our businesses, pay us for our labor, PAY US FOR OUR LABOR. Hire us to meaningful positions, groom us for leadership.

What has been the biggest win for the Transgender community?
In NYC it has been the support from our local politicians. We are more visible than ever and with this visibility should come improved resources and services. My fear is that this support will not benefit those of us who have struggled for a while to bring Trans related issues to the forefront. We need to make sure that this movement is led by Transgender leaders.

What are the 3 biggest challenges facing the Transgender community?
Sometimes the Trans community gets in its own way. It’s like we never had a voice or were seen and finally the veil is removed, and folks begin to see us. At that point, your biggest fear is that this new-found visibility will disappear or be given to someone other than you. So, I would say, infighting is the biggest challenges. Next would be a lack of professional development; our experiences will only get us so far, we need to understand how business works and how we factor in. Lastly, adequate support from our allies.

What can we, as a community, do to be sure we are creating safe and welcoming spaces for all in the community?
Invite Transgender people to the table. Share the resources you find or have found most helpful. Show up when we need you without being prompted. Really show us that our lives matter.

What is your dream or wish for the Destination Tomorrow?
My Dream is to turn DT into a full-service community center in the Bronx. Also, we have just created The Bronx Trans Center (BTC), which is a for profit business that will offer recovery programs and housing for Transgender and Gender non-conforming community members. This recovery will be from either substance abuse/use or after care from Gender Affirming surgery.

How can the membership of the nglccNY support the work of Destination Tomorrow?
We are a small agency; our budget is under $500,000 but we are big in purpose and passion. Support for us would be volunteers who will assist with our GED program or funding to assist with one of our new initiatives.

Considering this climate, ensuring we have the support we need to continue moving forward will be invaluable. Share information about the work we do with your networks and lastly purchase a ticket to our 1st Annual Gala appropriately titled “Dare To Dream”.

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Stay connected socially with Destination Tomorrow

Written by Ingrid Galvez,

Chair, Diversity & Inclusion and Programming,

Organizational Development Consultant, 

Strategic Remedy Group

Strategic Remedy Group is a certified LGBTBE focused on cultivating collaborative communities to propel business success.

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