Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-09-06



Activist Janae Bonsu talks BYP100, queer Black identity
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

This article shared 1404 times since Wed Jun 29, 2016
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Black Youth Project 100 ( BYP100 ) National Public Policy Chair Janaé Bonsu's journey as an activist began about three years ago. However, the seeds were sown during her childhood in Columbia, South Carolina, where she learned what the Confederate flag was and what it represented—hate and white supremacy.

Bonsu was 9 years old at the time, and attended a march on the South Carolina Statehouse with her mom during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in 2000.

"A mass of mostly Black people in Columbia marched on the State House demanding that the Confederate flag be taken down," said Bonsu. "I still remember the chants and the speakers saying, 'We won't start shopping 'til the flag starts dropping.' I knew then that this flag had to be important to galvanize thousands of people together in the way that it did, to resist the white supremacy of where we lived. It was a powerful moment; that's when the flag became a part of my consciousness."

Bonsu explained that she saw the Confederate flag flying above a restaurant every day on the way home from school as well as in front of people's homes and Confederate stickers on the back of cars.

"It's worn or flown as an unspoken badge of wanting what I think about when I hear people like Donald Trump talk about making America 'great again,'" said Bonsu.

Bonsu came to South Carolina by way of Brooklyn, New York, where she was born in 1991 to a Black American mom and Ghanaian immigrant dad. When her parents separated, Bonsu and her mom moved to Columbia to be with her grandparents and the rest of her mom's extended family.

"My dad stayed in Brooklyn, so I traveled alone on a plane every single summer to spend it with him and the rest of my dad's family," said Bonsu.

Bonsu made most of her childhood memories at her Nana and Grandpa's house, from Sunday dinners after church to doing homework at the kitchen table after school. Her mom bent the rules and used her grandparent's address to get her into a better school district.

"Every day I lived the paradox of living in an all-Black neighborhood while going to a predominately white school," said Bonsu. "School was where I excelled. I made straight A's, loved to read, write poems and short stories. Not going to my zoned school may have contributed to my early battles with identity politics. Throughout my elementary years, I wrestled with how my peers conceptualized blackness—frequently teasing me for 'talking white'—and how I didn't fall within that realm for them, but when I looked in the mirror, I loved my blackness and I couldn't understand why they didn't."

In addition to attending her first rally in 2000, Bonsu also traveled to Ghana for the first time with her dad that summer. It was during that trip to Accra, Ghana where Bonsu got her first taste of what privilege means. Bonsu observed unpaved roads and kids selling goods to people in their cars because they couldn't afford the fees to attend school. She also noted that this was the first time she saw so many Black people in one place.

"My visit to Elmina Castle was very transformative," said Bonsu. "I broke down and cried at the Door of No Return, because it hit me that so many people from this land where shipped through those doors, never to return to the life that they'd built and had yet to live. As a young girl standing in the room where hundreds of enslaved people were held captive with no way to bathe and had to relieve themselves in the same room was terrible."

Bonsu explained that Ghanaian culture was a part of her life from birth, including a traditional Ghanaian naming ceremony where she was given the name Abena Mirekua Bonsu. She was also immersed in the Twi language.

When it came time to decide on a college major, Bonsu looked to her mom who is a licensed professional counselor. She shadowed her as a teenager and that's where she learned about clinical interventions, behavioral health issues ( which showed up among her family members ) and that most people in prisons and jails had those behavioral health issues.

"I wanted to take part in disrupting this norm and I thought that practicing as a clinical forensic psychologist was the way to do that," said Bonsu. "My mom and her professional life heavily influenced my very individualized view of what change looked like."

Bonsu graduated from the University of South Carolina with a psychology degree and a criminal justice minor. She applied to Ph.D. programs at various schools; however, she was not accepted, so she got a job as a research assistant in the Health and Barriers to Employment policy area at MDRC—a poverty-focused New York nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization. Bonsu explained that working at MDRC helped her better understand the systemic issues driving the existence of criminalization and mass incarceration in her family and Black communities nationwide, which made her realize that clinical psychology wasn't the route she wanted to take professionally.

Instead of staying in New York City, Bonsu came to Chicago in 2013 to pursue her master's degree at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration ( SSA ) ( She graduated in 2015. ) Bonsu said that although the SSA is supposed to be University of Chicago's most diverse graduate school, she didn't see the diversity the university touted.

"In class discussions, I often felt like I was the only one that highlighted the racialized, gendered and/or heterosexist nature of what we're up against as social workers and that shouldn't be the case," said Bonsu. "Being one of the very few Black women in my program, I very much wanted to have a community. Throughout graduate school I wanted to find a place where I could affect change and eradicate problems through policy work and I didn't find that space until BYP100 came into my life."

Professor Cathy Cohen, principal investigator of research project BYP, invited about 100 young Black people to attend the #BeyondNovemberMovement convening in 2013 to discuss ways to mobilize beyond Election Day. During that same weekend, BYP100 was born in the wake of George Zimmerman's acquittal for killing Trayvon Martin.

Bonsu got involved with BYP100 about six months later after attending a national meeting about civic leadership where she met several BYP100 members.

"BYP100 politicized me even more," said Bonsu. "I fell in love with grassroots organizing and transformative campaign work."

As national public policy chair, Bonsu explained that she takes the lead in developing and implementing the organization's policy agendas at the federal, state and local levels; supports local chapters in developing policy strategy in their campaign work, including grassroots lobbying and building a national network of strategic partnerships.

While Bonsu was working at MDRC and attending graduate school, she returned to Ghana when she was 22 and 24. During those visits, Bonsu noticed how religious and conservative the country is and how unsafe it is to be queer there, as well as the lack of consistent electricity and the effects global capitalism has on Ghana's economy.

"I think my being a Black queer woman pushes me to be vigilant about challenging the notions of what is normal and about centering the most marginalized and overshadowed in the fight for social, racial, economic and gender justice," said Bonsu.

Currently, Bonsu is studying for her Ph.D. in social work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with the goal of finishing her studies in 2019. Bonsu will be traveling to Washington, D.C., this summer for an internship at the Institute of Policy Studies. She was chosen out of more than 500 candidates who applied to work on the Criminalization of Poverty project with Karen Dolan at the institute. Bonsu will also be working on the Black Worker Initiative with Marc Bayard at the same time.

See for more information. To follow Bonsu, visit

This article shared 1404 times since Wed Jun 29, 2016
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Out and Aging
Presented By


Gay News

OPINION Social media use, mental health literacy and related problems among LGBTQ+ youth 2023-09-23
- Special to Windy City Times Depression levels in the United States have risen steadily over the past five decades, and steep increases have been observed in recent years among children, adolescents, and adults under 25 years ...

Gay News

Arrests, fights punctuate battles across Canada over gender diversity in schools 2023-09-21
- Arrests were reported in the Canadian cities of Ottawa, Halifax, Vancouver and Victoria, among others, on Sept. 20 as opposing groups clashed on how schools address issues of gender identity and how teachers refer to transgender ...

Gay News

WORLD Quebec lesbians, violence study, Rugby World Cup, Ugandan bill 2023-09-15
- The hidden history of Quebec lesbians is being explored, the CBC reported. Between 1985 and 1996, a group of lesbians leased the Plateau-Mont-Royal school and ran it as a community center. The school was also home ...

Gay News

NATIONAL Historic political win, Columbus situation, trans coach, Gold + Williams 2023-09-08
- Fabian Nelson won a Democratic primary runoff in Mississippi's 66th state House district—and he's now the state's first openly gay legislator, The Guardian noted. (Republicans are not running a candidate for the general election sched ...

Gay News

NATIONAL James Baldwin Awards, archdioceses, school items, 'RuPublicans' 2023-08-25
- On Aug. 21, the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) hosted the 3rd Annual James Baldwin Legacy Awards to honor the contributions of Black men and masculine elders within the Black LGBTQ+/same gender loving (SGL) movement and ...

Gay News

Court allows anti-trans youth healthcare ban in Alabama 2023-08-22
- On Aug. 21, a three-judge panel on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a district court judge's temporary injunction against Alabama's law banning gender-affirming care for people under 19, The Hill reported. The development ...

Gay News

Planned Parenthood of Illinois receives $525K grant for youth STI pilot program 2023-08-17
- —From a press release. CHICAGO - Planned Parenthood of Illinois (PPIL) received a $525,000 grant to pilot a new Chicago Healthy Adolescents & Teens (CHAT) STI testing initiative for adolescents 13 to 24-years-old in Chicago. The ...

Gay News

N.C. legislators override governor's veto of three anti-trans youth bills 2023-08-17
- On the evening of Aug. 16, the North Carolina legislature's Republican supermajority overrode vetoes from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper regarding several bills—including three that target transgender youth, CNN reported. The ...

Gay News

Center on Halsted leaders discuss transition and organization's future 2023-08-12
- In March—after a 15-year tenure that was productive but also controversial in spots—Modesto Tico Valle officially stepped down from his position as CEO of Center on Halsted, the largest LGBTQ+ ...

Gay News

Illinois attorney general joins push against anti-trans laws 2023-08-11
- Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has joined a multistate coalition of 20 attorneys general opposing laws in Kentucky and Tennessee that severely limit transgender youths' access to critical healthcare, per a press release. The amicus brief ...

Gay News

New HRC data: LGBTQ+ youth still lack critical support and acceptance 2023-08-10
- From a press release: WASHINGTON—The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) civil rights organization, released a report in partnership with the ...

Gay News

40% of Florida parents surveyed want to leave the state because of the Don't Say Gay law 2023-08-08
--From a press release - New research from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law and Clark University finds 40% of Florida parents surveyed said they would like to move out of Florida—20% very much so and 19% somewhat—because of ...

Gay News

Florida to now allow AP psychology to be taught after anti-LGBTQ+ flap 2023-08-04
- UPDATE: The Florida Department of Education said over the weekend of Aug. 5 that it will now allow the full curriculum for an advanced placement (AP) psychology class to be taught to high school students, The Advocate reported. ...

Gay News

EXCLUSIVE Legendary coach Dorothy Gaters on her career, being part of the LGBTQ+ community 2023-08-01
- One thing became apparent during a recent talk with iconic John Marshall Metropolitan High School girls' basketball coach Dorothy Gaters. She IS Marshall High School. Even though the talk took place in an office (alongside her ...

Gay News

Center on Halsted's Jenny Urban trains a new generation of chefs 2023-07-28
- Recently, Windy City Times chatted with Chicago chef Jenny Urban, the Director of Culinary Arts at Center on Halsted. Urban has been in the Chicago restaurant scene for more than a decade, and they've recently brought ...


Copyright © 2023 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.






About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam     
Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.