The Youth Pride Center ( incorporated in 2003 ) will start another chapter in its history when it opens its new facility on 73rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue next month. Before that transition occurs, Frank Walker, the group's founder and executive director, about the organization, the new building and the controversy surrounding himself.
Windy City Times: Talk a little bit about Youth Pride Center and its mission.
Frank Walker: It's a social service agency that is predominantly volunteer-run ( with three paid staff members ) and is designed to meet and exceed the needs of [ LGBTA ] youth of color to empower them and [ allow ] them to fit into society.
Most of the activities and events are derived [ from ] the youth. It's similar to how the state government is run; we have the Senate, the House. Both houses have to pass each other's ideas and there's an executive [ governor ] , but all the programs are designed by them—the magazine [ and others ] . We also just started a fraternity, Alpha Omega Theta, for youth who want that whole fraternity experience. We have sports teams and dancing as well.
WCT: Regarding the two-house system, are these people elected?
FW: They are. They serve a one-year term. The House has 15 members and the Senate has maybe five, so it's similar to the real government [ in terms of ratio ] .
WCT: So are you the governor?
FW: Andrew Woodley is the governor right now, and he was elected. He has veto power, but a majority vote can override him.
WCT: Now let's move on to you. There has been some controversy around you. First, how are you physically? There are some questions about your condition [ including a recent heart attack ] and how long you can lead the organization.
FW: Physically, I feel great. Heart disease is in my family, though, but it's something we're all used to. I feel fine.
WCT: So you feel like you can lead this organizations for years and years.
FW: I do—especially with our youth-led structure. As long as they have the energy to do the voting and come up with the bills and motions. We just follow what they put in place.
I can see how, in a different organization, it would be stressful for us to deal with 100 kids on a weekly basis. However, most people don't know how our structure is—it's a collaboration between kids and adults to find out what [ the kids' ] needs are.
WCT: There have been other rumors that have circulated. What are some of the rumors that you have heard about yourself?
FW: The only one I always hear is from a youth that I have to put out of the organization or reprimand—and that is that I have been inappropriate with them. However, when it's time to bring it to me or to have [ the Chicago Department of Public Health ] speak to them, nobody ever wants to. Kids who have been with YPC for years never get to have their voices heard.
WCT: There have been claims [ against you ] regarding everything from financial impropriety to what you just talked about—allegedly being inappropriate with youth.
FW: We work very closely with State Rep. Constance Howard and the Let's Talk, Let's Test Foundation and they did their own investigation, along with the State's Attorney's office. They did a background check on me and I answered all questions. They found that all [ claims ] against me were unfounded, and we knew [ that the result would happen ] .
WCT: So you feel that you're in the clear regarding those charges.
FW: I totally do.
WCT: OK—let's move on to the facility. What will it be like?
FW: The opportunity came for us to move into a center on the South Side, and we asked our youth what they wanted to do. They unanimously wanted to be in their own neighborhood, and felt that their friends couldn't come downtown—so we decided to use the money that we were going to use for [ a permanent facility that would open in ] 2010 and use for a temporary facility on 73rd and Cottage Grove.
We still plan on moving to a larger [ building ] for LGBT youth—and the community on the South Side—in three to four years. We're calling the one we're moving into now the 'phase one' center.
WCT: What is the building like, physically?
FW: It was going to be 3,000 square feet but, because of financial support, we were able to double it to 6,000. It will have a multipurpose hall that can hold up to 200 people, a dance studio, a high school-type cafeteria, an education center/library [ and ] a 25-computer cyber center. There will also be community partners that will be inside the center to provide services like case management and HIV testing. We're looking to get GED programming and we're looking to get a nurse and have a clinic.
We're working on a program called Chemistry that is similar to Howard Brown [ Health Center's ] mentoring program. However, Chemistry is older LGBT people on the South Side getting more involved when the youth are in school. When the kids get there from school, the older people would still be in a mentor-type way. There would be this sense of history so the youth don't forget what allowed them to be there today. Chemistry is a good word so it's about youth and adults finding some common ground.
WCT: Have you gotten any feedback from the community around there so far—and what are you expecting?
FW: I've gotten feedback from the juvenile court system like, 'When are you moving here? Can't you move sooner?' As far as the police and government entities, we've gotten a lot of feedback from them.
Now the actual community itself—the parents have [ wondered ] when we're opening as well. Some thought that if we moved to the South Side, people would be afraid to come, but people call and say, 'Are you really moving? Are you really coming to the South Side?'
Oh, and I can't forget: The Chicago Public Schools—there are so many schools without GSAs [ gay-straight alliances ] that call and ask if their youth can come to our place. The teachers are reaching out to us, saying, 'We have kids here and there's no GSA. But if they can work out through your space, then that may benefit all of us.'
WCT: Let me play devil's advocate: A lot of South Side youths have been going up to Center on Halsted, which brought about a lot of controversy. What do you think of the argument that if you open something on the South Side, that would segregate YPC's youth by keeping them on the South Side?
FW: Well, we have been proactive in that we've sent several letters to Center on Halsted asking for some collaboration or public acknowledgment that we're not in competition with each other—that we're planning on bringing our kids there and that they're planning on bringing their kids down to us. We've yet to hear back [ from them ] , and we've reached [ out ] to program director Courtney Reid by letter and e-mail. [ Editor's note: Windy City Times e-mailed Reid for a response and received a telephone call from the Center's executive director, Modesto 'Tico' Valle. Valle said, 'We have worked with the youth from Frankie's organization and other organization, but there's no need for a written formal agreement. His youth are welcome here; we've done things with him and Broadway Youth [ Center. ] ... All of us can work with one another for the welfare of the youth. There's no competition; there's such a need [ for youth-related resources ] in Chicago. ]
WCT: Was there anything you wanted to add?
FW: What makes YPC so popular among youth is that we try to handle things culturally. A lot of our youth have problems at home, [ because ] there's this big stigma about being Black and gay, and [ the kids ] have no sense of family. We can't expect youth to be on Belmont and Halsted and be quiet if they haven't been taught at home how to be quiet if their parents don't teach them that. YPC tries to make it more of a family structure instead of a clinical one.
See www.youthpridecenter.org for more info.