Gaylon Alcaraz is a self-described radical. An activist in different capacities, she is passionate about certain topics, most of which she has what she has experienced herself. What they all have in common is social justice.
"I'm not the type of person that can sit back and watch stuff happen and not do anything about it," said Alcaraz. "I don't agree with that logic. How can you want some change or you're going to complain, but you're not going to step up and contribute your voice to it. I've always just been very vocal. All human beings have the right to live in a just society."
Alcaraz grew up in different parts of Chicago, having lived on the South and North sides. Part of her radical nature formed when she was a student at Queen of Peace High School in Burbank, Illinois. It was her late father's wishes that she went there and her mother saw it through. She said she was one of about 30 Black girls at the school.
"That contributed to who I am today and in terms of how I view racism and privilege and class and society," said Alcaraz, feeling glad her parents made her go to Queen of Peace.
Alcaraz added that, during the same period of time, seeing her mother having difficulty in finding stable, affordable housing was the other entry point of her activism.
She has taken this passion to her position as a consultant doing non-for-profit management with Project Fierce Chicago. She started as the organization's project administrator in July 2016. Project Fierce Chicago is a grassroots collective of radical social workers, youth advocates and other community members who work to create community-driven and identity-affirming housing in Chicago.
"This is about providing transitional housing for LGBTQ youth," said Alcaraz about Project Fierce Chicago. "I wanted to be a part of that. Housing is a right and everybody deserves housing. Some of the most marginalized and vulnerable people lack safe housing. So, to come to a project where there's all these radicals, these activists, these social workers, these amazing LGBTQ people thinking and envisioning something different like reimaging how housing could lookI wanted to be involved with that."
Alcaraz added she is doing everything in her power to raise money for the organization, which includes writing grants, using her networking and fundraising background.
"I'm a radical," said Alcaraz. "I'm not a traditionalist and a lot of these non-for-profit organizations are very traditional and capitalist; and that's not who I am. One of the main things that Project Fierce does is we do not take any governmental grants because of the capitalism. They brought this building out right from fundraising and I am drawn to that. That is a new way to look at the world around us. We don't need capitalism. It can be another way; we have to reimagine what that looks like. I like the fact that they're radical, they're non-conforming, they're non-traditional, and they're just doing little bit by little bit to make this major change and this shift in how we think."
Alcaraz is a founding board member of Affinity Community Services. She was also executive director of the Chicago Abortion Fund for almost 10 years. There, she worked within the reproductive justice/rights/health movement, advocating for low-income women looking to control their reproductive freedom. Being in that position, she said, was a learning experience and it gave her the opportunity to stand up for women's reproductive rights.
"Anywhere that I see a need, I try to jump into it," said Alcaraz of the work she does with various organizations.
In the last few years, Alcaraz has gotten her bachelor's and master's degrees. Currently, she is in her second year at National Louis University, earning her doctorate.
Even in the informal sense, Alcaraz explained how she practices her activism, saying, "The personal is political." The mother of two adult children ( and grandmother of one ) said it happened when her daughter wanted to join the Girl Scouts as a child. Alcaraz remembered every troop being all white, and she wanted her daughter to have positive images of herself. That was when Alcaraz decided to go through the troop leader training, start her own troop and be the positive image for her daughter.
Alcaraz's self-published book Tales of a Woojiehead is about her thoughts and experiences. One of the main stories of the book, she pointed out, is her being a survivor of domestic abuse.
Adding to her personal accomplishments, Alcaraz has gone through her own journey. Her weight loss journey began four and a half years ago and she has since lost about 150 pounds. This past October, she completed the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. This was her third marathon, having run two others in 2014. This one, however, was dear to her heart, as she was running in her hometown. She also felt pressed to give it her all.
"I know our time on this Earth is fleeting and so you should be able to live how you want to live, which has played out in my entire life around my activism," said Alcaraz.
Pushing through some health-related obstacles, she finished the race running. During the race, she got a special shout-out, over the speakers, from the announcer. She described when she heard the marathon watchers cheering for her from that announcement, she knew she couldn't stop. Getting emotional, she shared that it was difficult, but she would not allow herself to be photographed crossing the finish line walking.
During her journey, she has joined a few running groups that she calls her running family and she has become a running coach at Fleet Feet.
"I think the most important thing is to be in the moment," said Alcaraz on what advice she would give to others undergoing a journey. "Experience and be in the moment. We don't have to be on anyone's timetable. It's a journey."