Felicia Washington-Sy is the Executive Director of RECLAIM, a healing and social justice agency that provides mental health support for queer and transgender youth.
I moved to Minneapolis in 1996, right after college, to launch my future in the world. I was coming from Duluth to the big city. It was a big deal! It was also about not being too far away from home. As much as I wanted my independence I still needed to be in arms’ reach of my parents so if anything catastrophic happened they could swoop in and save me — but thankfully that never happened!
I’m the youngest of four girls, and for most of my adult life my father was the president of the Duluth Branch of the NAACP. We were raised to be socially conscious and socially aware. As soon as I could walk I was door-knocking for political candidates and leaflet dropping. When I moved here, two things were clear to me at that time: I wanted to serve my community, particularly the African American community, and I wanted to be a person of service.
We support queer and transgender youth so that they can reclaim their lives from oppression in all of its forms. Mental health support is the core of what we do, but then we also believe that particularly for queer and trans people, those problems exist and persist because of the social environments that they live in. The work of Reclaim is also about changing the environment or changing the system.
There are not enough practitioners of any color who are competent working with queer and trans folks around navigating mental health issues. We specifically train and mentor beginning practitioners who want to gain that competency. Then we also do community training. We go to school systems, businesses, community agencies, or other nonprofits to give the information that they need to be able to serve better as well.
The job of an executive director is very difficult. It’s a 24/7 job. You never quite get to put it down unless you’re really conscious about it. In my time at Reclaim, I was a senior therapist and within a year I was the Interim Executive Director and then the Director. I have to work very consciously on my own wellbeing in order to keep working because the learning curve is high. Meditation practice is really the cornerstone of my wellbeing and allows me to do this job. I also like to get out on my bike, ride down to Minnehaha Falls and sit by the water. It’s just beautiful there.
That we become a model city as it relates to the LGBT community. That we are really a safe and welcoming place for all and we’re on the map and we’re known for it. That when people are looking how to transform their cities around equality and healing justice and social justice that they turn to Minneapolis leaders, and they turn to Reclaim for the roadmap to how to get there. Minneapolis is already in a far better place than most places in this country on these issues. Continued gains on the policy level are the thing that is going to put us on the map and makes us leaders for change.
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