Pride Month at St. Francis House

Pride Month at St. Francis House

Around the country, and around St. Francis House, June is Pride month – a time to celebrate all members of the LGBTQ+ communities.

Why June?

The 1950’s and early 1960’s saw the emergence of what was to become the gay rights movement. Back then, if you were gay or transgender, you were likely living a very closeted life. Revealing your true identity was a risk. You could lose your housing, your job, your family, your friends, and your community. To be gay or trans meant being subject to ridicule, violence, and arrest.

Slowly and quietly, demands to be treated equally and with dignity were being made, although not exactly heard.

Then, in late June 1969, a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons decided that slowly and quietly were not working. When police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village – police raids on gay establishments were a common occurrence in cities around the country – the bar patrons decided to fight back.

The Stonewall Uprising extended over the next several days. Members of the community were galvanized. Activists focused on making sure there were places where they could be themselves without risking arrest.

In June 1970, to commemorate the anniversary of Stonewell, the first Pride parades were held in New York and a number of other cities. Over the next few years, gay rights organizations and Pride celebrations would spring up across the country, and throughout the world.

Stonewall is widely viewed as the catalyst for the gay rights movement. Tremendous strides have been made since this moment, including the widening of the definition of gay rights to include trans and other groups, and the transformative Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage in 2015.

Boston’s first Pride parade took place in June, 1971. Unfortunately due to the covid-19 pandemic, last year’s parade was canceled and this year’s event has been tentatively postponed until this fall.

Nonetheless, we see signs of pride displayed all over Boston, with many stores and other businesses proudly flying Pride’s rainbow colors.

At St. Francis House we are showing our pride, too, displaying the Pride colors on signage throughout the building, including the poster that hangs over the entrance to our dining room. This is the work of Gurleen Anand, who runs our Expressive Arts Center. Gurleen is offering guests the opportunity to work on some Pride-themed art projects.

As our Pride sign says “Everyone is welcome here.” This is the philosophy that St. Francis House lives by. Many of our staff members, guests, volunteers, and supporters are proud members of  LGBTQ+ communities. Others struggle with their gender identity. For them, as we do for all those who walk through our doors, we offer support and a safe haven where anti-LGBTQ+ behavior is not accepted.

Happy Pride Month to all!

For one MAP Grad, Father’s Day Means Everything

We do a lot of celebrating at St. Francis House. We celebrate the graduates of our Moving Ahead Program. We celebrate when our guests achieve sobriety. We celebrate when guests find housing, when they find a good job, when they reconnect with family and friends they’ve been estranged from. For us, there are few things more gratifying than helping our guests rebuild their lives.

So this Father’s Day, we’re celebrating with and for Mike Griswold and his son Jameal.

Mike first began coming to St. Francis House in the early 2000’s. He was strung out, addicted to drugs, and living on the streets. Sometimes he spent his days napping on the floor of the Atrium. At first, he wasn’t ready, but slowly he began taking advantage of St. Francis House services. In late 2005, he got clean.

Ninety days into his sobriety, his son Jameal was born.  Jameal’s mother was not able to care for him and the plan was for him to be  put into foster care. Mike was asked to come meet his new son, and to hold him, but was told that he would never see him again.

Mike fought back; he asked the courts to give him a chance. And he was awarded custody of Jameal.

Overnight, Mike – who had been raised without a father – became a single dad.

He was a quick learner, and Jameal became the heart of his life – his purpose, the reason to stay clean, to rebuild his life.

Mike again turned to St. Francis House for help, and eventually graduated from MAP,  a 14-week job- and life-skills training program for individuals who have experienced homelessness. He went one to begin his career as a counselor for men learning how to become fathers, fathers struggling for visitation rights, and  fathers struggling with addiction. He runs fathers’ groups and is a frequent speaker, giving presentations and sharing his story to social workers, DCF workers, the courts, and others.

An active MAP alumnus, Mike stays close to St. Francis House, which he calls his “blessing.” He makes frequent visits to the 5th Floor Recovery Center, where he does peer counseling. (And, yes, although he’s become adept at Zoom, he’s delighted that the pandemic is winding down so he can meet with people in person.)

Jameal is 15 years old now and has been diagnosed with autism.

Both Jameal and Mike continue to support each other. Later this year, Mike will be celebrating 16 years being clean. But on Father’s Day, he’ll be hanging out with Jameal, doing something related to water as they’re both self-described “water nuts.”

For Mike, Father’s Day can come at any time. Sometimes, after they are both settled down for the night, he’ll hear a knock on his bedroom door. It’s Jameal, coming in to give his father a hug and a good-night kiss on the cheek. Now that’s something worth celebrating.

In 2014, Mike Griswold was honored at our annual All the Way Home dinner. Here’s Mike telling his story on the video we showed at the event. It’s a great story, and one that keeps getting better and better.

Celebrating Juneteenth

In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests, and with growing awareness of events in American History like the Tulsa Race Massacre, St. Francis House has decided to add Juneteenth to its list of paid holidays. We aren’t alone. Across Boston and across the country, a growing number of organizations – private businesses, colleges and universities, state and local governments – now recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. For some, this means the day off. For others, it is a chance to take time to celebrate and learn more about Black history and Juneteenth’s historical significance. Last year, one local technology startup held a socially distanced company picnic with food catered by Black-owned restaurants. Major companies that now recognize Juneteenth as a holiday include large corporations such as Twitter and Nike. For all organizations now marking this day, it is an acknowledgement of its place in American history, and a call for people to be continually aware of the need for racial freedom and equality.

For many Americans, awareness of Juneteenth has been relatively recent. But for African Americans, the day became a holiday in 1866, just after the Civil War ended.

Also referred to as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, or Emancipation Day, this holiday celebrates the freeing of those who had been enslaved in this country. The “official” day for Juneteenth is June 19th, commemorating the day in 1865 when it was announced in Texas, by the Union Army, that slavery had ended in that state. This was a little over two months after Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse ended the Civil War, and over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Slaves were freed on an ongoing basis by Union Troops during the War, but Texas was a remote outpost with few U.S. Army troops, so release of the slaves there was a drawn out process. Pockets of slavery existed in several states until 1865 when the 13th Amendment officially abolished this terrible practice.

Abolishing slavery did not, of course, result in the automatic acceptance of Black people as full citizens, nor did it eliminate the racism our nation still struggles with.

Juneteenth is a day for reflection on these struggles. But it is also a day for celebration. First commemorated with church gatherings in Texas, over time, observance of the day made its way across the South. By the 1970’s it had become a day that focused on African American freedom and, often, the arts. Today, it is celebrated in most large American cities with festivals, picnics, concerts, readings, and family reunions.

At gatherings, Lift Every Voice and Sing is often sung. Called the Black National Anthem, the words of this beautiful song are worth reflecting on:

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
L

et us march on till victory is won

At St. Francis House, we are proud to join with fellow organizations who celebrate this day – a day when we can honor the diversity of our staff and guests, and pay special honor to the African Americans among us. In anticipation of the holiday, our expressive arts therapist Gurleen Anand has decorated the St. Francis House art studio with posters, and is also offering guests the opportunity to color in pictures with Juneteenth and African themes.

While it is a holiday, St. Francis House will, of course, be open. We will be here, helping our guests with their basic needs, as we do 365 days a year. And whether we are working or enjoying a day off, we will each be thinking of Juneteenth and the significance it holds for each of us.