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Brave Space Alliance is the first Black-led, trans-led LGBTQ+ center located on the South Side of Chicago, dedicated to creating and providing affirming, culturally competent resources, programming, and services. It strives to empower, embolden, and educate through mutual aid, knowledge-sharing, and the creation of community-sourced resources as it builds toward the liberation of all oppressed peoples.
Stephanie Skora, the associate executive director of Brave Space Alliance, explains the organization’s impact on the community and its partnership with Wintrust.
What is the Brave Space Alliance footprint, and what contributions does the organization make within that area?
Skora: We’re an LGBTQ+ center that focuses on serving people on the South and West sides of Chicago. We also serve individuals on the North Side, and we can serve anybody who comes in from anywhere in the county. But, our footprint and our real home base is on the South and West sides of Chicago because that's where our primary community of black and brown LGBTQ+ individuals is based.
What is most important for the public to know about your work?
Skora: We're a different kind of LGBTQ+ center. For a long time, our community has had to make do with programs and resources and organizations that were created in the 80s and 90s, and their focus is not on individuals in our community that need the most help. They don't have a history of being run by Black and trans people, or focusing on the most marginalized people in our communities. And that’s what Brave Space Alliance is. We are Black led and Black founded, and our organization focuses on individuals in the LGBTQ+ community who are in the margins.
We make sure that all of our programs, all of our resources, everything that we do, our organizing, our policy work, literally everything down to our employee handbook focuses on the needs of the most marginalized in our community. We serve everybody, but we believe that because our focus is on Black and brown trans individuals. If we can make our programs, services, resources, and everything else that we do cater to what that community needs the most, everybody will benefit.
How is the Brave Space Alliance focus unique?
Skora: We're a Black liberation organization, we’re trans liberation organization, and we're also a community center. We combine those three things into making sure that people who come to our organization seeking help or seeking community aren't just put through a program that they may have to go back into the next year. We're making sure that everything that we do empowers our community and is focused on solving a problem that our community faces.
We are truly working to put ourselves out of business. We want to make sure that people in our community are free and move closer to freedom with every single day that they're alive and every single interaction they have with us. We want to make sure that we are contributing to the liberation of all oppressed people by providing our services and by giving our people space to have their needs met and to be a part of a community.
How did the Brave Space Alliance and Wintrust partnership begin?
Skora: Everything really started when we moved our office to Hyde Park. We’d started growing by leaps and bounds, and when it came time to discuss opening a bank account, that fell to me.
I knew that based on our values, we didn't want to necessarily go with some big mega bank that would have a lot of shiny and flashy features, but would not really provide us with a personal touch. As I was doing research into our banking options, I looked across the street and saw Hyde Park Bank.
I did a little bit of looking into Hyde Park Bank and into the Wintrust system more broadly. It was a no brainer, really; being a part of Chicago's Bank®and Hyde Park’s neighborhood bank is important to us. It shows that not only are we a Chicago organization with the South Side in our DNA, but we're committed to the neighborhood that we're located in. We want to make sure that everything that we do shows that we are from Chicago and we are for Chicago. It made sense to quite literally put our money where our mouth is. Hyde Park Bank and Wintrust made a lot of sense for us, and the partnership has been fantastic so far.
Can you describe your banking relationship with Wintrust and Hyde Park Bank?
Skora: We’ve been able to have a wonderful relationship with the staff at our bank. The two branch managers, Donna and Cheyenita, have been incredibly important in our continued success and financial stability. They worked with us to get our accounts set up properly, to protect our investments, and to prepare to receive our funds from our fiscal sponsor. We recently got our own independent A 501(c)(3) status, and we're transferring over our money from our fiscal sponsor, and they’ve been instrumental in helping us prepare our accounts for that financial transition.
Working with Hyde Park Bank has given us the ability and the security to feel good about our financial infrastructure and our baseline. And, the fact that they’re located right across the street means that anytime we need anything, we can walk across the street and get it right there.
How has the partnership grown?
Skora: Our partnership started with me walking in and opening an account. And now we're talking about offering financial literacy programs through Wintrust and talking long-term investment strategies so that you can help us manage our finances and ensure our financial stability going forward.
We’re really looking forward to making sure that this partnership is a huge part of our baseline going forward. We know it's important to have a good relationship with your bank, and you all make it really, really easy to do that.
How is our relationship different than other partnerships you have?
Skora: It’s so personal! That’s one of the things that we really like the most about working with you. I can walk into the bank and people know my name; the security guard waves to me. When we go in, people know who we are, and they know what we do. They're committed to our mission and they genuinely want to see us succeed. We're not just another small nonprofit client on a list of thousands of people. We really matter to you.
Working with you, we’ve seen such a wonderful commitment to the work that we do and a genuine care in the success of our organization. We were seen immediately as part of the community and offered programmatic collaboration, sponsorship, and partnership right out of the gate. It's a wonderful and unique thing for us to know that the place where we keep our money isn't just a bank for us. You’re a supporter and a member of our community, and you're genuinely invested in the success of our organization and the well-being of our area.
It's unusual for an organization focused on Black people, trans people, and even LGBTQ+ people as a whole to get such wonderful treatment from a bank. That really means a lot to us, and it gives us confidence in our ability to work together and really make a difference.
Brave Space Alliance offers a variety of resources for the community, from mutual aid programs, support groups, employment justice programs and resources, a crisis food pantry, and more. To learn more, visit bravespacealliance.org.
And, you can connect with them on Instagram and Facebook @BraveSpaceAlliance, and on Twitter @BraveSpaceChi.