By Angela N. Parker
SOUTH LOS ANGELES – Located in the Watts Civic Center, the Arming Minorities Against Addiction & Disease (AMAAD) Institute is a peer-led, grassroots community support center that offers resources and referrals to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people of color.
Dedicated to providing culturally competent services to a population that has historically been marginalized, the organization empowers its clients to find healing and hope by connecting them with role models, and creating and maintaining a healthy and affirming community for LGBTQ people of color.
“From the very beginning we wanted to foster ‘buy-in’ from local LGBT people of color who were to gather motivation and strength from their participation in an inclusive peer-driven community intended to support their well-being,” said Gerald Garth, manager of policy training and operations. “AMAAD facilitates personalized individual access to programs and services that foster safe and supportive healthy environments for people to live, learn, and develop to their fullest potential.”
In order to facilitate this, AMAAD takes a holistic support to providing services, connecting individuals with not only housing opportunities, but with leadership and development training, legal services, employment services, health and wellness workshops, mental health services and life skills. The organization also runs a drop-in center, and its policy team leads advocacy and trainings across Los Angeles County.
Understanding the unique needs that LGBT men of color face, the organization created “Fierce, Fabulous and Free (F3)” to provide them with affirming spaces, events, and programs that help them develop their personal goals and “Your Story, Your Words,” which meets the last Wednesday of every month, and focuses on content creation and editorial writing for young black gay and bisexual men. The program highlights personal experiences while honing compelling writing and storytelling abilities all while building brotherhood and community.
For those who work at the center, it’s not just a job, but a calling to make a difference in the community they love.
“What AMAAD is seeking to do is near and dear to the organizers, because this is where we spend our daily lives,” said Carl Highshaw, founder and CEO. “This is where we do our sleeping, our shopping and our socializing. We are not going into South Los Angeles, we are already here.
“We use the phrase South L.A. on purpose (because) we recognize the uniqueness of the experiences of the communities of South Los Angeles and we are committed to highlighting the value and beauty in our very own neighborhood.”
The organization is proud of the growth it experienced in the last three years as its team has grown from two to 12.
“Leadership is committed to making sure our community has the resources it needs to really inform and impact change,” said Garth. “We also celebrate that we have a peer-led team. The diversity of experience of our community is represented in our staff, which is very important.”
As the organization continues to grow, AMAAD hopes to expand its services into a larger space that can accommodate more clients and services to a community that has embraced their work.
“The community has received AMAAD very well,” Garth said. “While our programs are designed for priority populations, they are not always exclusive to those groups. Plainly said, we’ve recognized that a major part of community health has been in actually building the community. We use our events, programs, and opportunities to highlight, not only our community’s value, but our commonality, and the way we support, build and strength each other.”
As for the future, those involved with the organization hope that they can expand their services to a wider audience.
“We want to see AMAAD on a state level and eventually a national level,” Garth said. “AMAAD is confident in our models and leadership. We are optimistic that AMAAD’s unique approach will translate and adapt into other cities and jurisdictions.”
Name: Gerald Garth
Title: Manager of Policy Training and Operations
Organization: The AMAAD Institute (Arming Minorities Against Addiction & Disease)
Social Media: www.amaad.org
This article originally appeared in the Wave Newspapers.