Patrick A. Sands grew up across the street from Bronx Park and volunteered on the Bronx River in various capacities through a Bronx River Restoration (precursor to the Bronx River Alliance) affiliate called N.I.D.C. (Neighborhood Initiatives Development Corporation). This college graduate has gone on to work in the New York State legislature and has since founded his own group as you will read!
From 12 to 16 years old, Patrick learned and applied a variety of conservation skills riverside including tree planting and care, soil and water testing, riverbank clean-ups from Gun Hill Road to Pelham Parkway and Nickelodeon-sponsored tree tours for the community. Over years, he came to find spiritual value in walking by the river from Allerton Avenue to 233rd Street. Among his fondest memories was Bronx River Restoration’s annual apple picking trip. His dedication to that program payed off when he gained a full year of employment with the NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation through his 17th year. He remembers earning a relatively high wage for his age, taking home approximately $15.00 per hour in the Conservation Corps. That year kept him on the Bronx River and took him also to Orchard Beach where he assumed greater responsibility providing structured nature programming to younger children full time during summer and after-school in other seasons.
Sand’s House was founded by this thirty-one year old man who grew up in a privately built and run housing complex landmarked by the city for its extraordinarily progressive history. Patrick learned love and struggle both there at the Workers Cooperative Colony (aka The Coops), at school and –most importantly – among family. He now brings over a decade of experience in the legislative, non-profit, and criminal justice fields to serve those who seek out Sands House in downtown Brooklyn, New York.
In a recent conversation, summarized below, he told me, “I do this work because I was once one of the clients.” Patrick’s organization is a non-profit whose mission is to provide access to life affirming services and promote mental and emotional healing for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, and questioning) and SGL (same-gender-loving) persons who are returning from incarceration as well as those who are currently serving time –usually in secrecy and in hiding. He told me:
The victories my staff and I win fuel me. Just in the last week, one of our clients won political asylum. He’s from a country where gays are routinely harassed; now he can stay here.
(He paused and leaned back in his chair, rocking) I find among SGL, we have a hard time being friends. We need to be able to be to enjoy each phase of getting to know each other before romance comes. We need to build, to vibe, to support each other, just go out and enjoy a nice museum. The problem is we’re always asking for permission to be who we are because we’ve been traumatized. And what adds to the problem is that we have fewer and fewer social options that are safe, healthy, intellectually arousing, and spiritually satisfying. 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. is when most HIV infections occur. Unprotected sex in anonymous settings is replacing card games and other open forms of general socializing. This is fueling the HIV crisis. I want to host house parties and do day trips for our men.
I saw something really cool in a heterosexual context. I went to a few Meet-Ups where young adults were drawn to mingle with peers they did not yet know by a web-site. They had a cool way of getting us to approach and talk with each other. People were exchanging phone numbers and leaving in high spirits each time.
I would like to create monthly SGL networking sessions. This would be something totally new but I think the BMX (Black Men’s Exchange)annual retreats are a good model. I loved going. We spent hours and hours in really beautiful places talking – back and forth, throwing out ideas and asking questions! Where are we going as a black gay community? We didn’t bash each other. I felt uplifted! We can do that here.
This article was written by Morgan Powell who is a freelance writer in New York City.