Get­ting to know Atlanta

GA Voice - - Georgianews -

Tarek (pro­nounced ta-REEK) Ellis was a new­comer when he ar­rived at Friendly High School in Fort Wash­ing­ton, Mary­land in 2014. The openly gay ju­nior no­ticed some­thing wrong right away.

“I no­ticed how the LGBT com­mu­nity was be­ing treated in the school,” he tells the Ge­or­gia Voice. “We had a transgender teacher who was mis­gen­dered a lot, we had stu­dents that peo­ple made jokes about. I heard the word ‘fag­got’ all the time.”

He wanted to do some­thing about it, but in­stead of go­ing the com­mon route and try­ing to change the at­ti­tudes and be­hav­ior of the of­fend­ers, he in­stead wanted to give the vic­tims the con­fi­dence and the com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills they needed in or­der to over­come such in­ci­dents and grow into more self-as­sured peo­ple.

So, af­ter propos­ing his idea for an LGBT stu­dent em­pow­er­ment club to the prin­ci­pal, and af­ter get­ting the all-clear once he lined up a teacher to spon­sor it (“It was per­fect. A gay black man and a white transgender woman. It was amaz­ing.”), Car­ing Colors was born. They ex­pected five or six stu­dents at the first meet­ing but 20 to 30 showed up in­stead, hun­gry to study to­gether, talk about is­sues at school and at home, work on con­fi­dence and public speak­ing and more.

He later ap­plied for and be­came the LGBT li­ai­son for Prince Ge­orge’s County so he could cre­ate Car­ing Colors chap­ters at other schools in the area, even­tu­ally re­cruit­ing 10 schools. Now Ellis wants to repli­cate the model here. So he’s plan­ning an LGBT em­pow­er­ment con­fer­ence called the Next Step LGBTQ Con­fer­ence sched­uled to oc­cur in late spring/early sum­mer 2017. And if you haven’t al­ready re­ceived a phone call or an email from the laser-fo­cused Ge­or­gia State fresh­man about it, you more than likely soon will.

Com­ing out and mov­ing for­ward

The Tarek Ellis you see now is not the same one you saw early on in his fresh­man

Septem­ber 2, 2016

year of high school. Some­thing changed though af­ter he came out as gay that year.

“When I came out, I felt like ‘Look, this is my big­gest se­cret, and you can’t tell me any­thing.’ My grades got bet­ter, I got more con­fi­dent. I found out who I re­ally was for the first time in my whole life, and that’s the best feel­ing,” he says.

He says bul­lies would never tar­get him be­cause of the con­fi­dence with which he car­ried him­self, but of course not all youths have the same ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter com­ing out. So Car­ing Colors be­came a way for him to help the vic­tims get the same con­fi­dence he had.

Ellis even­tu­ally did an in­tern­ship at the Na­tional In­sti­tutes for Health, be­came a Point Scholar, got an in­vite to at­tend the White House Sum­mit on African-Amer­i­can LGBTQ Youth in June, and nabbed a schol­ar­ship to Ge­or­gia State.

Stu­dents were wor­ried that once he left for Atlanta that Car­ing Colors would fall apart, so Ellis cre­ated an ex­ec­u­tive board of stu­dents that would help schools learn how to start gay- straight al­liances and Car­ing Colors chap­ters at their schools so the mis­sion would carry on.

“I moved and I wasn’t go­ing to let them have all the fun in Mary­land, so I was like, ‘How can I make this big­ger and bet­ter,’” Ellis says. “I knew I was mov­ing to Atlanta so I said, ‘I want to help the com­mu­nity that I’m in be­cause this is my new home.’” En­ter the Next Step LGBTQ Con­fer­ence.

Ellis has been busy mak­ing con­tacts in and learn­ing about Atlanta’s LGBT com­mu­nity, and is in the process of form­ing a plan­ning com­mit­tee, which al­ready has six mem­bers, in­clud­ing Ge­or­gia State Uni­ver­sity Pro­fes­sor Eric Wright and Point Foun­da­tion board mem­ber Louis Gary.

One com­mon sen­ti­ment he’s heard is that many young LGBT peo­ple move to Atlanta to es­cape the op­pres­sion they ex­pe­ri­enced at home, but they don’t have many plans or goals once they get here—they just want out. He says the Next Step LGBTQ Con­fer­ence will

By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS

pro­vide them with the re­sources they need, con­nect them with schol­ar­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties and col­leges look­ing for ap­pli­cants, as well as com­pa­nies that are hir­ing. He also en­vi­sions fi­nan­cial work­shops to teach peo­ple how to han­dle their money.

“Tarek is an ex­am­ple of the spirit of a Point Foun­da­tion Scholar,” Gary says. “A key qual­ity in the se­lec­tion of scholars are in­di­vid­u­als whom have ac­tively pur­sued lead­er­ship roles in LGBTQ causes in ad­di­tion to their scholatic achievements. We are ex­cited that Tarek has cho­sen to make his im­pact from Atlanta.”

Ellis met Chris­tian Zsilavetz at the White House con­fer­ence in June, and the Pride School Atlanta ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor has sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments.

“Tarek is amaz­ing and con­fi­dent and be­lieves in jus­tice for LGBT [peo­ple],” Zsilavetz says.

Find out more about Car­ing Colors and the Next Step LGBTQ Con­fer­ence at www.car­ing­col­ors.org. To con­tact Tarek Ellis, email col­lege.el­lis31@gmail.com.

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