The Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice-(BRCSJ) in Princeton provides a safe space for a segment of society that has long struggled for safety and universal acceptance. By expanding the virtues of its namesake–the late and great civil rights and gay activist Bayard Rustin–BRCSJ is a powerful and loud voice in the fight for gay rights.
After playing vital roles in events that include organizing the March on Washington and being MLK’s right-hand man, Bayard Rustin became one of the most critical figures in not only Civil rights history but in LGBTQ+ history. Rustin was a living example of what it was to be brave. He showed that bravery by spending his whole life standing up to fight for the rights of others even when he repeatedly faced challenges with other Civil Rights leaders due to his sexual orientation. The Center takes up that legacy and carries on the fight.
Robt Seda-Schreiber is the director at BRCSJ. A former middle school teacher, Seda-Schreiber is focused on the mission of the Center, which reopened in March, after a two-year hiatus–of sorts due to COVID-19 and difficulty in securing a new location. In a recent interview with NJ Urban News, Seda-Schreiber said BRCSJ faced challenges a few years ago when it had to increase its online presence and create a national platform. “We started BRCSJ as a virtual space for our local community, and it grew,” he said. “We want to continue to build our national platform and be a place for the LGBTQ community.” Seda-Schreiber shared an example of how the organization took the lead and stood up for the rights of a high school student who was being bullied and harassed by others after she was seen kissing another girl.
Seda-Schrieber sprang into action and contacted administrators at the school. Eventually, he and the girl’s mother found a lawyer that worked the case pro bono. After a nearly two-year court battle, justice prevailed, and the rules regarding sexuality and LGBTQ student sexual preference were changed, and the school also agreed to pay for the victims’ daughter’s first year of college. “We protect our kids by showing them love,” he said. The Center makes a great effort to preserve the culture by hosting a wealth of LGBTQ+ history with a library filled with books, mementos from past visitors, special guests, and Bayard Rustin’s walking stick.
The organization carries on the legacy of Rustin by training other volunteers to carry on the virtues and lessons learned from the fight for Social Justice. A true gem of the LGBTQ+ community is Frank Mahood. He is a lifelong gay rights activist and was one of the first people to organize gay rights groups in New Jersey. Mahood has been married to his husband Chet Kabara since 2013. He acknowledges that although he is proud of the changes his generation has made for the contemporary LGBTQ community, there are still challenges. “Acceptance is great but I hope that we can hold on to our culture as much as we can,” he says. “The Bayard Rustin Center is doing that for our community in Princeton, throughout the state and the county.”
Lastly, one of the most successful events at BRCSJ is the Power Hour, where viewers tune in every night at 7PM EST. ” It’s a virtual gathering that has aired every weeknight since the pandemic started, never missing a night. The event has invited celebrity hosts such as Patton Oswald, Billy Porter, Billy Eichner, and others. Other recurring events include a daily safe space with rotating hosts during the week, a queer community gathering every Tuesday at 5 PM, and a Pride Breakfast every Friday from 8 AM to 10 AM, complete with bagels and coffee from Starbucks to anyone who stops by. The Bayard Rustin Center is located at 12 Stockton St., in Princeton, NJ. Upcoming events and previous events are highlighted on the website.(NJ Urban News Managing Editor Glenn Townes contributed to this article)