Peer Purpose! Say Hello to Sade!
Welcome to our first installment of Peer Purpose!, a new publication feature from BOOM!Health.
Peers are an essential part of the work we do, providing an incomparable connection to the community we serve. Peer Purpose! will serve as a celebration of the contributions of our peers, and highlight not only the impact they have on our ability to deliver services, but who they are as community members. Our peers transcend harm reduction and recovery; they are citizens, family members, friends, activists, leaders, artists- more than what brought them through the doors of BOOM!Health. Each issue will introduce one of our peers and highlight their unique ways of working towards improving the health, wellness and safety of our communities.
Say Hello to Sade!
Sade, born Larry, grew up in Savannah, Georgia. When she graduated high school at 18, she moved to Atlanta, where she began performing in drag shows, using Sade as her stage name. After performing for some time, she realized that Sade was who she was meant to be, “The more and more I performed, as Sade, the more I knew I wanted to be her.” As she continued doing shows, Sade began wearing unisex clothing and taking hormones “on & off.” While her new experiences helped open Sade to who she knew she truly wanted to be, the lifestyle of performing shows and parties got a hold of her. When she was 25 she decided that she was meant to be Sade, and began taking hormones consistently. However at the same time, Sade began using drugs, “The club life catches up,” Sade explains, “You get offered stuff, you try it, you never think it’ll become a habit, but it does.” Sade began using cocaine and soon after moved on to smoking crack. Her life as a drag star, according to Sade, directly influenced her drug use, “You get caught up in that scene, you know? I knew it was bad, but I also said I knew I wouldn’t get hooked, that it wouldn’t be a habit.”
Sade was diagnosed with HIV in 1993. She had been in a committed relationship with a man in the military, when she started experiencing symptoms commonly associated with shingles and pneumonia, “He was in the military, so I thought he’d be, you know, ‘clean.’ It made me realize anyone can get it. There’s no ‘face' [of HIV].” In 2002, Sade decided to move north, to New York, where she’s been ever since, “The services they have here in New York, they didn’t have that anywhere in the south. Not even close. HASA and all of that, none of that exists down there.” While the services offered in the City were what initially attracted her to relocating, Sade explained that her continued difficulties securing housing in Atlanta without discrimination ultimately solidified her decision to move to relocate, “I told them my name was Sade, but on paper it still said Larry, and they weren’t gonna put a man in assisted housing down there.” So Sade moved up north to New York, and became a participant at CitiWide Harm Reduction, one of the two organizations that later merged to become BOOM!Health.
In 2004, Sade sustained a serious injury that threatened the loss of her feet. Against the suggestion of her doctor to have both feet amputated, Sade, with the help and support of her close friend with whom she had been living in a shelter with, underwent a long battle to overcome her injury, “I was wheelchair bound for four years straight,” explained Sade. “Now, I’m used to being independent, always have been, always will. I’m not gonna lie, being in a chair [for that long] was tough.” But Sade kept fighting, working hard to get better. “It was four years [in a chair], then I had enough. I told them to get me a walker. I stayed with the walker for a little while, then I was using a cane. Now, I’m walking around on my own. I've got screws, so I'll always have a limp, but I’m walking.” Sade’s determination went far beyond her recovery from her injury- in 2007, she stopped using crack, and has been sober ever since.
During her time at CitiWide & BOOM!, Sade returned to school and earned her bachelor’s degree. She began her post graduate education at Hunter College, but left due to the stress of school combined with her desire to pursue more personal goals, primarily focusing on her continued transitioning. “I’m devoted to a lot of things, getting my education, transitioning, being a peer,” says Sade, “But I couldn’t be devoted to everything all at once- I needed to step back. So I decided I want to be Sade first, then go back and finish up school when I know I’m ready to fully devote myself.” And Sade is just fine with that. She has embraced everything that has led her to being sober for the last decade, with her experiences acting as the foundation for her continued growth, “Being a peer, I’ve learned so much,” says Sade, “I’ve got experience working in an office, I’ve got access to trainings and workshops, I run my own groups, I help people.” Sade says the peer trainings have been very helpful to her professional development as she further pursues her post graduate degree and future employment, “Before I can do anything, I have to do everything. I have so much more left to learn, and experience. I want to give back, but I have to give back the right way. I know I can wait to go back to school, knowing that the more time I spend as a peer, the better off I’ll be when I’m ready to take that next step.”
Regardless of the situation or time in her life, Sade’s mission has always been to be who she’s wanted to be- to be “complete,” as she describes it. From embracing her true identity, overcoming major injuries, a long road of recovery, and obtaining her bachelor’s degree, to her continued work towards her ideal future, Sade is the embodiment of the drive and perseverance that BOOM!Health values above all. We are all extremely lucky to be able to learn and grow with her, and we’ll make sure she has all the tools she will need to become everything she hopes and dreams of becoming- and more.
“My mother said I’m like a cat, I’ve got 9 lives. If I can use the stories and experiences from those lives to make sure my next life and the lives of others are safe and strong, then sure, call me a cat. I’m just glad I’m still here to even be able to share. I’ve got no regrets. I am glad for the journey and learning experiences I have had; they have gotten me to where I am today.”
That's it for now! As always, we thank you for your continued support in our mission to reshape the Bronx and beyond through health, wellness and safety. If you have any questions, concerns, or comments, we encourage you to reach out to Hunter, our Peer Purpose! contact, Hunter Citrin Advocacy & Communications Coordinator, [email protected]