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How We Got Here

I had a wonderful childhood, raised by incredible parents who love us more than anything in this world. We lost one of our own. My sister, Taylor, took her last breath a short few hours after she took her first. The loss gutted us but brought us all so close together, which we remain to this day.

I was 14 when I first heard a young man, a human, tell me that he was thinking about ending his life. He was tormented terribly, didn’t have a huge friend group, didn’t feel connected to the faculty and staff of our middle school, and came from a loving home with two working parents. My world stopped when he uttered those words.


Once I was able to tell the first trusted adult I could, I realized there was more we had to do for each other. Later that year (2010), I organized my first non-profit organization, S.A.B.B. - Students Against Being Bullied Inc. In late January of 2011, my parents and I attended a school board of education meeting at my new high school to ask for official approval to start our first S.A.B.B. Chapter. It was my first experience wearing a Kohl’s pant suit. I loved it.

The program was unanimously approved. The local NJ Herald picked up the story and by the next morning CBS News, the Associated Press, and Scholastic Magazine were reaching out or running the story themselves.


https://www.cbsnews.com/newyork/news/nj-teen-launches-anti-bullying-program


You see, the topic of HIB - Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying was a hot topic at this time because of the suicide of 18-year-old Rutger’s College student, Tyler Clementi. New HIB laws were being written and enacted in New Jersey and we have a two-phase program geared to empower the bystanders and victims of bullying, all created and ready to “rock and roll.”


Garden State Equality funded the text-lines, faculty and staffed lined up to volunteer at my high school to take on the safe areas and after-school student run support meetings. Although it was a long journey, the rest was history. Presentations started coming in frequently and for six solid years my parents, aunt, and grandparents traveled all over the country at the request of both large and small organizations to speak to various audiences. I met beautiful humans, saw wonderful places, and got to spread a simple message: “We are going to make it.”

My travels brought me to hundreds of areas in the tri-state area. My Mama and I journeyed to Ohio, South Jersey, Washington D.C., and Trenton. My Dad and I ventured to Alabama, North Carolina, FBI Newark, and FBI Virginia. My Aunt and I even got to ride on one of those duck boat tourist trucks with members of NOVA - The National Organization of Victim Assistance in San Diego, California. Most importantly though, with each trip and presentation came unbelievable amounts of love.



I have heard 17 humans tell me of their plans to end their lives. One of which was a woman who had called a domestic violence hotline that I worked for. I spent nine long minutes begging her to stay, talking about a place she has always wanted to see, asking her about her kids and what board games they liked to play, telling her I loved her and wanted her so desperately to stay with me, while I fed a co-worker information on where she was to relay to law enforcement. Luckily, all 17 people are still here today, not because of me, but because of their will to “make it” to today.


I have had at least 13 people come out to me as LGBTQ+ for the first time. Through tears or debilitating fear, these humans were brave enough to speak their truth, some of them fully knowing when it was public information, they would no longer have a place to call home. In those moments, I wanted to do everything in my power to love them as exactly who they were.


It wasn’t until 2015 that I made the jump and came out myself, as a gay woman. I harbored a lot of guilt for knowing I was “different” but for also being too scared to live my truth earlier, especially after I was telling everyone around me to be who they were and to be proud of it.


You see, my heart swells and I am the happiest human (sometimes obnoxiously so) when I am loving other people (and dogs, of course). But even when there are internal struggles, or stresses, or upset, when I am loving other people, I am okay.

Love. Connection. Community.


All of these pillars are what makes Homeward what it is and that is exactly how we got here. Yes, sure, I have met some of you through friends, work, community functions, but love is why we got here today.


I truly believe the reason we are all here on this Earth is to love one another, connect with one another; we are here for and because of one another. I live and breathe each and every one of my days for my fellow humans: my family, my friends, my tribe, my community, strangers, humans. With an ever present message of, “Hold on, my friend, because we are going to make it.” I love you all. Happy Friday!


Until Next, my friends,

Ashley

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