Meet Jazz: Counseling psychology (M.A.'14)


"The professors were right there with us during our practicums at the counseling center and looked out for us."

  • What is your title and role?

    I am the executive director of the Grand Rapids Pride Center.

  • How did you get to your current position?

    So my journey to this position is a wild one. I am a therapist by trade. My degree is in counseling psych and that's what my background is. However, I've always been involved in activism, particularly for the 2SLGBTQ+ and racial community. And so this journey somehow melded together and got me this position, which is great.

    I was  on the board of the Pride Center when this position became available and I really wanted to step into this journey of helping the Pride Center be the best organization that I thought it could be. Making sure that we are serving all people in the community and not just like specializing in certain types of people because I think that defeats the purpose of being a community center and being the organization that is for diversity. 

  • What is the Grand Rapids Pride Center?

    The Grand Rapids Pride Center is a local 2SLGBTQ community center. We are like the hub of the community. We provide resources, services and crisis management services. And our mission is to create positive change for the 2SLGBTQ+ community. We do that through breaking down barriers, providing inclusive services, creating awareness and building bridges. 

  • What does 2SLGBTQ+ stand for?

     2SLGBTQ+ is just a more robust acronym. The 2-S stands for two spirit, which is a nod to the Native and Indigenous communities. The reason why we put that first is to acknowledge that Native folks have been here and have always been here. Then the LGBTQ+ is what most people know, so lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and everyone else is under the +. 

  • What is the history of the center?

    We started because there was no space for LGBTQ folks back in the eighties and by creating a youth group for LGBTQ so they could meet and get to know each other. Because the only prominent space you could meet other LGBTQ folks was the bar. And so the founders wanted to create a safe space for youth to be able to meet and get to know other youth. Then that turned into a bigger thing and we've continued to be a pillar in the community since then. 

    In 2014, we did some strategic planning to really take a look at what we're doing the best and what we could be doing and changed some of our goals and our name to the Grand Rapids Pride Center to be more inclusive. 

    Then in 2020, we really took a look at our racial justice and relation to the community and really took a hard stance that we were going to make sure that everybody in our community was supported, no matter what. So not just the majority. And so here we are today. 

  • What does a day at work look like for you?

    A day at work is never the same for me. I have so many things that we can do and will do that I never know what my day looks like, especially when you're dealing with a resource center. We could have a crisis walk in at any moment. So you just never know. And I think that's what I love about this job is that it's not the same every day. I definitely would get bored.

    And I do manage operations of the building, staff, grant writing, budgeting, and communicating with donors. I also do event planning because we put on a lot of huge events.

  • What support does the center provide and how do people access it?

    We offer a lot of different services that folks can access. We provide basic needs, a gender affirming clothing closet, food pantry, free internet and we have a queer library where folks can rent books at any time. 

    We also have a lot of connections to the community because that is a big thing. A question we get all the time is "Hey, I'm part of the just 2SLGBTQ+ community and I need a doctor that is inclusive and is able to treat me and who I am". So we have a list of those resources where folks have told us these providers are inclusive. And that list has grown to basically include anything you can think of. And if we don't have it, then we definitely can help do some of the research to see if that exists.

    We also offer a therapy assistance program. We know that mental health is a huge need in our community and a huge issue. So our program helps not only to connect folks to 2SLGBTQ affirming mental health therapists, but then also we try to help start them on their journey by offering financial assistance. 


  • What is the Grand Rapids Pride Festival and its importance to the community?

    The Grand Rapids Pride Festival is one of the largest events that is held in West Michigan. It is a day that it started off as a riot and it still is a riot, but just looks a little different than maybe you would think a riot looks. But it's a day that we take to celebrate the community, celebrate the gains that we've made, celebrate being who we are and being genuine to ourselves.

    We also have entertainment and a street fair where folks can actually meet and get to know other people in the community that may be queer themselves or queer friendly. And this year was actually the largest that it's ever been. We reached about 35,000 people. 

  • How does your background in counseling and your passion for mental health aid you in your role?

    It has really helped me be able to talk to people. Being a community center for a vulnerable population, we get folks in crisis all the time. So, to be able to impart my knowledge and what I learned, especially on my staff, who maybe are not used to dealing with crisis as much, has been really helpful. We can be seen as a stable resource and a stable place for the community to be able to come, feel safe and be heard. And I think all of that comes from my background in learning about the field of counseling  psychology and mental health and having that experience. 

  • What was it like being at the WMU Grand Rapids Counseling Center during your program?

    We got to see some of the things we were doing firsthand. Having rooms with cameras and the classrooms in the center where we could have a conversation with the professors gave us a sense of safety to know that even if I mess up, there is someone right there and they have my back and not going to let me mess up. I think a fear that new counselors have, particularly going through practicum, is that we're just going to mess up somebody's life so bad. And the teacher was right there and telling us that we're not going to mess up their life.

  • How can people support the Grand Rapids Pride Center?

    I would say the biggest support is sharing our information, sharing our resources, coming to our events and talking about us. We also do education and training, so if you know of an organization that needs help in their journey of making sure they're being inclusive, share our information. And donations are always needed, particularly because we are nonprofit and we do deal with a lot of folks that are not financially stable.

  • What does it feel like to be named one of Southwest Michigan's 200 most influential leaders,?

    Being recognized is a honor. It just means that what I'm doing in our community matters and that there are people that acknowledge that and see that. And that makes me want to push further and keep going. It also makes me want to live up to that being influential.

Counseling psychology at WMU

WMU's M.A. in Counseling Psychology provides, beyond the departmental required core course work, a focus on psychopathology, psychological assessment, counseling and psychotherapy theories and practices and practicum experiences. The program emphasizes and prepares students to offer services in a variety of mental health settings and is designed for students seeking limited licensure as a psychologist in the State of Michigan.

Grand Rapids Pride Center

The Grand Rapids Pride Center works to create positive change for the 2-SLGBTQ+ community by breaking down barriers, creating awareness, providing inclusive services, and bridging relationships.

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