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Student Steps Up for Black LGBTQ+ Youth Struggling With Housing

Do Good Institute Accelerator Fellow Starts Nonprofit Seeking Greater Employment Opportunities With Local Businesses

By Sarah Natchipolsky

Cornelius Conway holds camera

Photo courtesy of Do Good Institute

Cornelius Conway, an MBA candidate and Accelerator Fellow with the Do Good Institute, is using his Pen to Paper Foundation to provide career support and encourage businesses to hire LGBTQ+ youths of color who are experiencing housing insecurity.

Cornelius Conway was working for a Chicago homeless shelter when he noticed a glaring trend: Many residents were Black and Latinx members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Some of the common themes were that they were thrown out of their house early, or suffered from mental illness, or they just were not able to get the necessary job training that other groups might have,” said Conway, now an MBA candidate at the University of Maryland.

When Conway moved to Washington, D.C., in 2020 to enroll at UMD, his awareness of the affordable housing shortage deepened as he saw how it especially impacted Black LGBTQ+ youth facing racism and anti-gay, anti-trans discrimination from within and outside the Black community. 

“That often materializes in deadly violence,” he said. “In combination with high costs of homes and high rates of unemployment, lack of affordable health care, it's basically like a potent brew that’s holding back Black LGBTQ youth who are underhoused.”

Conway has watched many of these youths struggle to find jobs, mostly due to professional skills gaps that stem from a lack of resources. These disparities prompted him to co-found Pen to Paper Foundation, a D.C.-based nonprofit that offers career support and preparation to LGBTQ+ community members, which launched this spring as an Accelerator Fellow in UMD’s Do Good Institute.

The organization offers workshops for resumes and LinkedIn profiles, along with writing tutorials, interview training and guidance in filling out federal student loan applications. Pen to Paper also is gearing up to run clothing drives this summer aimed at helping participants build a professional wardrobe.

A member of the LGBTQ+ community himself, Conway describes Pen to Paper as a “for-us-by-us” organization. His identity offers him and his fellow leaders in the effort unique insight and empathy toward the people they serve, he said. 

“When giving a resume workshop to a group of young adults, a person told me, ‘You’re just like me, man, just a regular person doing big things. I want to do that,’” he said. “That statement was powerful, and it’s the reason we do what we do.”

As an Accelerator Fellow, Conway intends to expand Pen to Paper’s social media presence, launch a website and recruit more volunteers. Of the greatest benefits of the Do Good Institute’s program is the one-on-one mentorship and workshop offerings, he said.

“Being able to participate in those workshops really gives you a good idea of what's going on in the nonprofit sector, not only in the DMV region but across the U.S.,” he said. “It’s a good way to get your feet wet and a good launching board.”

Conway plans to ignite change by convincing business of the importance of inclusive workplaces and hiring underhoused LGBTQ+ people of color. 

“The best way to carry that out is just working with local shelters,” he said. “Reach out to local trans shelters, youth shelters, and say ‘Hey, we're willing to give some of these kids a shot.’”

For those not in a position to personally oversee hiring of LGBTQ+ people, Conway recommends they consider donating to or volunteering with LGBTQ-centered organizations. 

“You don’t always have to give money,” he said. “But you can give your time and your skill set.” 

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