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Topics Student Life
Date June 30, 2021
Media Contact

Justin Li: Keeping Pride alive in Providence during a challenging year

Brown-RISD dual degree student Justin Li led efforts to revive Pride Month activities in Rhode Island this year after challenges related to COVID-19 threatened to cancel the longstanding tradition.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — When Justin Li learned that Providence’s annual Pride Month festivities were being cancelled this year due in part to challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, he wasn’t surprised.

“After over a year of going through the pandemic, it was definitely not a shocker that this was being cancelled, too,” said Li, a rising sophomore in the Brown-RISD dual degree program.

But Li wasn’t quite ready to give up on the possibility of upholding this longstanding tradition in a year when rekindling community connections seemed more important than ever.

“Pride Month is an incredibly important time for the LGBTQ community to find space for one another, congregate and celebrate,” he said. “But it’s particularly significant when we know that LGBTQ people — especially those who are Black, Indigenous and people of color — have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, because they are more likely to experience issues such as homelessness, incarceration and unemployment.”

So Li resolved to revive the month-long series, planning events that were open to the greater Rhode Island community throughout the month of June — including virtual workshops led by Brown and RISD student volunteers, virtual performances by local LGBTQ artists, and the culminating Pride parade, which was held in downtown Providence on Saturday, June 26.

He brought together roughly a dozen Brown student volunteers to organize the month’s events, co-lead virtual community workshops, conduct outreach in the Providence community, and develop health and safety protocols that adhered to Rhode Island’s current pandemic public health guidance.

“We have really been working towards making sure that everything is safe and that the greater community is engaged — from local businesses to performers to organizations,” he said.

Li also sought advice from mentors at the Brown Center for Students of Color and RISD’s Office of International Student Engagement, as well as from board members of Rhode Island Pride, the local nonprofit that typically runs the event.

Everyone that I’ve encountered has been super supportive, caring and understanding when discussing the importance of Pride — and especially important this year,” he said.

Li has brought careful attention to detail to his work adapting Pride Month traditions to meet the demands of a uniquely challenging year, said Sage Morgan-Hubbard, assistant director of the BCSC, who mentored Li while he planned these community events.

"I am so impressed with the passion and leadership Justin has brought to this project,” she said. “Here at the BCSC, we love to see such motivated students making a difference in our communities on campus and beyond."

Li’s Pride Month leadership was not his first foray into community-based LGBTQ advocacy. When he was 15, Li — who hails from Vancouver, Canada —??founded the Love to All Project, a global organization that provides accessible resources, education and mentorship opportunities to LGBTQ adolescents across the world. Li said that since its founding three years ago, the Love to All Project has grown to become the world’s largest youth-led nonprofit organization, with LGBTQ students and allies running chapters in community-based organizations across the United States and in 20 countries, from Ireland to India to Hong Kong.

“It has been really rewarding finding ways to amplify the voices — and meet the needs — of LGBTQ youths around the world,” Li said.

“Pride Month is an incredibly important time for the LGBTQ community to find space for one another, congregate and celebrate. But it’s particularly significant when we know that LGBTQ people — especially those who are Black, Indigenous and people of color — have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, because they are more likely to experience issues such as homelessness, incarceration and unemployment.”

Justin Li Brown-RISD Dual Degree Student, Class of 2025
 
Justin Li

Li said that his dual-degree coursework at Brown and RISD has provided him with insights that will help him grow the Love for All Project even further. At Brown, the Open Curriculum has given him the opportunity to explore his wide-ranging academic interests — from entrepreneurship to astronomy — while taking courses that directly explore the dynamics of running nonprofit organizations, including Management of Nonprofit and Industrial Organizations, led by Professor Emeritus of Engineering Barrett Hazeltine.

“I was so excited to learn that class existed,” said Li, who is concentrating in social analysis and research. “I learned a lot about organizational structures and how to ensure that my team members are motivated and passionate about what they are doing.”

And at RISD, where he is studying industrial design, Li is exploring ways that visual design can be used to amplify his community advocacy work. “Working with and developing design tools to address the needs of different communities — especially those who may be marginalized, underserved or difficult to reach — has been really interesting.”

Whether illuminating new ways to engage peer volunteers or diverse communities, these courses will help Li continuing doing what matters most to him: creating connections — and cultivating collaborations — across communities.

“I just love meeting and working with people of different backgrounds and bringing them together,” he said. “It’s my greatest passion.”

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