Amie Ward Leads With Love, But Takes No Shit
This Baltimore-based hospitality activist puts everything on the line for the greater good.
Amie Ward (she/they) describes the perfect day as “getting up, going to the gym, lifting heavy weights, coming back and playing with my cats, making a cup of espresso, and then saving the world!” It’s a tall order, but one she strives for in and out of her career. As the new Executive Director of Safe Bars, an nonprofit organization dedicated to creating safe, respectful, and welcoming spaces across hospitality (specifically alcohol-centric businesses), Amie is responsible for creating, updating, and implementing up-to-date curriculums, recruiting and prepping HQ trainers, developing relationships with like-minded partners, acquiring sufficient funding, and everything else that comes up in a day. Her work through The Healthtender put her in the perfect position to mesh her love of hospitality with our collective need for mental and physical health, and it’s her time to shine. “I know this is my calling,” they say. “Now, this is my world.”
Amie is a total Leo. “I love being the center of attention when I get to dictate it, and I love entertaining,” they say. Even early on, Amie knew their confidence and ambition would lead her to great things. “In my soul, from the time I was a child, I just knew I wanted to be a helper,” she explains. “My parents got told at report card time ‘Amie is a great student and we love having her. Can you remind her she’s not the teacher?’ That was probably my destiny being written out there,” she recalls with a laugh.
For years, that desire to help, mixed with a passion for sports, led Amie down a path towards becoming either a physical therapist or doctor. They eventually earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Arts degree in Kinesiology and Exercise Science, both from the University of Maryland, her home state. But since her teenage years, Amie has been a fixture in hospitality, working in both the back and front of house in a myriad of roles, and despite her passion for it, they explain it wasn’t always a healthy or safe environment.
“I was very much part of that era that taught that was just the way things work,” explains Amie, pointing to harassment, violence, sexism, and other pervasive toxic behaviors found throughout the service industry. “I never developed the vocabulary to intervene or stand up for myself or anything like that.” What she did develop was personal defense mechanisms that allowed her to become what they call “an unfuckable-with person.” But, they explain, “that doesn’t do anything for the larger community.”
In 2018, Amie began training with Safe Bars to bring prevention and de-escalation techniques behind the bar. “Statistics show us that 50 percent of sexual assaults involve alcohol,” she says. “We [employees behind the bar] are in a very unique position because we are everywhere all at the same time. We hear everything, we see everything, we're touching tables… we are in a perfect position to become those bystanders that really help change that landscape.”
With this eye-opening knowledge and experience, Amie realized many other people weren’t able to manage health, stress, or sharing the responsibility of community safety in the same ways she had been able to hone over the years. “I saw my peers not taking care of themselves [and] really developing poor habits that were not going to suit them for the long haul,” she says. “That's how I came up with the idea for The Healthtender: melding those two worlds together of wellness and hospitality.”
In 2019, Amie stopped running bar programs to focus on The Healthtender, along with their work for Safe Bars, whose mission they describe as “to empower alcohol-serving establishments to recognize problematic behaviors in their spaces and feel comfortable standing up to talk about that.”
By dismantling notions like the customer is always right or putting profits before people, Amie believes that teaching those who can stand up against dangerous or offensive behavior to feel empowered to do so can make hospitality — and thus, the world — a better place.
“We're providing the tools for people to be empowered, successful, and really facilitate changing the landscape of hospitality to make it more safe and doesn't allow these kinds of behaviors to continue,” they say. “That's pretty much the end all, be all.”
Conversations about pay transparency, workplace safety, codes of conduct, equity in hiring, and other pushes for change in the bar and restaurant industry are beginning to take place, which to Amie is a great thing, even if notably overdue. “There’s a big revolution happening in the industry right now,” she explains. But it’s going to take a lot more humanity and a lot more action from the people in positions of power to keep any momentum going.
“Literally just listen to your people, your workers,” Amie implores. “They’ve been screaming for what they need forever. They’ve just not been listened to.”
She points out that there are myriad situations where people might not feel safe or comfortable to express their needs or even leave a potentially dangerous situation. But the more people who do set boundaries and expectations for a humane and equitable existence, the better off the entire industry will be. Today, the number of people dedicated to dismantling the status quo in order to build a better future is growing, thanks in part to Amie’s efforts.
“It brings sheer joy to know that we’re all in this movement together,” she says. “Let’s fucking do this.”
Follow Amie’s work on Instagram at @thehealthtender and @safebarshq. Want to know more about Safe Bars’ training programs or ready to launch your own? Email email@example.com for more information.
Liz Bauer of Hopsbauer (the original Prohibitchin’ sponsor) was recently attacked by an off-leash dog and suffered a severe concussion and other serious injuries. If you can, please consider donating to her GoFundMe to help with medical bills and to help a small business owner get back on her feet!
Additional sponsorship thanks to Reverend Nat's Hard Cider in Portland, Oregon. Rev Nat's is known for making the most unusual ciders that no one else will make, such as the limited release No Justice No Peach, now available for direct shipping to 42 states. Learn more at revnats.com, and thanks for their generous support!
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Do you know of a woman or non-binary person working in beverage alcohol who hasn’t seen the spotlight—and should? Nominate them for a future feature!