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Year in Review: Top 5 Posts from Last Year

Today, on the 6th day of September, I am celebrating my 30th birthday! *include claps and applause here, please*

This past year has, per usual, been filled with growth, uncomfortable and welcomed. I learned, for instance, to harness the power of vulnerability, that people relate to the journey more deeply than they do the lessons learned, that practicing self-care literally makes you a stronger leader, and that this strength is much needed because —  in the words of one of my artist friends — “haters love to comment.” For real, I had to learn that lesson this year and not take things personally.

But what I’m most happy about on my 30th birthday is that I’ve learned to love myself, deeply, through both praise and perdition. After 30 years, I realize that self-love is the most important kind of love everyone needs, and I am no different. 

My writing and creativity are deeply connected to my spirituality. Hence, as I prepare for my upcoming year — yes, my new year begins on my birthday — it is part of my process to look back and reflect on the past 12 months via all my writing and every single bit of media I have created. (Sidenote: I’ve written something nearly every single day since last September, so I’ve been reading and reflecting for the past several days!) 

I can’t describe how powerful and affirming the experience of looking through pages and pages of words has been; from stream of consciousness prose to pensive morning reflections, from photo-poetry to snippets and chapters from upcoming book projects, I really am blown away by how far I’ve walked, mentally and spiritually. This blog alone is a testament to how much stronger and more confident my ‘voice’ has become and I feel so lucky to have gotten the support and engagement of my readership that I have.

So, for my birthday today, I ask that you indulge me, and share at least one post that truly resonate(d) with you from the list below.

If you are relatively new to my blog, welcome! I encourage you to pick one or two (or go for it — read all five) posts to get to know me a little better. I plan to update this blog a lot more frequently this Fall now that my summer staycation is over, so there’ll be more to come.

If you have been following this blog and/or my work for a while, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support, for affirming my need to speak, and for listening and engaging me on some very important, and often times, divisive issues, especially when we don’t agree. I hope these Top 5 Posts from Last Virgo Year serve as a reminder of the power of using online media to raise our own voices in order to change the world, one conversation at a time.

So here’s my Year in Review, My Top 5 Posts from Last Year: 

+ Preventing LGBT Youth Suicides: A Case for Diversity — As new students (as well as returning) begin their fall seasons, it is worth reminding school officials, policy makers, and activists everywhere, that it’s going to take more than single-issue politics to create safer spaces for young people of color. This piece, published in Color Magazine, contains a personal account of my experience with bullying and depression as a young immigrant LGBT student.


+ In Memory of David Kato: We Will NOT Abandon Hope for Fear — When David Kato, a prominent African LGBT activist was murdered in his home earlier this year, my world stopped spinning. The only way I could push through the sadness I felt was by writing. The popularity of this post and the support I received for it was a reminder that even one person, one blog, one moment, can have a profound impact on people’s lives.


+ The Birth of Kitchen Table Converations Podcast: LGBT Africans Speak on Culture, Queerness, and Media — The post contains a link to my very first podcast in the Kitchen Table Conversation series, and includes the voices of four really inspiring LGBT Africans. The podcast itself has been downloaded ~250 times by people in the US, Europe, and Africa, many of who have reported that it’s sparked dialogue and action in their own local communities. I am so very proud of how it turned out, and will forever be grateful to the panelists (who I know call friends) for that life-changing conversation.

+ We Will Not be Unwritten: Preserving Queer Women of Color History — As someone who writes about media and the importance of documenting our own histories often, I couldn’t have asked for a better teaching moment. Bay Windows, New England’s Largest LGBT Newspaper, posted a factually incorrect article that erased the contributions of local black lesbian activists (myself included) re: an annual women’s health fair. Needless to say, I wasn’t having it.


+ A Creative Piece about Gender Roles That Caused So Much Controversy: Hunting Boi — I rarely post creative pieces on this blog. So when I was asked to contribute something to Bklyn Boihood’s site, a collective which calls for conscious masculinity through socials, dialogue, blogging, and other projects, I was thrilled, and jumped at the opportunity. What ensued was the most controversial comment thread my work has ever incited. To borrow from Erykah Badu, I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my shit, but the positive and negative feedback reminded me that art has the power to spark really important conversations across divisive lines (i.e. race, class, gender presentation etc), which the typical blog or “critical” essay would alienate. For the richness of conversations that followed, I am so grateful for the experience of sharing this piece and look forward to sharing more creative pieces with you all this upcoming year.

Again, to you all, thank you for your continued support of my work and my writing! There are tons of blogs on the internet, so I am grateful for every single time you take a few minutes to read one of mine. I am so looking forward to sharing and learning with you all as I embark on this next chapter of my life. Please stop by often, and remember to leave me a comment so I know you’re reading!

Happy Birthday to Me!

Queer Women of Color Still Face Racism During Pride, Among Other Things

In response to mainstream prides everywhere, including both the racism and sexism that pervades the larger gay community, Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston) hosts OPTIONZ — in its fifth year — tonight, a highly anticipated annual pride party specifically created to provide a space for lesbian, gay,bisexual, transgender and queer women of color and their friends, supporters, and allies during pride. But as excited as I am about QWOC+ Boston’s work in ensuring that we — women of color — are celebrated and visible during pride, that this is not the main subject of my post. If you follow QWOC+ Boston, you may have noticed on Facebook or any of our other social media channels, that our OPTIONZ party needed to be relocated to a new venue.

The reason for the venue change is that, last-minute, the previous venue, Caprice Lounge, presented me with some new terms: “No Hip Hop music, because of issues we’ve had in the past.”

Now, QWOC+ Boston has had a long-standing relationship with Caprice; we’ve been hosting events at their venue for the past three years. The reason, they gave, for the new policy was due to some recent violence that ensued after a Hip Hop show they hosted. Besides the fact that we’ve never had a single fight break out at a QWOC+ Boston event, it seemed ludicrous that the management had decided to villainize an entire genre of music based on a one-off incident. Something else that really pissed me off is that after informing us that we could not play Hip Hop at our party, we were offered a slew of other genres we could play as substitute including… (wait for it)… Rock music. So while we’re on stereotypes, it’s okay to play angry white man music, but not angry black man music? Wow.

Racist stereotypes aside, I was also only told that we could not play Hip Hop music on Tuesday (just two days before our event), which also seemed shady and manipulative. There had been no mention of this during our earlier communications. So, despite the fact that they’d been pushing for a large venue deposit to be made and incessantly trying to get me to sign a contract that would guarantee them two thousand dollars from the bar (of which I’d be liable if it was not met), I’m just floored that they had the audacity to limit whatever kind of music we played at our party.

So, guess what I said? HELLLL NO!

Okay. Not exactly in those words. I needed to be realistic. Despite the outrage expressed by community members after I’d relayed the incident — including the collective push for us to say goodbye to Caprice, I wasn’t sure it would be possible to find another venue, not during one of the busiest seasons of the year — weddings, graduations, prides etc — with just TWO days to go before the event.

So, rather than be seduced by the opportunity to give Caprice a self-righteous middle finger — and run the risk of having to cancel our pride party altogether —  I told the event coordinator at Caprice to send me the contract with all terms laid out; I would look it over and get back to her. In the meantime, I reached out to other venues comparable in size, and after just one day of mass emails and phone calls, I got lucky.

Market Lounge was big enough to accommodate us. Moreover, they weren’t going to charge us an arm and a leg to use the space (since they had no competing events during our event time). In fact, they seemed excited about getting the business of over 150 pride-ful peeps on a Thursday night. We had struck gold! Or so everyone thought…so  the applause began.

Great decision. Excellent. Yay for saying no to racism! But what I didn’t tell people, was that the new venue had a similar (albeit less overtly racist) dress code policy; a variation of the all too familiar Boston ‘dress code’ which goes something similar to “No hats, no sneakers, no do-rags, no athletic wear… women in dresses/skirts, men in collars etc” was prominently displayed on the wall by the entrance to their establishment. Here’s the picture on the right.

Making a decision based on who was less racist seemed impractical, so we went with this new venue because they were responsive, accommodating of our group last minute, the management agreed to not enforce their dress code policy during our event, and most importantly, they weren’t going to charge us an arm and a leg to bring them business (vs. Caprice that was essentially trying to make us pay them to go against our ideals).

Here’s the thing folks… I’ve been an event organizer for over five years, and I know first hand that most — if not all — downtown club venues have similar racist policies intended to keep “those people” out of their clubs. It doesn’t take a genius to note that these policies are overtly racist. In fact, as you read through the banned items of clothing, you’re almost expecting to come across, “No Black People,” towards the end of the list.

Venue policies are a stark reminder of Boston’s deeply rooted history with racial segregation, but racism isn’t the only issue queer women of color have to deal with.

If I turned my nose up at every venue that had a racist policy, homophobic and/or sexist staff etc, QWOC+ Boston would never have succeeded in pushing the physical boundaries of our community and creating new safe spaces for LGBTQ people of color in the manner in which we have. I daresay our willingness to push through the discomfort of so many tough, frustrating, awkward interactions has created more “ally venues” today for LGBT people of color — and the larger gay community as well as evidenced by a number of organizations / producers hosting events at venues after we’d done so successfully — than if we immediately walked away whenever we faced policies we didn’t agree with.

But this is not to say that we should ignore blatant signs of discrimination. There are venues that I’ll never send a dime of business (and LGBT organizations that I simply refuse to work with) until they’re willing to meet us halfway on the issue of white privilege/racism, male privilege/sexism etc. However, if we are to charter new territory, we must be patient, and more importantly, we must learn to speak the language of the gate keepers. In this case, that means knowing how to use money to send a message.

You should know that once I told Caprice that I was moving the party to a new venue, they came back with an O.K. to play whatever we wanted. This made for a great opportunity to explain that we would NOT be working with them this time around. And whereas, the loss of business may not result in the dissolution of their policy, the owner will remember that he lost a big event — a pride event, big dollars consumed at the bar, ouch — because he dared to broach the subject to the queer women of color who had been repeatedly giving him business for the past three years. (Incidentally, we first worked with Caprice during the second year of OPTIONZ, because we were in a similar situation; the venue we’d been in talks with slapped us with a racist dress code last minute, and wouldn’t budge on enforcing it. Caprice opened their doors to us then, and we’ve been working with them since. Isn’t it ironic, that the venue that has been the most flexible and easy to work with as far as hosting QWOC+ events, is the one being villainized for being racist today?)

I keep going back to the strong push I felt from our community to say F-U to Caprice and stand against racism, and can’t help but wonder if another ism or form of discrimination would have been met with the same level of engagement (and anger). What if I told you that via my work as an event organizer, I’d run into minority-owned/run venues with similar racist music / dress code policies? Can we remind ourselves that in women’s spaces /feminist circles, there is still so much language riddled with homophobia and transphobia? Shoot, I still pray for the day when sexism will be met with as much anger and outrage as racism from Boston’s LGBT community, when the political war being waged against women (via Planned Parenthood funding cuts, the GOP redefining rape etc.) will be treated as seriously by QPOC as they do AIDS/HIV prevention.

It’s easy to call out isms when the perpetrator is perceived to be a straight white man — the icon of patriarchy, which most of us can relate to wanting to take down. But the reality of being a queer woman of color is that you’re burdened with calling out offenses and violations against multiple facets of your identity, and forced to reckon with the harsh truth that your allies in one arena can be your oppressors in another.

Activism, for so many of queer women of color, is a constant negotiation of which ism to address. We don’t have the luxury of snubbing everyone that offends us, or we would have no where to go. We can’t — and shouldn’t have to — fight everyone. As a direct consequence, for queer women of color, standing up for what is ‘right’ in the face of racism, sexism, transphobia, xenophobia — all issues that significantly impact our community — can sometimes mean drastically limiting access to resources that we need as a community. So, whereas we should never compromise our ethics (as in this case — for the sake of a good party), QWOC+ Boston’s work isn’t just about one event, not just about today. I don’t think that I speak out of turn when I say that we all work our asses off so that tomorrow can be better, for everyone.

So, as we march, rally, dance, and speak out during pride, let us not forget those of us who are marginalized within the gay community, those of us who don’t have the luxury of approaching “Equality. No More. No Less,”, per the 2011 Boston Pride theme, as an isolated single issue. Most of the time, I hear louder, more aggressive forms of activism (against one kind of ism) encouraged and celebrated. But today, I feel humble as I reflect on the patience and perseverance that must have been maintained by my mentors and predecessors against so many injustices, that have enabled me to come this far. I celebrate you. I salute you. And I wish you all a happy pride.

We Will Not Be Unwritten: Preserving Queer Women of Color History

A few weeks ago, the Fenway Women’s Health Team posted a blog on Bay Windows about their upcoming 2nd annual women’s health fair. QWOC+ Boston had organized and tabled at this event for the past three years. Yet, written in an authoritative third person omniscient voice was the line, “Thanks to the dedication of a single woman, Fenway Health is proudly hosting its 2nd Annual LBT Women’s Health Fair…”

The women’s health fair wasn’t in it’s second, but third year, and long before the dedicated efforts of a single woman, an entire community of queer women of color, myself included, had worked with Fenway Women’s Health Team via a series of conversations and community-building initiatives to delimit access to health resources for queer people of color. This ultimately led to the planning and execution of the first health fair, appropriately titled, “A Little Less Talk, A Lot More Action,” and hosted collaboratively by Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston), Queer Asian Pacific Alliance (QAPA), and Somos Latinos (now Unid@s, under the umbrella of Boston Pride).

But, if you’re one out of the 55,000 people that follows Bay Windows, firmly established as New England’s largest LGBT newspaper, you wouldn’t have known any of this.

A Brief History Lesson: The inaugural health fair took place on Thursday April 30th, 2008, exactly three years ago, during which various organizations tabled at the event, presenting a plethora of resources from free breast cancer screenings, safe sex toys, HPV vaccination information, and acupuncture. The main part of the event, the panel on the impact of stress, addressed health disparities between women of color and white women, from varied perspectives, including public health, mental health, socio-economic status, and more.

Additionally, the inception of the first health fair happened almost four years ago at the inauguration of QWOC+ Boston’s Pride Festival — QWOC Week — during a panel focused on health issues in WOC Communities. The QWOC Week Panel featured inspiring and touching personal stories and perspectives from an older generation of Black Lesbian activists (a few of who are my mentors/sheroes — Lula Christopher, Jacquie Bishop, Reverend Irene Monroe), Lisa Moris, a local community organizer in housing development, and was moderated by Dr. Konjit Page, then a Psychology PhD candidate focused on the mental health of queer women of color. The room was bursting with inspiration and empowerment when the panel ended. So much so that Reverend Irene Monroe even published a piece about it called Sisters are Doing It For Themselves

The chronology of these dates, collaborations, and events are important to note as they weave together an important part of history for Boston’s queer women of color community, highlighting the actionable steps that we took together to improve access to health resources for queer and transgender communities of color.

Yet, in one line, history had been omitted, or in this case, un-written.

It is also important to note that even though our initiative had originally set out to empower LBTQ women of color, the language that had been previously used to indicate a conscious targeting of this marginalized group had been dropped completely, however inadvertently, under the umbrella of empowering all women.

Given the context around the origination of the health fair (at a queer women of color festival), and its subsequent success — a small but important piece of history — you must imagine my deep disappointment at the ability of a single blog post to completely erase almost four years of hard work that had actually resulted in a tangible benefit for LGBT people of color.

But let me be clear: I don’t for a second imagine that this near erasure of history happened intentionally. The blog about Fenway’s Women’s Health fair sought simply to highlight the efforts of their team to preserve the health fair in the face of funding cuts and limited resources. And, for that, they have my deepest gratitude and support. Without their hard work and dedication, there would be no women’s health fair at all, and the future we’ve worked so hard to create would dissipate right in front of us.

Still, as our community continues to push against the walls of oppression, whether funding cuts, racism and homophobia in the health system, and other social justice fronts, we must remember that preserving the stories of our past is just as important as fighting for a better future; history is the only way the world will ever know about the many battles we have fought, about the battles we have won, and most importantly, the only way we can leave a clear path for the generation behind us to follow. In the words of Audre Lorde, “ It’s a struggle but that’s why we exist, so that another generation of Lesbians of color will not have to invent themselves, or their history, all over again.”

It is from this place that I could not stand by while the contributions to the improved livelihood of queer women of color in Boston by community members — including my own mentors, women whose shoulders I am proud to stand on — were at risk of being erased, and not just due to an inadvertent error with dates. Perhaps Fenway failed to appropriately contextualize the event, but Bay Windows’ carelessness (or complete absence of) fact-checking, and the general callousness that I find in mainstream media outlets when covering issues affecting women, people of color, transgender people etc., isn’t a problem that I see going away any time soon.

So, as a leader I have to acknowledge my own role (or lack thereof) at arriving at this juncture i.e. my neglect for the past five years to formally document gains QWOC+ Boston has made as far as increasing visibility for queer people of color and the movement of embracing diversity we’ve created in Boston, save this blog.

As LGBT people (esp. members of marginalized groups: women, people of color, transgender, disabled etc), we all need to do a better job of telling our own stories, and in effect, writing ourselves (back) into history. As I learned from this experience, we’re not just at risk of being completely ignored by mainstream media, but about having our history being talked over, our pronouns mixed up, our hard work being told in passive voice i.e “It happened.” We do a disservice to each other when we fail to affirm the actions of the generations closely following behind us, when we fail to let them know that “We were here,” and as such, that they can do it better, and get further down the path to equality than we ever imagined possible.

I can’t say this enough: Get to it. Start a blog. Create a Youtube channel. Write a book — you can self-publish. Support organizations like the LGBT History Project who work tirelessly to record our histories (orally if need be). But whatever you do from this point, remember the words of Audre Lorde, “Your silence will not protect you,” or the words of my mentor, Letta Neely, if you like your wisdom plain, “Write that shit, down!”

A Letter To My Plagiarist

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, I thought it only appropriate to post this response to the plagiarist who thought they could get away with stealing my words.

I admit that I wrestled with responding at all; the pain of knowing that a fellow African LGBT activist, who I knew personally, had done this to me was a lot to bear. In the wake of David Kato’s murder, a prominent LGBT Ugandan activist that was murdered in January, the last thing that I needed — that the Queer African movement needed — was internal conflict. Aside from the infuriating suggestions from people (including other writers– wow) that I “let it slide for the greater good”, I just couldn’t shake the feeling, that my words — the only things I have in this world — had been taken from me. I felt violated.

At one point, I had to say it out loud to believe it, “I’ve just been plagiarized, blatantly, by someone who knows me.” Seriously, verbatim. This woman (who was a journalist so couldn’t claim to not know better) had lifted a whole three paragraphs from the blog post I’d written about David Kato and read it as part of a speech in public forum (at a vigil held in NYC in his honor – starts at 2:00 min), no citation, no credit, no mention that her speech even contained excerpts from an ‘unnamed’ source. I found out in the worst way possible, on effin Twitter. I happened to click on a link to video coverage of the event she spoke at in NYC and there she was, speaking my words verbatim, being so inspiring it took me a few takes to realize why her words resonated so much… they were mine. Wow.

Of course I confronted her about it. I sent her a very nice but stern email that said I know what she’d done and I was giving her a window to take responsibility, apologize, and do something about it i.e. email the media outlets that quoted her with my words in my mouth and ask them to make corrections AND post in a public place (her blog for instance) that she’d taken my words without permission and was going to give appropriate credit to make it right.

At first she apologized and agreed to make things right, but then she did a switcharoo, all of a sudden getting annoyed that I was making all these “demands” of her and decided she was going to investigate on her own if she’d actually done anything wrong. Despite her new-found confidence in barreling through the issue without taking responsibility, I gave her several more chances after that. But all she ended up doing, to add insult to injury, was put up this deliberately condescending message about how trials as an activist on the day she had to give that speech, and oh by the way here’s this person Spectra who writes about Africa even though she doesn’t live there, and here is a link to her blog. I’m linking her here to “lift her up with visibility.” I was LIVID. But also incredibly hurt.

The experience, I admit, shook me. I only just realized recently that I hadn’t been writing and sharing as much content online. The fear of violation like that again, even the fear of being accused of not thinking about the “bigger picture” (i.e. going after a ‘fellow’ whatever) held me back; it become a subconscious trigger anytime I was about to post something online. I’m a writer first before anything else. I don’t want my words stolen. And certainly not from people who claimed to love, admire, care about me. But I’m done with the silence. It’s stifling. I’ll have no more of it.

Aren’t I the person that always tells it like it is, regardless of which ‘community’ I’m supposed to be aligned it? Aren’t I miss warrior woman, outspoken, no-bullshit, no-nonsense, no tolerance for injustice? If I don’t stand up to a bloody cyber plagiarist, then I fail all those people I’m constantly encouraging to speak up — writers, artists who believe their work is important enough to protect, to value, activists who feel trapped by petty politics, anyone who’s ever felt betrayed or violated by people that are supposed to be supporting them.

We must speak out against bad behavior, even within our movements. In doing so, we will find strength and healing we didn’t know was there, like I have. It is too important that we hold our communities — and each other — accountable, lest we begin to silence among ourselves.


Dear Plagiarist,

I must admit, you swept me off my feet.
Charmed me with flattery,
used words like “passionate”, “prolific”,
game changer, you seduced me,
sanctioned the urgency in my voice
just when I’d’ begun to shrink under the weight of accusations,
“aggressions unwarranted,” they said
even though our people were dying;
this “angry black woman” was on the brink of depression when you showed up,
offering verbal bouquets in my mother tongue.
You spoke friend, and I listened,
awakened my senses so that I could smell the bullshit from these white people
who only loved me when I was tame,
only loved me when I was game for banter,
could only stomach me placed neatly between the black and white lines of their own agenda
— I spit at their podiums.

But you…
I felt like I knew you.
Your accent, thick with struggle through colonial diction,
that awkward ensemble of western clothing gave you away
an immigrant attempting to recreate themselves in a foreign country,
I stood under you when you needed uplifting,
welcomed you into my house, unsuspecting
I fed you. Nurtured you when I myself was starving,
simply because I was thankful for the company,
for the ability to lock eyes in a sea of white guys who misused the truth for their own gains;
“We are Africans, the longest surviving population on the planet,”
I proclaimed, “… and we don’t need saving.”
We need solidarity.

In the aftermath, I wrote:
“David Kato, in the face of violence, we must never abandon hope for fear.”
…in the face of violence, we must never abandon hope for fear,
and you cheered for me in private,
clapped your ashy hands at the gall of this Naija woman
to inspire healing through pain as ego clouded your vigil;
you pounded your fist on the table as I vowed to share the truth,
that these westerners preached too god damn much to listen,
gave our fathers reason to say, “Homophobia is a white man’s problem.”

So I didn’t mind when your sound bites
had bitten off too many of mine
We were sisters, and what was mine was yours,
but when I heard the media applaud your thievery I saw it plainly:
my sister had maimed me,
ripped words like cheap clothes from my naked body,
and waved them in the air for glory.
You betrayed me.
I didn’t see it coming.

But see, the thing about being a warrior woman
is that I’ve been bitten one time too many
by snakes disguised as allies standing right next to me;
You must bleed to beat the poison,
You must bleed to win.

Val Kalende — What, thought I wouldn’t put you on blast?

At your best you were a thief,
impostor playing journalist stealing other people’s stories,
media sob story turned professional token — you have lost your footing
and now, your head bows low enough to be petted by the same jokers I wipe the floor with,
the same cowards who cower under the bass of my voice when they piss me the fuck off.

…and trust me when I say, that I am pissed the fuck off.

If you thought I would go sulk in a corner
a good girl ashamed to report her abuser
for fear of being accused of seeking media attention
damaging your “stellar” reputation out of envy,
then you must not know me.

I am a warrior woman,
a freedom fighter, truth seeker,
liberator of all who’ve been double-crossed by oppression,
I will make an example of you.
Run and hide behind the podiums these white people have given you,
a house kennel for the stray dog that you are
— no rhetoric will shield you, no eulogy will save you —
You will NOT escape my wrath.

Interview w/ Letta Neely, Black Lesbian Poet, Playwright, Activist and Mentor

I decided to close Women’s History Month with a conversation with someone who has inspired so much of my work as an activist, and is living proof that we can create change in the world simply by speaking out and staying true to ourselves: Letta Neely.

Letta is the phenomenal woman who inspired me to found Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston), the only grassroots organization dedicated to serving the needs of queer women of color in New England, and the lead producers of QWOC Week, the nation’s only pride week that exclusively celebrates LGBTQ women of color. We are turning five years old this year, so I think it’s really important for us — and myself as a leader — to not just reflect on our achievements and milestones, but to honor the people who have mentored and supported us through the years. And that certainly includes my friend and mentor, Letta Neely.

In this special edition of my podcast series, Kitchen Table Conversations, Letta, an award-winning black lesbian poet, playwright, and activist, joins me to talk about everything from writing, to activism, to love, and back again. She bares her soul in this interview, and talks about the loss of her brother, wrestling with addiction, burning out as an activist, and schools us all on how ego can win if you let it. But what I loved about my conversation with Letta, is that she (as always), shared her story with so much introspection, candor, and humor, sending the message to anyone who has ever walked a similar path, “You are not alone.”

I couldn’t have been more honored to end Women’s History Month by sharing words with someone I deeply admire, respect, and have come to love as more than just a mentor, but a friend. Letta, you are part of the reason so many people, including myself, are determined to “Write it down!” as you commanded we do, as far as being a visible part of History. Thank you for continuing to be an inspiration to so many people like me, for your friendship, and for always keepin it real.

Listen to interview with Letta Neely on Blog Talk Radio

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the written portion of the interview. Enjoy, share, nourish your spirit.

Many New England artists eventually move to New York to pursue their dreams but you left to come to Boston (of all places), and did the flip. How come?

I was sowing love with a woman who lived in Boston. All that early tending that we did (post weeding, pre-harvest) created a phone bill significantly higher than my rent in Harlem. The love, the money, and mostly, a weird situation with my little brother and baby cuz facilitated my dropping my cat with a friend, getting on a greyhound in the middle of the night with 1 bag of clothes, 2 suitcases of books, and a backpack filled with notebooks and cassettes.

When did your identity as a black lesbian first surface in your work?

In my first year of college, my ma picked me up for thanksgiving . I handed her a group of ten poems I’d bound at Kinko’s. At least half of each poem was a nervous riff or a tenuous riff or a fierce chord of “hey ma, I dig females….No ma, not like your girlfriends….hey ma, girls taste real good.” My ma says she knew even when she didn’t want to. Says that when she told me what wives did (cook, dishes, etc). I responded, “l’ll be getting me one of those”

What led you to become so involved in Boston’s local social justice scene?

My activism has more to do with getting to where I want to go. I think “don’t start none won’t be none “ And yet, so many of the systems involved in our living…I mean, a majority of equations and geometries we are told to solve or travel toward the *dream (American, others) are maintained & enhanced by fucked up asinine insecure greedy people all over the globe from then to know. Their strategies try to labyrinth access to baseline human needs: Food, Water, Spirit, Sleep, Laughter, Self-navigation, Dream, Dance, Open places where we can stretch or sit unadulterated. Basic jazz we’ve all been told we can’t simply access.

During busing, the prices and the taxes became unacceptable to me. My neighborhood unbecame community. We lost each other and became valueless. We killed each other. Where there had been fist fights there were bullets. Where there had been alcohol sold from car trunks on Sundays and spirited home there became crack vials left for 6, 7, 8, year old neophyte archeologists. We evolved into a burial ground, burying so many people each summer we forgot their names by winter. Sadness led to large scale depression. Many of us undead yelled, stamped our feet, protested, trying to wake our nearly dead. But in the protest, we neglected kitchen tables, unrushed collard greens, cook-outs, front porch card games. Trying to be free, we forgot that we were free. We forgot who we are. We became adept at using their tools. We punctured a helluva lot but we didn’t dismantle shit that way.

When I moved here to Boston…our people were being stalked and murdered and disappeared in the same ways. Bodies and decapitated dreams were clogging our pathways. Our articulations regarding justice were building too many separate troops. Struggles around Economic justice, racial justice, gender justice, sexual justice had distinct armies, with distinct guerrilla game plans. Our hungers overwhelmed our sight and we were blindly stabbing comrades we’d labeled enemies. I can’t be Black or Dyke or Broke or Female or Artist or Butch. This “or” shit is the shit that makes us crazy makes us dangerous, abettors to murder.

Most obstacles to any freedom are labeled/celebrated/denigrated/codified as specific social justice issues/initiatives. That’s all fine, well, and probably necessary. But most of this “work”, most of this “involvement” is because when I think “don’t start none, won’t be none”…da shit be already started.

What about being an activist or community organizer do you wish you had known ten years ago?

I wish I had known that asking for help for myself was key. I wish I had known how to take a vacation. I wish [other activists] could have read my mind. I had such a hard time asking for what I needed. And then, I ‘d get upset because it seemed no one anticipated my having a need. What’s more true is that I never asked and when folks asked me, I always, always said, “I’m fine”

What would you say to young leaders who are passionate about working to further equality for LGBT people of color, but need advice/guidance?

Please remember to eat well, sleep well, love well. Leadership is a support position. You are not alone. You will make mistakes. Do better next time. Eat. TELL SOMEBODY EVERYTHING.


About Letta Neely
Letta Neely, originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, is a Black lesbian playwright, performer, poet, mother, teacher and community activist who has been involved in progressive, anti-racist and queer liberation movements all her adult life. Her work focuses on the connections and intersections of queerness, Blackness, and awareness.
Letta’s first play, Hamartia Blues, was produced by The Theater Offensive at the Boston Center for the Arts in 2002 and enjoyed great critical acclaim and received two IRNE [Independent Reviewers of New England] award nominations. Letta has written two books of poetry, Juba and Here (Wildheart Press), which were both finalists for the Lambda Literary Awards. Her literary work has been included in numerous anthologies, literary journals and magazines including Through the Cracks; Sinister Wisdom; Common Lives, Lesbian Lives; Rag Shock; African Voices, Rap Pages, Catch the Fire, Does Your Mama Know, and most recently, Roll Call—a Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature & Art.

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