Browse Tag: history

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!

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!”

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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