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By Victor D. Harrell
National Black Justice Coalition
She-roism was the foundation of my experience during the National Black Justice Coalition’s Leadership Summit, “Out On The Hill (OOTH).” At every section of this event, women were leading the way with profound statements, deeds, acts of kindness and philanthropy, and advocacy with power. The first woman I was awestruck by was Dr. Linda Spooner, who indicated that she started her education and career as a lawyer because of her actions and interest in political activism during the time that she was growing up during the Civil Rights era.
She explained that she decided to go back to school 20 years later to start a secondary career in the field of medicine because she saw the need for compassionate medical providers in her community. Her actions mirrored and affirmed my own decision processes regarding “being the change I want to see.” Later, after the sessions, we spoke; she agreed to mentor and assist me with my transition between professions and to provide appropriate guidance in making my practice more culturally sensitive to the black diaspora of same gender loving and trans* communities.
Another woman that reformed my thinking was Ms. Valerie Spencer, a dynamic and illustrious black transwoman responsible for many important morsels of wisdom collected during OOTH. Many of her statements were given both during the first session and also during the second plenary session as moderator of the transwomen panel. The most powerful and moving statements of the conference were uttered when Valerie described how transwomen lack “personhood” due to the communities limiting community members to commercial sex work.
She continued by pleading for affirmative action policies to employ and empower transwomen of color, and for those of us in places of power to share this power to allow black transwomen to develop skills in leadership roles, which is one of the areas black transwomen lack capacity. Mariah Lopez, a transwoman from New York, described her experiences with violence, silencing and erasure of black and Latina transwoman across the country and called for a push for legal authorities to start to revisit cold cases and to document how many transwomen’s lives have been deleted under the guise of being a man dressed in women’s attire. Her passion and resiliency spoke decibels to the strength of a fighting spirit, and I saw my community in her fire.
Lourdes Ashley Hunter, yet another incomparable transwoman, disclosed that she too hails from Detroit. Her former familial experiences and college ambitions drove her many places outside of the city and eventually led to her serving as the chief operating officer of a nonprofit geared towards transgender communities. She beckoned for advocates to create pipelines to assist trans* people with completing high school equivalency which will later connect them to community colleges and universities. Lourdes also besought direct advocates to bolster systems and interactions with transwomen that would invest in their personhood by not only “giving them a fish,” but also teaching them how to fish.
I came to OOTH in a haze of malformed ideas on how to impact and engage the community in which I work. I left from this mind-altering occasion with a pin-point sense of direction and purpose and drive coming from our nation’s leaders in working with African-American people that identify as lesbian, gay, bi and transgender.