Not a Statistic
Jey’nce Poindexter is a woman with a mission. No stranger to the LGBTQ community in Michigan and beyond, the sought-after speaker is not only vice president of the Trans Sistas of Color Project and a co-chair of the Fair and Equal initiative, she recently joined the staff of the Ruth Ellis Center as a case manager. Between The Lines checked in with Poindexter to learn what drives her passion for social justice: as Poindexter explains, she’s found the ability to turn her own trials into the foundation for empathizing with, and uplifting of, others.
At a time when trans women of color are victimized and murdered at an alarming rate, Poindexter said she knows what it’s like to be written off as a statistic.
“I’ve been through a lot,” she confessed. “And I’ve witnessed a lot. So I know how it feels to be disenfranchised, disconnected, ostracized. I know what it feels like. That directly shapes and forms how I show up: how I speak, how I handle myself, how I carry myself. Because I now know that all of the things I was told, like being worthless and amounting to nothing, the religious persecution that you can hear from within the church — particularly the Black church — all of those things that I heard, I pushed the mute button on all of that. And I really owned into my purpose.”
Clearly, her faith is what informs and guides all that Poindexter does.
“I’m just literally walking into assignment by God,” she said.
She added she is not just able to speak to people, but also for people. In her words, she is referring to the people who are “thrown away,” dismissed or otherwise perceived to be unworthy. She said she hopes, too, that those who have been hurt by their treatment in the Church will come to understand that God’s mercies are extended to everyone, anew each day.
With natural skills for reaching out to the marginalized and for bridging divides, Poindexter is uniquely equipped to fulfill her role as a co-chair of Fair and Equal Michigan, the citizens’ initiative that aims to amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections for LGBTQ people.
Poindexter said the significance of a Black trans woman being appointed to that position is not lost on her. With that in mind, she seeks not only to educate the LGBTQ community on the importance of the initiative but also to include non-LGBTQ people in her outreach with the message.
“This is something we need for our society to make sure the hate is properly addressed, acknowledged and handled,” she said.
Before her work with TSOCP, REC and Fair and Equal Michigan, Poindexter served in various capacities in the LGBTQ community in Metro Detroit. As she explained, she helped create spaces for people like her where none previously existed.
“Let’s be clear,” Poindexter said. “There was no direct programming for trans women. Not only did we have to enter LGBTQ spaces that were not willing to acknowledge us and accept us and welcome us in but we were also restricted from health care spaces. Education spaces. Housing spaces. Public accommodation spaces. The list goes on and on and on for someone like me.
“And so, knowing that, and knowing the inside scoop on … how legislation impacts our everyday life — that’s what sparks my interest and keeps me going in these kinds of multiple realms,” she continued. “They’re all working toward a purpose. They’re all pushing for a better quality of life for people.”
Endings and Beginnings
Many know Poindexter through her previous position as the Transgender Specialist/Victim Advocate for Equality Michigan. She described the many responsibilities that the position entailed: accompanying clients to court, handling crisis calls, engaging in conflict resolution, helping with safety planning, dealing with partner-on-partner violence situations and assisting immigrant members of the LGBTQ community.
Poindexter is proud of the work she’s done for EQMI, and, according to the feedback she shared from her supervisor, she served the agency well.
“On one of my evaluations, my supervisor, she literally wrote, ‘Jey’nce has surpassed any and all expectations that we had, bringing her on as a part of the team,’” Poindexter recalled. “When I read that, it just made me really feel overjoyed because I knew that it was purposeful work.”
Though Poindexter said she knew she would not be there forever, she said she wanted to use her time to be a “good steward” over resources.
“I was to be responsible and accountable to the community … I was to make sure I rendered services with a level of integrity and dignity not only for myself but also for my survivors and my clients, to make sure that by the time they stopped working with me, not only were they out of the situation they found themselves in, they were empowered to a degree that they no longer needed me for that.”
While the work was satisfying, two weeks out of each month spent traveling to EQMI’s offices across the state took its toll. Yet, said Poindexter, “It’s really enriched me so. It’s a blessing. I’m ever so grateful for the people, for the spaces, for the opportunities. I’m really, extremely blessed.
“The Lord brought me to it,” she continued. “And when I fulfilled my assignment and it was time for me to move on, I knew it. I felt it. I shared it with my coworkers and my supervisor. It was something I knew it was time for. I had done all that I could do.”
When Poindexter learned of the case management position at REC, she realized it was all she had found so fulfilling at EQMI — in one space.
“Life is changing for us all,” she said, referring to the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic. “I can’t be out here traveling and doing like I usually do. So that definitely shaped my [interest] in a new position as well, because I need something more concrete.”
Case management through REC might involve assistance with housing, secondary care or trauma-informed care, among other services and resources. Poindexter said she’s grateful to be responsible for building and maintaining a program that was named for Kelly Stough.
“That was our sister who was shot and killed at the end of 2018 by a Black pastor in Detroit,” Poindexter explained. “And her case is still ongoing in the judicial system. It’s really rewarding to be working on a project that’s named after her because I still talk with her mom. I still talk with her grandmother. They don’t live far from me, so I see them for Mother’s Day and for the holidays, take them gifts. And I make sure that they still feel a level of … warmth in her absence.”
While she can’t make up for their loss, Poindexter pointed out it’s especially important to remember the survivors when it’s not Transgender Day of Remembrance, where the names of those they’ve lost are read publicly.
“All of that’s fine,” Poindexter allowed. “But when the dust settles, who calls? Who reaches out? Who says, ‘You know what? We’re still thinking about you even though it’s not on the news … but I still remember you and I still care.’”
Mother to Many
Poindexter, who was born and raised in Detroit and who currently resides in Southfield, had what she described as “some really tumultuous times” growing up. But then, as now, her faith was unshakable.
“I left home when I was 14,” Poindexter said. “I’ve been homeless. I’ve slept outside and I’ve had some rough nights and had some nights that I didn’t have food, and I had some nights where I did not know what I was gonna do. But through it all, I never lost my faith.
“I always play my gospel music,” she continued “Karen Clark is one of my favorites. Those songs, those messages, they help give me strength. … I also pass those things on to my kids, to people I’ve grown up with or [people who] didn’t believe in faith, didn’t believe in God. They’ll call me right now today and realize ‘Ma’ or ‘Sis, you know, I just remember riding in the car with you and you playing Karen Clark. … This song helped me through.’ And to me, that’s the most rewarding thing that someone can say because I think that’s the greatest gift of all. I don’t know a greater gift than God, than salvation.”
Just as Poindexter finds strength in her faith and the gospel music that celebrates it, many look to her for strength and guidance as well. She’s well aware of that and the responsibility that accompanies it.
“I’m appreciative for the position I hold in this community and the power in my voice,” Poindexter acknowledged. “You may hear some people who don’t know [their power]. I know the power of my voice. And I use it. And I don’t just use it for myself. I use it for the person that has also been locked out and shunned and pushed aside. I’m aware of my power. But the way people receive me and respect me and look to me as a leader, that is not lost on me.”