January 23, 2016, Mid-South Peace & Justice Center held it’s annual Gala. The Banquet held was at the First Congregational Church. The atmosphere was enriched by music from Grammy Award Winner Kirk Whalum & JazzEclecticFolk. Attendees of the MSPJ Gala included various politicians, religious leaders, community activists, race strategist, Memphis Bus Riders Union members, and members of the newly formed Memphis Black Lives Matter Chapter.
Keynote Speakers included Zandria F. Robinson and Elle Hearns. Robinson, a Rhodes College Anthropology/Sociology professor, known for her bold tweets which sparked an educational dialogue on Social Media about race and terrorism, presented an abstract of her dissertation on feminism, black liberation, sexual assaults, and Intersectionality.
Professor Robinson’s offered a powerful platform which engaged, entertained, and educated the attendees. Explaining the herstory of the black woman’s fight and differences between how sexual assaults are viewed between white women and black women, one could only wonder what the next step would be in the black woman’s fight for racial equality, especially since the statistics exemplify not much has changed in Memphis over 34 years.
Enlightenment on these matters included an awareness of rape and domestic violence against LGBT and black women. Professor Robinson’s conveyed a radical standpoint that interpreted new titles, definitions, and issues which are now plaguing the black community. The professor’s discussion of the Intersectional theory illustrated how its study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination or discrimination is currently affecting blacks. Listening to Professor Robinson one could only anticipate what the next fight for black women would be, but it did prepare the attendees for the next keynote speaker.
Elle Hearns, a Columbus native, trans freedom fighter, graced the platform with an undeniable eloquence that became easily acceptable by the diverse group. Opening chants of “Black Lives Matter”, the group was placed at ease by Hearn’s poise and confidence. Hearns, Central Regional Coordinator of GETEQUAL, delivered a tear dropping recollection of how a domestic dispute resulted in a false arrest due to her family and the arresting officer’s transphobia.
Her reflections of how she thought she was going to have to fight for her life in jail left a somber hush throughout the church. She was fortunate to know that she would have meals and didn’t have to be homeless like many other transgender persons. In an intimate dialogue, Hearns detailed how intersectionality is consistently the reality that blacks and transgender persons face.
After Hearn’s had been imprisoned, she was placed in solitary confinement because she requested special housing. As a transgender person, in an all male facility, the request for special housing forced her to be housed in a high-security unit with other inmates, murderers, etc. In this housing unit, she discovered other transgender prisoners who had also been discarded by society and their families. Listening to Hearn’s story, one could only sympathize and wonder how she coped with being imprisoned under such horrendous circumstances.
Hearns then asked the question “Would all the black-trans women please raise your hand?” She was the only person with her hand held high, and the solemn silence could be felt when she stated: “This is what erasure looks like and it doesn’t bring you peace or joy.” Hearn’s pictorialization of the systematic oppression could be felt throughout the First Congo Church whose mission is-
We believe that God created the world and that every single one of us has good work to do in life. We believe that our “good work” has to do with living in ways that reflect God’s agenda of love, joy, compassion and hope for the world and all its creatures, even in the midst of struggle. We believe that Jesus showed us how to do this. He had radical trust in the Goodness of God and our ability to share God’s agenda of life for the world. We can have this trust and share this agenda, too, by following in his way. We believe that we feel more alive when we’re living from our sense of connection – with God, with each other, and with life itself.
Some were left speechless by Hearns remarks, but the mood was lightened by the comparison of Jesus to a black-trans woman. The reiteration of the importance of understanding the vulnerability of homosexuality as well as the isolation, discrimination, and hatred that blacks endure, at the hands of a police state was compelling. Hearn’s ability to turn the negative experience into a desire to organize communities and strategically counteract violence against blacks gives her a platform to strengthen unity amongst each other.
Meeting in a church allowed people from different walks of life to stand on a neutral ground and be immersed in an authentic intercultural experience. It is important that all blacks and non-blacks understand that our past does not determine our future and that the socioeconomic statuses must allow us to emerge different perspectives to encourage those who do not understand each other, and assist in fighting all issues that bring about a better Black America, because all Black Lives Matter.