February 21, 2013
The night before my first trip to the White House, I found Frida in a closet. I was staying with a friend in Baltimore and had been searching for a hanger for my dress. There was a calendar of portraits of Frida Kahlo, leaving me taken by her earnest presence in my immediate life. I leafed through the months, vigorously, in need of late night inspiration.
The following morning, I would attend the 4th Annual Black Emerging LGBT Leaders Day hosted by the National Black Justice Coalition. I’d utilized my last ounce of energy leftover from a month of “weekend organizing” to exit the city and head towards DC to "emerge". The NBJC created this as a platform to network and identify as a community of black leaders and change-makers. At times, my identity as a black woman enters rooms for me. And, even, being a "professional gay" is a space that I am privileged to exist within daily. However, this very public acknowledgment as a leader was powerful and certainly validated any additional and unique space my black womanhood does not always allow for. It was a rare opportunity that empowered me to wear my "three pronged" identity very proudly. I woke up expectant and ready, circling my suitcase as I decided between the lipstick from my girlfriend's hands or an additional pair of tights to meet my peers on Capitol Hill.
The National Black Justice Coalition started out the day with a caucus at the Russell Building. The eagerness in the room of activists was palpable; we all seemed to gain motivation from being around one another. We were given an exuberant welcome by the staff of the NBJC. Their initiative is run by a small group of stellar young activists, fueled by their community's reach. Twitter hashtags were exchanged and folks in front and beside me were rapidly drafting their 170 characters to claim their online “presence”. The founder of the NBJC, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, commanded us to “use this space and act up”, in order to truly benefit from the hard work of our brothers and sisters that may have never even walked nor identified within these halls. The souls of these individuals steered the ship that afternoon.
I met a young sister who attended an HBCU for a semester. She left because she found it difficult to connect with her peers and to also experience consistency within the gay student association there. She also showed me pictures of the damages Hurricane Sandy caused her family and community in Far Rockaway, and how they continue to rebuild and recover. Her attendance at the day's events truly exemplified Sharon's request to “act up”.
After lunch, I exited with my pals from Brooklyn Boihood and boarded the Metro with my newer compadres from the Bois of Baltimore—powerful queer folks prepped to enter the White House and speak about their similar initiatives. We arrived on the steps of the Eisenhower Building, greeted with hugs from Janet Mock who seemed elated to be in DC at this historical day and to gather in solidarity. Janet is a divine sister and an intense voice for our community's emergence. The lot of us wrapped ourselves into the entrance of the Eisenhower Building as we handed off our ID's and buzzed in small cohorts to stay warm and make connections. I observed the network of young, local activism happening in DC from sexuality educators, diversity trainers, policy analysts, and NBJC volunteers. Everyone wanted to help, everyone wanted to support, and everyone was thrilled to be in the room.
We dove right into the briefings from several offices- from the Small Business Association, Foster Care, and Criminal Justice. Our content remains confidential but the room rumbled with questions and it became a bit of a relay to get up to the microphone to air a concern.
The evening was completed with the reception hosted by the Human Rights Coalition. I met up with a pal and brilliant feminist and “politicked” with excitement while getting lost on 17th street. At the reception, we indulged in second helpings of community with performances and folks plugging their initiatives. I left quickly to catch the train and record my inspiration from the day in my fluorescent notebook.
That night, I returned to Frida. She stared at me, silently, as I peeled off my dress and emptied my thoughts. The previous night, I had decided to hang a September portrait of her from 1941. In the photograph, her long braid was coiled comfortably on top of her head and her eyes were slightly weary. Frida was in reaction. She looked ready, and prepared to make a move.