By Greg Hernandez
It was a day of celebration and inspiration for more than 300 people who gathered at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s The Village at Ed Gould Plaza for the The Future is Black: Reclaiming Our Power on February 17.
The Black History Month event included live musical and spoken word performances, an art exhibit, a resource fair, rousing speeches, informative panels and an assembly presented by the Center’s Youth Ambassadors Coalition, all honoring black history, culture, and the power of our future.
A powerful keynote speech was given by Sharon-Franklin Brown, an LGBT activist and former U.S. Navy sailor who became the first openly transgender candidate to run for public office in South Carolina.
“Growing up as a black boy in the cotton fields of the deep south in a family of seven kids had its own challenges,” she said. “But when you add gender identity to that mix, it just made that hill a little harder to climb. I’ve gotten pretty good at climbing hills through the years, forging out new paths, carving out steps so that others can find it a little bit easier to pursue their dreams and achieve success.”
Every step along the way, Brown drew inspiration by standing “on the shoulders of those who came before us” including abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, civil rights leaders Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., and novelist James Baldwin.
“On my journey, I have crossed many lines from the Mason-Dixon to the gender line,” said Brown, who also is director of human resources at the Center. “And in my travels I’ve come to understand that life is filled with many extraordinary burdens for some and less for others. But regardless of one’s background, to overcome challenges, courage is needed.”
Center youth member Nova Monet Mirari was honored with the Marsha P. Johnson Award, an accolade given to a burgeoning community activist.
Chair of the Center’s Youth Ambassadors Coalition and a member of the Homeless Youth Forum of Los Angeles, Mirari thanked peers “for giving me the opportunity to represent our generation by embodying our relentless resilience and strength. Let this be a reminder of how powerful we can be when we work together. Let us never stop raising our voices.”
YouTube personality Amber Whittington of AmbersCloset was presented with the Bayard Rustin Award. She started her acceptance speech with a quote from Rosa Parks: “All this is bigger than me and that’s what keeps me moving.”
“That’s literally how I feel,” Whittington said. “I believe that I’m an activist but I mostly do it through online videos. When you’re online it’s hard to see the impact that you may have or not have on individuals and society. So it’s events like this and awards like this where I’m able to know it’s working, I am making an impact.”
Members of the LGBT seniors community shared some of their journey and offered pearls of wisdom during the Ebony Sage Panel moderated by former entertainment in industry executive Clarence R. Williams.
Williams had worked as an activist alongside such people as James Baldwin, singer Eartha Kitt and Shirley Chisolm, the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. He encouraged older LGBT people to tell their stories and to stay engaged.
“We have to get woke again, we have to be awake,” he told the audience. “We have to not hide our light in a basket and think our journey isn’t important, that we need to be quiet about it.”
Attendees were treated to performances by African Soul International, Alexandra Grey, Edwin Bodney, Celina Graves, Jurni Rayne, King Leo and Jay Poole. The special guest DJ was Suga Shay.
Also on hand were some of the artists whose work is featured in the Everybody Black art exhibit open at the Center’s Advocate & Gochi’s Galleries through March 5. It features the work Madam Muse, Tia Thompson, Francesca Lalanne, Nneka Gigi, Lyle Everett Rushing, and Kraig King.
The event also included lunch from Chef Marilyn’s restaurant in Los Angeles and a resource fair featuring Stuzo Clothing, Black Lesbians United, PPOWER Project, Black AIDS Institute, and several of the Center’s health and wellness programs. Workshops focused on personal power, storytelling, voter engagement, and media representation.
Melantha Hodge, head of the event’s planning committee, brought the day to a close by reminding the crowd why they had all gathered together.
“It’s all about empowering each other, it’s all about supporting each other,” Hodge said. “We’ve got to continue to do this not just this month but year-round. If we all make a commitment to do that as a community, then a lot of change will happen.”