Sakia Gunn would have celebrated 23 years of life today. We are left, however, with the task of honoring Sakia-a young daughter of Newark-whose days were shortened by way of a physical weapon (a knife) and ideological artillery (heterosexism/sexism). But, Sakia’s spirit remains among us: waking us from our social (un)consciousness and enlivening us to do the work of justice in Newark, NJ and elsewhere. In fact, hate may seek to destroy but it doesn’t kill. Here are 10 reasons why:
1. After Sakia’s murder, her family and friends stood up for justice. Young Newarkers, like Dawn James and Valencia Bailey, galvanized others to stand in solidarity with Sakia’s family, pushed city leaders and politicians to act and organized peaceful memorials.
2. The Newark Pride Alliance (NPA) was formed under the leadership of LaQuetta Nelson and James Credle in response to Sakia’s death. NPA began its advocacy work armed with the mission to ensure that safe spaces are created and maintained in the city of Newark.
3. Cory A. Booker, who was a councilperson at the time of Sakia’s murder, turned his attention to the case, in particular, but would vow to make LGBTQ issues a priority.
4. Filmmaker, Charles “Chas” Brack, directs and produces “Dreams Deferred: The Sakia Gunn Story,” and, along with Sakia’s family members, begin to carry her name from Newark to other spaces around the world.
5. June Dowell-Burton introduces the City of Newark to LGBTQ pride when she founded Newark-Essex Pride Coalition and Newark-Essex Pride Week. Pride moved queer celebrations from meeting rooms and other social spaces to the streets of Newark.
6. The City of Newark, with the Newark-Essex Pride Coalition, under the auspices of Mayor Booker, councilperson Dana Rone and June Dowell-Burton, raises the rainbow flag at the entrance to Newark City Hall.
7. Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship (LITUFC) forms the Social Justice Center as an extension of its faith ministry to address issues of injustice in the community. True Colors, a queer youth initiative, was subsequently developed to provide avenues of expression for queer youth.
8. New Jersey Community Research Initiative (NJCRI) develops and implements Project WOW, a drop-in center for queer youth who are engaged or disengaged from the school system.
9. NPA, in partnership with the City of Newark, Hetrick-Martin Institute and Rutgers-Newark, chaired 3 free full-day conferences on religion, education and health, hosted a series of trainings for Newark Public Schools, advocated on behalf of queer students and provided trainings to NPS students…the City of Newark now has an official instrumentality, thanks to Dana Rone and Ronald Rice, Jr., that advises the Mayor on LGBTQ concerns and the county of Essex, following the city’s lead, has just organized its own body to do the same…the city of Newark and Newark Public Schools is now home to the HMI-to-Go afterschool program for queer youth….Rutgers-Newark LGBTQ groups now hold annual events on campus…New Jersey Performing Arts Center hosts its “Newark is Burning” event…African American Office of Gay Concerns, with the assistance of FemWorks and MedinaCiti, launches its “Status is Everything” Campaign….
10. The Sakia Gunn High School for Civic Engagement, an initiative spearheaded by the Hetrick-Martin Institute and the Newark Public Schools and supported fully by Sakia’s mother and family, will open its doors in the city of Newark in the Fall of 2012….and sooooooooo much more! Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Matthias Pressley are right in warning us against the need to lift up Sakia as a victim and martyr only. Instead, they encourage us to celebrate Sakia, the young, vibrant, human being, from Newark. Today, on her birthday, we celebrate her spirit that continues to drive Newarkers to serve toward the end of creating safer spaces.
Add to the list your celebratory comment or event that you would like to name in honor of Sakia…
in love and community…darnell and june