This weekend, Marcos and Lance, two Detroit REPRESENT! organizers, attended the Allied Media Conference, where we met with seven radical activists from FIERCE NYC. Over a two-plus-hour-long lunch, the nine of us chatted each other up, discussing the parallels of queer youth of color struggle in Detroit and in New York City, and getting to know one another as we shared stories about our lives, our neighborhoods, and our dreams for something better.
Some of the subjects we discussed included the struggles of mixed-race people of color to find our places in the world, the challenge of building solidarity across communities of color, and the love and hardship that comes from organizing without a safety net. We mused over the parallels of the Stonewall Rebellion that’s so often invoked as the start of New York’s queer activist movements, and the Rebellion of 1967 that was so crucial to POC activist history in Detroit.
After talking, texting, and emailing back and forth for so long, one question some of the FIERCE organizers had for us was around what kind of work Detroit REPRESENT! is doing, in Detroit. At first, we were a little nervous. After all, FIERCE has a name for itself, and some impressive work behind it. We’re newer, so our accomplishments are still budding. At the same time, though, our friends from the east coast were super supportive, and helped us remember that our work may be newer than theirs, but is still powerful and revolutionary.
Detroit REPRESENT!, though still in its infancy, has been around since the summer of 2011. Over that time, there have been about fifteen core youth organizers involved with summer discussions, photography projects, graphic design, and plans for a youth-lead queer revolution in the D. As young folks who’ve never lead community organizing efforts before now, this is hard work. We are all challenging ourselves, celebrating successes, and making mistakes together. It’s taking a long time to establish ourselves; but we’re doing important work — building the collective that we want to exist, because we know it has the potential to change the lives of countless young LGBTQ folks of color in our home city.
For us, FIERCE’s work is a special inspiration. Just as we’re struggling now to build our base, and get our words out into the world – knowing that other members of our community all the way in NYC had a similar process when they were starting out is not only encouraging, but validates every part of this journey we’re on. Although they’re over a decade ahead of us, one reminder our dialogue brought home was the fact that this kind of work is supposed to be challenging at every stage. It’s when things feel deceptively easy that we’ve gotta’ worry. Organizing without struggle probably means we’ve left out important voices, or ignored some tough questions.
Since our start in 2011, Detroit REPRESENT! Has brought together LGBTQ youth of color from across the city of Detroit, who might never have met before. We’ve taught traditional photography workshops, discussed the impact of mainstream media representations on our communities, and debunked ideas that the places we come from aren’t as good as others. Through our conversations and workshops, we’ve started to build relationships that sustain us, like we’re continuing to do, now. We did all of this without a single grant dollar or core organizer older than 24.
So things are taking time, but one thing FIERCE folks helped us to remember is that the process isn’t something to be afraid of. What we’re doing is valid and worthwhile and something to be proud of. It’s not as if we didn’t believe this stuff already, but hearing it from somebody who’s been there before can be incredibly healing. Thanks, y’all!
Later on, REPRESENT! folks were discussing the next steps in building our base. What we’ve done so far has been great, but we know there’s so much more to do. More stories to tell, learning to do, friends to make, and hearts to change. One idea we came up with was to put together a one-day workshop for LGBTQ youth of color from across Detroit. We’d talk about some of the concepts we discussed at the Allied Media Conference – like what it means to be “colonized,” and how we can decolonize ourselves. We can pick apart media portrayals of people like us, and maybe workshop something that feels a little closer to home. Look for that towards the end of the summer!
All in all, the Allied Media Conference this year was great! We were able to learn a lot, meet new friends, and challenge ourselves in all the best ways. So looking forward to next year… and to the rest of the summer!