For our next LGBT Black History Month Spotlight, we take you to the Big Apple for an exclusive look at some of the QTPOC work being done on behalf of the community.
The world of organizing is such an underrepresented entity because it is comprised of the work that no one else wants to do. It involves sleepless nights filled with meetings and planning, endless days of front-line advocacy for the cause. However, our next Spotlight is no stranger to the world of organizing at all…
Introducing Kerbie Joseph!
Kerbie Joseph is a first-generation Haitian woman from Brooklyn, NY and a community organizer with the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition. She has organized and led the Stop The Cops unity march from the Bronx to Harlem, in solidarity for Trayvon Martin, Ramarley Graham and all police brutality victims. She has also served as a lead organizer in the Justice for Akai Gurley Family campaign. Having facilitated numerous conversations concerning racism, police brutality, class, LGBTQ struggle, women’s oppression and organizing at places such as Yale University, NYU, and Temple, Kerbie currently works as a youth counselor at the Ali Forney Center, the largest LGBTQ homeless housing shelter in the U.S. as well as with the Audre Lorde Project as the Safe OUTside the System program’s coordinator.
What are three things you do every day to remind yourself of who you are?
Organizing, reminding myself to be patient, and having compassion for both myself and others. Self-care is important, so in order for myself to organize effectively, I have to do the other two. These three things center myself and keep me grounded in my daily mission.
How would you describe your journey to self-love?
It was a long journey. I know, for myself, it was harder having a mother who didn’t speak much English (she emigrated from Haiti) that was a little older than other people’s parents. I had to help her do a lot of things that a lot of young kids at my age didn’t have to do. Also, it was a journey because the messages that my mother conveyed to me were rooted in survival and this system’s toxic ideas of patriarchy, that formed her perspective. Words of affirmation were not always at the forefront. I had to learn that it is natural to love yourself and care about yourself, that people can love you, that love can be collective.
As a woman of Caribbean heritage, how do you see the intersection between Caribbean-American Blackness and queerness?
Both groups are faced with powerful oppression that make life quite complex. I remember, back in Haiti, as a young girl I met a queer woman who owned a very successful business. I asked her “How do you date?” She said to me that her love life is one thing, but her business is another; she keeps them separate. The people she’ll date will never date her out publicly because of the crushing influences of patriarchy and the homophobia that pervades Haitian society. The poverty in Haiti, the narrative that woman are trapped beneath the man and must do everything to support the family, all of these factors can be compared to the different factors of oppression that queer folk face too. We have a common enemy, but because of stereotypes injected into the conversation by that same enemy, this system, it seems like we are against each other.
How did you get involved with S.O.S.?
Well, they hired me! But all jokes aside, firstSafe OUTside the System work is about creating a response network to keep our Black, Brown, other poc queer comrades and our neighbors of color, safe from both hate crime and police brutality in central Brooklyn. When I first started working with Akai Gurley’s family (Akai Gurley was murdered in 2014 by officer Peter Liang in East New York’s Pink Houses), I made a contact with CAAAV- who played a great role in the Justice for Akai Gurley Family campaign. It was my contact at CAAAV, who told me about the Safe OUTside the System Collective because of the organization’s strong connection to Audre Lorde Project. I applied and got my first interview. I started learning more about the Audre Lorde Project and how it was structured around intersectionality beyond just basic resources for the QTPOC community and I became really excited about the opportunity. Being in ALP allowed me to be around a lot more queer, gender non-conforming and trans folx, who were dedicated to issues such as crisis response, housing development in poorer areas- like in the Trans Justice program and things that stretched farther than simple outreach.
What are some of the things you have done so far working with the Safe OUTside the System Collective?
Right now we are doing amazing foundational and organizational work synonymously. We’ve been bridging the gap between the Black community and the queer work done with ALP. One example of organizing S.O.S. members was speaking at the Akai Gurley 3-year Anniversary Vigil (2/13), we had our RevBae (Revolutionary Bae) event, which was a conversation about safety and what collectivism and love is in our community. We also have our monthly open Cypher called Love Under Capitalism, about how capitalism negatively impacts how we love each other and how to deconstruct that in order to build. I’m excited. We are making progress and increasing the rapid response network within Brooklyn by inviting other organizations on-board.
Why is the Audre Lorde Project so important?
ALP is important for several reasons. Audre Lorde was many things: a queer woman, an artist, a socialist. But above all, she was an organizer, always working on behalf of the community to empower the community. Even though I work with S.O.S., I don’t own this. No one particular person owns this work. We all work together to build. This project provides space for people to grow and discover themselves in a collective manner. We are a team and a family. The Audre Lorde Project sets the table up for everyone to sit and be part of the conversation. Everyone can sit at the table; you don’t have to fight to get a seat, you don’t have to argue to be at the seat, you don’t have to think a certain way to get a seat. Just come and sit. When you google “queer” or “LGBT”, you see white men. This work allows us, as Black, poc, queer, BBC, trans people, to be visible and to work to help others in our community to feel welcomed and empowered.
How can Black queer and trans folx get active in their own communities?
Start small. Talk to your friends. Organizing spaces vary in different places and are hard to get. Depending on your city’s core transportation system, you may not always be able to be at the center of the action but there will always be people around you that you can bring around you to begin the work. Create a safe space for people. Even if that means having organizing meetings in your own living room, a coffee shop, restaurants, classrooms, wherever. Start somewhere then branch out. We get caught up in the big movements we see but even those movements had a beginning. Before social media, organizing was made of walking around the community, seeing the spots where you know the people are at, and going to where the issues were. That is still effective today. People feel the way you feel about these things too, so why not get together and start your own work? It’s needed!
For more information on Kerbie Joseph and the work she engages in, feel free to contact her at [email protected]