02/28/2015 12:09 pm ET Updated Apr 30, 2015

Deshawnda Bradley, #BlackLivesMatter and the Reminder That Self-Definition Is Essential to Our Survival

Deshawn Bradley

When I think of the heroines and heroes of Black History Month, I notice the similarities they possessed between them before the differences: they were brave on behalf of many; they were ahead of their time - able to see things those around them had difficulty understanding and accepting; they asked for things that seemed so simple yet were made seemingly impossible by others -- like the right to live, to be treated as human beings, to be accepted for who they were, and most importantly to be able to define themselves with the hopes of breaking through oppressive categorizations. And because of everything they stood for, because they dared to be different, they often lived lives that were at risk, lives that were in danger.

Nowadays, we often look back on history and ask how those who opposed the greats did such terrible things, how those who were complacent stood watching when they could have helped, how they all played their part in keeping the rest of us from moving towards our full potential.

With these thoughts in mind and in light of the recent cases of Lamia Beard, Ty Montgommery, Yazmin Vash Payne, Penny Proud and other transgender women of color who have been murdered, I take this moment today to honor unsung heroines of our time through remembering the story of Deshawnda Bradley. Additionally, I pay my respects to all other victims of discrimination based on gendered identity, skin color, and other intersections of our beings. In other words, I remember the people who were brave enough to try and live life speaking their truths, pushing towards freedom through their adherence to tenants of self-definition.

Deshawnda Bradley, an aspiring cosmetology student also known as "Tata," was 21 years old when she was shot to death in Los Angeles on December 3rd, 2014. She was killed while banging on the door of a South LA residence seeking help, according to LAPD detective Christopher Barling, and no suspects have been arrested. Her twin sister described her as "a loving caring person" without any known enemies.

While police believe it's possible she was the victim of a robbery turned wrong, they never ruled out that this instance could have been a hate crime, which I believe is more likely. Because according to The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, "last year, at least 12 transgender women of color were murdered in what were all possibly acts of transphobic violence. Many of those murders have gone unsolved. NCAVP's most recent report on LGBTQ violence reveals that 72 percent of anti-LGBT violence was directed against transgender women, 67 percent of whom were women of color." With very little national attention, transgender victims (especially those of color) are forgotten while their cases grow cold and their murderers often walk free, as in the case of Deshawnda Bradley.

I am reminded of Audre Lorde's words in Sister Outsider, where she writes, "I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you [...] because the machine will grind you to dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corners forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid [...] primarily for us all, it is necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. Because in this way alone we can survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth [...] if we do not define ourselves for ourselves, we will be defined by others for their use and to our detriment."

Audre Lorde calls for the characteristics I spoke of that define leaders we remember in Black history, and even more explicitly she calls for us to not be the ones in opposition to change, to not be the ones who stand idle watching as bystanders. She calls for us to stand up and speak and honor those who have been brave enough to fight for the right to self-definition and self-realization for us all.

Responding to her call and to the instructions laid out by those who came before us means raising awareness, having more conversations, and sharing the stories of all our heroines and heroes. It also means doing our part to end the violence 0r at the very least ending our complacency. Thank you, Deshawnda Bradley for speaking your truth, for being brave on our behalf, for being ahead of our time, for asking for the things that should be simple yet are made virtually impossible by others, and for doing your part in breaking through oppressive categorizations of human life. This one is for you. May you rest in power and in peace.

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This post is part of the "28 Black Lives That Matter" series produced by The Huffington Post for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will shine a spotlight on one African-American individual who made headlines in 2014 -- mostly in circumstances we all wished had not taken place. This series will pay tribute to these individuals and address the underlying circumstances that led to their unfortunate outcomes. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #28BlackLives -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.