This summer, I started a series focusing on the lives of black trans leaders. The second in this series of many to come, is Sasha Alexander, founder of Black Trans Media and the hashtag #BlackTransEverything.
J Mase III: Who are you?
Sasha Alexander: I am a non binary, mixed race, black trans artist, organizer, healer, educator and the founder of Black Trans Media. I am deeply committed to transformative justice, the power of the people, arts for liberation, the gifts of our own spirit medicine and I come from a youth organizing background. In 2000 I founded a GSA in my high school and got heavily involved in GLSEN student organizing and anti-oppression facilitation, this saved my life. Through LGBT/student of color organizing and community building I developed a language, a reason, and deeper understanding for who I am and could be. I have worked as a facilitator, educator, and media maker for over 15 years working with organizations like the GSA Network, Brown Boi Project, Global Action Project, Tribeca Film Institute, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and many more. I am so blessed to be married to the fiercest black trans warrior woman, Olympia Perez.
Mase: You started an organization called Black Trans Media. Can you tell us what BTM's mission is and what you are currently doing?
Sasha: Last August 2013, after attending the painful community vigil for my sister Islan Nettles, a young black trans woman who was murdered in Harlem, I founded Black Trans Media. I realized no one was going to give me permission to do the work I felt called to do - to confront the intersections of racism and transphobia in a culturally black way, and so I started to do it myself. As a filmmaker and community organizer I was tired of seeing the media - and community organizations - role in perpetuating both transphobia and racism, so I founded black trans media outside of the non-profit industrial complex with the goal to reframe the value and worth of black trans people through community building and media. Grounded in principals of media as an organizing tool, decolonizing our language, and drawing off the power of storytelling, and the histories of black and brown queer and trans leadership and resistance, a space outside the institution. I also wanted to create a space that was non binary- meaning it wasn't just for black transmen or black transwomen but for black trans people - gender-non conforming people - all of OUR peple. I felt that ideas of blackness and tran-ness needed to be shifted and I wanted Black Trans Media to be at the forefront of that analysis around racial and gender justice, using arts and media, storytelling and conversation.
We launched hard last year with our media campaign #blacktranseverything drawing on the power of cultural organizing and social media. This was my version of "black is beautiful" - in the face of murders against black transwomen, violence against black trans bodies, and all the internalizing realities that come with living black and trans - living as everything means not having to deny our blackness or trans-ness the richness we should have. This organizing came in the form of more cultural and community events like "Transgiving" our annual anti-colonial feast, "Trans-Africanism: a trans pan-african kwanzaa celebration" and more all held in my living room in Bedstuy Brooklyn "headquarters" of Black Trans Media feeding sometimes between 10-25 black/trans people of color and folks who love us. Black Trans Media grew in February 2014 when I hosted "Black Trans Love is Black Wealth" - an event to speak to the role of love in justice - and I met my wife black trans warrior and the Content Director of Black Trans Media, Olympia Perez. In March 2014 we hosted a Black Trans Media event featuring incredible black trans poets, it was like black trans def poetry jam, celebrating the launch of the incredible J Mase III's new chapbook, and highlighting the poetry of Phoenix Nastasha Russell, and Olympia Perez; from that point on there was no stopping our work.
In August we hosted "Black, Red, and Blue: a night featuring the stories of black trans New Yorkers' experience with criminalization" and featuring the amazing film "Trans Lives Matter! Justice for Islan Nettles!" directed by Seyi Adebanjo, and featuring the amazing host of the Kitty Bella Show, Katrina Goodlett. This event was organized to honor the life of Islan Nettles, one year from her murder and the inception of Black Trans Media. In the year since we've founded we've reached thousands and thousands of people online and in person. We've traveled to give workshops, spoken on panels, held living room feasts, Saturday night cyphers, and hosted revolutionary black trans performers; from KOKUMO Kinetic at our January 2014 "Tell It Like it Is" event to just this past October 2014 when we hosted the amazing artist Lady Dane for a incredible night of black trans power up in Harlem with a live band.
In October we organized and attended a rally in Bushwick Brooklyn following a hateful attack on a young transwoman. We've been putting out our interviews, videos, and media pushing the understanding of just who black trans people are and what we go through. Olympia Perez, our content director is releasing a new video on Black Girl Dangerous "I am Hear" in which I also included a new music track I produced called "Islan (wont you celebrate)." We're in the works of photo, writing, video, and performance projects. This August 2015 we're organizing the first ever Black Trans Film Festival out of Harlem NY. We do all of this with no direct funding, only love and power leveraging richness outside the non-profit industrial complex.
Mase: What do you think is that hardest part of the work you are doing?
Sasha: The hardest part of doing this work is never forgetting the root causes of our oppression and the realities of liberation while facing the most painful of lifes experiences. Living and embodying the world we want to live in, actively dreaming and imagining how we can build outside structures of colonialism and white supremacy is tough. And, decolonization is the hardest and yet most rewarding part, because I seek this for all my peoples and it is a life long process, it is a daily liberation and yet we so often forget to decolonize.
Mase: Do you have any role models? Who and why?
Sasha: My wife Olympia Perez is the bravest, most incredible person I know. She grew up in Bedstuy living her truth as a black transwoman combating immense violence and trauma, she is the sweetest, most creative, loving spirit ever. She is my role model because the way she deals with transhobia and racism head on, using media and confronting folks directly because it's more than a matter of returning the gaze, more than surviving - we're thriving, she inspires me to do so, having with her what I never dreamed was possible.
One of my mentors Sheila Petigny, an incredible Black indigenous healer and the originator of Ancient Roots Healing Arts, she's been an immense guidance and power in my life. My first sweat lodge was with intergenerational black and brown trans and queer healers bringing me into ceremony and ritual in a powerful way, this has been a call to action of my spirit. My work as a healer has been deeply inspired by her spirit and life.
My biological mother, who I've never met. She was 16, assaulted, and still birthed me, she and I have a lot in common even though we've never met. Her strength to have me has given me more than I could even explain. She is a reminder that I am connected to spirits and life unseen, powerful ancestors and history.
KOKUMO Kinetic, was a big part of me starting black trans media. She and I would speak at length about our values in doing our work, and she reminded me of the legacy of black folks having to start their own businesses, companies, entities, organizations, and communities. We talked about our historical legacy as black trans artists, as revolutionaries outside of a system that would not serve us and my sister reminded me, healed with me, and reflected to me that we could be everything, as I saw her walk in this I felt reflected and reminded of my own power.
Mase: What do you think are the biggest things trans folks of color have to combat everyday?
Sasha: Institutions, even those that are funded to serve us, are not designed to support us and see us (trans people of color) thrive in leadership and life. The intersections of racism and transphobia are a battle everyday, neither our black nor our trans bodies have worth in this world the way they should- and this is a deep internal and external reality. We have to build with our communities, our media, our institutions, our families, our hoods, our lovers, and even our own hearts because we have internalized these messages. Everyday trans folks of color are in need of decolonizing their bodies, in a white supremacist patriarchal world that does not honor their self determination and actualization as bodies of color or trans peoples, the trauma we carry must be met with healing so we don't continue to harm or be harmed. Wee combat trauma and terror every single day.
Mase: What makes you most proud of being both black and trans?
Sasha: My people make me so proud, YOU make me proud, when I look around a Black Trans Media event or at my #blacktranseverything community that I have connected to over the years I feel so honored and proud of who each of us is. To see all that we go thru and yet all that we are, it is nothing ever short of a celebration. Our history and legacy is immense, and most of it unknown to even us. I am proud of how we can love so deeply, how we can be ourselves no matter the cost, of Marsha P. Johnson, the Compton Cafeteria Riots, Olympia Perez, CeCe McDonald and her resistence, and so many names of black trans people in my life I cannot even begin to name them all.. KOKUMO, Louis Mitchell, Lady Dane, Kai Greene, Dr. Kortney, TEXAS, Kylar Broadus, Katrina Godlett, Ms. Kim, Justice Roe, Kye Allums, BIKO, Mr. Carter Brown, Seyi Adebanjo, Tanya Walker, GG Gaskin, Daniella Carter, J Mase III, Phoenix Nastasha Russell, and each and every single black trans person out there living your life, you make me proud.
Lastly, being in love with another black trans person makes me proud, because I am myself and she is herself and we could not love eachother more for it, and it's like coming home, which as a black trans person, there's nothing like it.