By Samaria Bailey
PHILADELPHIA — More than 500 activists called for increased protection for Black women and Black trans women at a demonstration in West Philly on Saturday afternoon.
Organized by New Voices for Reproductive Justice, the march was one of countless held across the city since the murder of George Floyd. The tone that set this one apart was its focus on Black women, girls and trans women.
“Twelve days ago, I started telling folks we need to organize for Black women, Black girls, Black trans and Black folx who have been killed, murdered or victimized by racist, sexist and transphobic violence,” said La’Tasha D. Mayes, Founder of New Voices. “We cannot wait to dismantle white supremacy because we will be waiting forever. We fight for ourselves.”
Queen Phierce, Founder of the Queen Network, agreed, stating that the demonstration was their way of “standing in the gap for a population that goes unrecognized and falls through the cracks.”
The march began at 56th and Chestnut streets, across the street from a fire station, a symbol Mayes said was in honor of Breonna Taylor, an EMT, who was killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky in the middle of the night in her own home as plainclothes police officers attempted to serve a warrant for someone who didn’t live there.
Protesters poured libations in honor of the ancestors and to “protect” the march and observed a moment of silence after which an organizer read more than 60 names of women, girls and trans women who were victims of violence.
Philadelphia transgender activist Dominique Rem’mie Fells, whose dismembered body was recently found in the Schuylkill, was one of the names.
“Impact the lives of others. Again, Impact the lives of others — this was one of the wishes Dominique Rem’mie Fells shared with those who got to know her. Dominique, we are here to fulfill that wish,” said Terri Edmonds, Fells’ mother.
“Our mission is to push for tolerance and acceptance for all. The LGBTQ community should never have to leave a place or home to feel comfortable in their own skin and to be who they are … the fact that we have to come here and march the streets of Philadelphia, and others are doing the same across the country and around the world, is disheartening to us. Tolerance and acceptance should be a natural common way of life. LGBTQ should be afforded the same rights as everyone else who walks the earth.”
Edmonds, Fells’ father Keith Edmonds and several other relatives were among those who stood at the front of the march, holding a banner that said “Say Her Name.”
Tthe marchers shouted “Black Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter,” and “When Black women are under attack (what do we do?) Stand up, fight back!” as others played the drums in support.
There were also moments of music and artistic expression.
Halfway to the end, on 52nd street, they stopped for another moment of silence, a political protest rap by hip-hop artist Blak Rapp Madusa and remarks from other organizers.
YahNé Ndgo, of Black Lives Matter Philly, stressed the importance of collective freedom.
“We shouldn’t have to say Black lives matter to anybody, but we certainly shouldn’t have to say all Black lives matter to each other,” said Ndgo.
“I don’t understand why we are out here marching against this system that’s killing us. We also have to march for our own sister that was killed by one of us and just because she was being herself. There is no freedom for any of us if we don’t have freedom for all of us — every single one of us. There is no freedom for a Black man if there is no freedom for a Black woman. There is no freedom for cis people if there is no freedom for trans people. There is no freedom for able-bodied people if there is no freedom for disabled people.”
Keith Edmonds also spoke, calling for the activists to continue their work.
“As a larger community, we have a booming and impactful voice,” he said. “Share your stories of intolerance and unacceptance with your local leaders. Get to the polls and don’t rely on others to do it for you.”
The march ended at Malcolm X Park, where protesters engaged in healing activities, such as yoga.
Transgender peers of Fells spoke and gave tribute. Monica Rivera, of Morris Home, dedicated a Gospel selection, “Blessed Assurance” to her memory.
“We as Black trans women don’t know our expiration date,” said Alonda Talley, Fells’ friend.
Noting that the life expectancy of a Black trans woman is 35, Talley issued a dire warning: “My birthday is June … 1986. I’ll be 34. Ya’ll remember my tone, remember my mouth, because it’s not guaranteed I’m going to make it past 34.”
Samaria Bailey is a correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.