About sawatkins6

I specialise in strategic communications through a social justice lens. I am currently based out of New York City, and am impassioned to raise my voice to call out injustices and marginalisations existing throughout the U.S. and our world.

Hey 2016: Hello From The Other Side

It’s the end of the year. The end of 2015! 2016 is just a few hours away, depending on where in the world you are. That last line I feel the most right now. I’m reminded how I get to see nonstop celebrations about the new year on social media because of my friends all over the world — old and, especially after this year, new. Shout out to the Philippines!

Sempre um intercambista 

Where has this year gone? I’ve done so much. Been to so many places. So many things. And yet I still have a lot to learn.

I have NO idea what 2016 has in store for me. It shall be one hell of an adventure though, I’m sure.

Positive energy for that one.

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Real Talk: The Teacher Who Put Her Hands On Her Student

Today I read the news about a Black mom facing charges of second-degree assault and strangulation after authorities say she beat her daughter’s middle school teacher to the point of unconsciousness. At first when I saw this headline, I chuckled, only out of the fact that it took place on Long Island and I know the school district. But upon informing myself more, I’m really sad to see another story of our system set up to keep Black women held behind. While major news outlets lead the story with headlines of the Black mom as the aggressor, what they make sure to leave out until the middle of the story is that this mom was reacting to the claim that the teacher “put her hands” on her child.

So I want to break this down.

I’m not saying the mom in this story is right for hitting the teacher (though I’m not exactly saying she is completely wrong either), the main problem here for me is that this teacher put her hands on this child. For those who didn’t grow up with a Black woman in their household—to “put their hands on my child” is a statement we know to mean serious business.  Continue reading

The Word of the Day Is: Intersectionality

I can remember the first time I was introduced to the term “intersectionality.” I was in my sophomore year of undergrad, and I was coming up with ideas on what I wanted my first programme to be focused on for my LGBTQ student leadership group. I wanted to use my experience of feeling like I could only live either in the “Black world” or the “gay world,” never both at the same time, to bring a new understanding to my peers. I called the programme “Intersections” and thought I was the first person to use the term. I never thought this programme would foreshadow a future speaking out on intersectionality. Fast-forward five years later, and I am still passionate about speaking to the intersections of my life and others around me.

Now in my adulthood, I allow myself to walk in my intersectional truths without choosing to live in only one community our systematic society tries to keep me in.

There are many terms I can use to identify myself: Black, gay, male, cisgender, feminist, traveller, writer, New Yorker, American, Brasileiro no coração (Brazilian at heart), space nerd, global citizen, a Beyoncé stan—all of these, plus more, represent me. My being is a product of my lived experiences throughout the many places I’ve been fortunate to see, and it is because of these experiences that I am able to speak so truthfully from the heart. What sits on my heart today is how narratives of communities I hold close to my heart continue to be erased. As a fighter for social justice, I understand the importance of people’s intersecting identities and how these intersections affect my work.

By denying or not purposely spreading narratives that speak to the multiple intersections of individuals, you are assisting in the erasure of others’ narratives.

My heart is thinking of Black women and trans women of colour—two communities who often face silence of their narratives more than any other group. Not only are the achievements of my Black and brown sisters often questioned in ways that never exist for men, the crimes against them face an abhorrent silence. As feminism continues to rid itself of the “dirty” narratives popularly associated with it, Black women have been firm in addressing the need for specific conversations on Black feminism and the erasure of Black women in the main feminist narrative. Black feminism in itself is an example of intersectionality. As race and gender professor Kimberlé Crenshaw explains it, Black feminism “argues the experience of being a Black female [that] cannot be understood in terms of being Black, and of being female, considered independently, but must include the interactions, which frequently reinforce each other.” A bit of some theory to wrap your head around, but it’s this simple: Black women face more marginalisations and injustices than women not of colour. Before considering yourself a feminist, search within yourself about what this fact means to you first. If you need some help, go and google #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen.

My heart also calls out for my trans sisters of colour. While the country has come to organise around the unjust deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner this year, 12 trans women of colour were brutally murdered in a 6-month span. Where have the rallying crowds been to call justice for these women? Many of these murders have been at the hands of other Black or brown people, a fact that forces us to see the continuing divisions within our own communities. We live in a world where almost every Black person has to feel the fear of dying just for being Black in America—this is an undeniable truth. When you are calling out Black lives matter, make sure you are not only just speaking out for the cisgender male lives we’ve lost. The unjust murder of Islan Nettles, a 21-year old trans woman who was brutally beat in front of a NYC police station, makes my heart weep just as much as Mike Brown’s. If the same is not true for you, then I ask you to re-examine how much Black lives really matter to you.

Trans-activist and goddess Lourdes Hunter so fiercely says, “My name is all the Trans women being murdered. I speak for all of them.”

It is bold and truthful statements like this that must continue to be disseminated across the public screens around the world. I refuse to have the narratives of women of colour further erased. I am writing these words today to help create a reality that doesn’t continue to disallow Black women’s stories from being told. The only way we can achieve the change we want in this world is for everyone to join in solidarity to call out the diverse forms of injustices and marginalisations every single person faces. For me, it has been my ability to see the complex intersections that lie within myself that makes my heart open up for those suffering wounds I may not have to deal with. My heart smiles at the images of activism that seem to have been rebirth around racial justice this year, but let’s make sure we are honestly standing up for ALL those who face injustice.

Understand your truth, own it, and keep yourself open to continue learning more about what others face. It is a tiresome fight, but believe me when I say it is worth it. Listen to others and accept their intersectional experiences as anecdotes that you can use to empower you to speak out for justice.

Stand up in true solidarity!

#100toWatch: My Selection as a 100 Black LGBTQ/SGL Emerging Leaders to Watch!

I am excited and honoured to announce that I have been selected as one of the National Black Justice Coalition‘s 100 Black LGBT/SGL Emerging Leaders to Watch! Over the past year, I have used my platform as a gay Black writer to be a voice for injustices and marginalisations throughout the world, and I am so happy to have the support of NBJC behind me! This announcement comes at a time where speaking out against injustices is more important to me than ever. From the injustice served to the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner to the 42 missing Mexican students who disappeared after staging protests targeting corrupt government officials, the only way I can find peace is if I stand up for the world I deserve to live in. Thank you to all who have supported me in creating a better world for us all. I can’t wait to meet my fellow leaders working to build a brighter future where justice and equality are granted to all.

To learn more about this campaign, click here.

How I Stay Happy While Fighting For Social Justice

I’ve touched on this topic in previous posts, but this is everything.

Don’t forget to SMILE! =]

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For anyone who cares about the marginalized, every day is emotionally draining. There isn’t a moment that goes by where you can’t find countless examples of unnecessary cruelty toward oppressed people, and it’s hard not to think about how we are so far from where we need to be in addressing injustices even in the most progressive parts of the world. Recognizing this can be depressing and it’s hard to stay positive most of the time, and yet, somehow I do.

Unless you only know me from social media, where my posts and debates have gotten me accused of being “angry all the time” and have caused people to reach out because they are “worried” about me (LOL, thanks y’all), you’ll know that I’m generally upbeat, hopeful, and in good spirits. This doesn’t mean I don’t get angry (I probably am angry all the time), and it doesn’t mean the world…

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Revolutionary Thoughts

“[My message is to] own your imperfections and all the things that make you interesting, because I refuse to allow someone to put me in anybody’s box.” –Beyoncé Knowles-Carter

We are always learning in this world. Whether that means you’re a student in a classroom, a professional navigating your career, or a child who has had to grow up at a young age because of circumstances you are unable to control, we are always learning. Learning equals growth, and regardless of the way you have learned what you know, it’s important to own your experience in new conversations with others.

Storytelling is a form of education that goes deeper to our core than any textbook.

This past year has been a journey for me of liberating myself. What started out as reconnecting with the energy of Nelson Mandela through his autobiography shortly after his passing has led me to authors whom, I have always known to be great, but never had the chance to read their work myself. Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Chimamanda Adichie, Janet Mock—the list goes on. I can easily say that this year has been the first of many more to come that reading became one of my favourite things to do.

Words have power, and though I never needed to read any of the books I have read over the year to know this, it’s important that I speak this into the universe. Whether it is written or spoken, words invoke meaning, emotion, and most importantly, force us to think about situations we may never have thought of before. It is from this understanding of the power of words that brought me to start this blog.

Recently, I have entered a state of transitional employment, and while I stay positive that my calling will reveal itself to me soon, I have had to fight with sources of negative energy in my mind that try to steer me off course. As a gay Black male who is conscious of the white, patriarchal, and heteronormative society I live in, it seems like there is so much out there that is trying to silence me.

For my entire life, I have been used to being one of few people of colour in rooms, but as I have been liberating myself this year, I find that I am always second-guessing whether I want to be that minority or not. Why? Because I am tired of white faces pretending to care when I advocate for my marginalised communities only to forget it five minutes later and follow their own personal agenda. I know this is not the case for every white person I speak with, but from my experiences over the past year, this is my truth.

When applying to jobs, I find myself debating whether I should water down my mission of being a voice for the Black community and Black LGBTQ community. My fear is that my prospective employer may write me off as another angry Black person who will only bring “unwanted drama” in the workspace. And as hard as many of you would like to think that this doesn’t happen, it does. But what’s important for me to remember—and sometimes I forget this—is that employers who might think this of me just aren’t for me. My words are my truth, and I refuse to lie about it in order to get a job.

My thoughts are revolutionary, and I speak truth into this world so that others can hear about the world I want to live in.

If people can’t handle it, that’s fine, because I’m going to keep being me. I’m grateful for the strong support system of friends in the movement for racial and social justice I’ve created. Even without a conversation between us, seeing the revolutionary work they have dedicated themselves to reminds me of the power that lies in being truthful to yourself.

I recently was at an event at the Centre for Social Innovation where they asked all of us to write down one thing that can make New York a better place. My answer was conversation. So much of who I am and what I love in life has come from conversations with others. When we talk to one another, we are sharing our stories, and whether we support these stories or not, it’s important that we keep an open mind to listening to others so that we can better understand ourselves.

Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with someone new. You never know just what kind of connection the universe has in store for you.

Their Deaths Didn’t Have To Happen: My Story With HIV/AIDS

The following post was written by guest writer, Pamgrace Gachenge, founder and executive director of PAUSE Project.

I was in my room watching TV when I heard my mother scream from the kitchen. I ran downstairs to find her on the floor crunched in a fetal position with the phone to her ear. “Mommy, Mommy, are you ok?” I yelled. With barely enough breath her crackled voice uttered, “He is dead!”

Wrapping my mother in my teenage arms, I couldn’t find the words to comfort the strongest person I knew. For hours she sobbed, “Why, why, why Peter?”

That day I lost an uncle, but my mother lost her best friend and beloved brother.

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Raven-Symoné: “I’m An American, Not An African-American”

I love Raven-Symoné. I always have. As Olivia, she was my favourite character on The Cosby Show (until the adult me realized the legendary-ness of Mrs. Claire Huxtable), I shared middle and high school years with her as Raven Baxter on That’s So Raven, and I even have some of her discography on my iTunes. But all of those things aside, I have loved Raven-Symoné as an individual who has always held a strong head on her shoulders despite whatever madness may be going on around her in celebrity culture.

So when I found out she sat down with Oprah for a “Where Are They Now?” segment, I knew I’d be all about it.

In this recently aired special, Raven stirred the waters when she said, “I’m an American, not an African-American.” Now before I dive into this loaded statement, I want to make sure you all understand the context in which she says it. In this case, Raven was answering a question Oprah was posing to her in regards to her sexual identity—since August 2013 when she made a tweet saying she could marry whomever she loves with the support of the government, Raven’s sexuality has been a question people have been dying to have an answer to.

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We Are One Beloved Community

Last week I was in Washington, DC to attend/volunteer for the National Black Justice Coalition’s OUT on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit, a four-day long summit that convened key stakeholders in the Black LGBT community, including elected officials, policy advocates, activists, and emerging leaders. To say it was an amazing experience would be an understatement—it was beautiful, uplifting, and most of all, empowering.

For the first time in my life, I was around people who both looked like me and identified in the same community, who I could reach out and talk to with open arms.

From the moment I walked in on the first day, I was embraced with a “hello” and a “Yasss honey, WERKK!” (in reference to my Beyoncé pin I adorned all week). From that moment on, I felt around family. Continue reading

People’s Climate March: I Marched for the Amazon

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” -Frederick Douglass

On Sunday, September 21st, I took part in a social milestone of our world by walking in the People’s Climate March, and I loved every single minute of it. I marched through the streets of New York with over 400,000 people all in the name of one thing: protecting our planet.

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