On May 25, 2020, an American black man named George Floyd was killed in the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His murder was at the hands of the Minneapolis Police and it affected so many people around the world, including me. It brought so much sadness and anger because we’ve seen too many instances of police brutality.
It’s not just in the United States, either. Racism and racial profiling are very prevalent in Canada, as well. Even in the LGBTQ+ community! So I wanted to bring together as many black voices as possible to share what being black means to them. Our voices will be heard.
Everyone remembers moments when they’ve felt they didn’t belong, but if we support one another and are open to learning beyond what we were taught growing up, we can build a better community for everyone. My inspiration and vision are to honour black culture, the black movement, black excellence and black history, including POC’s of all backgrounds.
Each person in this photo series I produced with photographer Fabian Di Corcia represents different aspects of black culture and community, which we are so proud of here in Toronto.
“Black Trans/Black Queer history is also a part of black history,” says Toronto performer Nicolette Brown. And though our ‘herstory’ isn’t always celebrated or included, Nicolette chose to celebrate and reflect on our community’s accomplishments: “I celebrate all the black trans women who came before me! Those who are in the community doing activism and bringing awareness… I celebrate and mourn all the black trans lives taken by senseless violence over the past year. This year as we face a global pandemic and I actually have the time to defy and celebrate black/trans/queer history/herstory and I appreciate where we have come from and know how much further we have to go.”
Tamar Miyake-Mugler is part of the Ballroom scene and travels all over North America to compete. It is important to have someone that represents the other side of history about Ballroom and Voguing, someone who can teach others how it all started in the 1960s and 80s. Tamar says “the ballroom scene fosters and celebrates all the queer things our families and society have worked so hard to beat out of us, and it allows us to organically explore the boundlessness of who we are and who we can be. It provides a community for those that truly need to belong and gives the girls something to look forward to. It all boils down to hope. A lot of us would be dead and gone had not been for the greatness that is Ballroom!”
Music is also important in black culture as it provides ways to express yourself and to escape some very harsh realities; both Roney X and D!XON have made a splash in the Toronto music scene and they are such inspirations to me during these lockdown times. They have us dancing in our homes and escaping reality, even for a moment…
To Roney, Black History means he gets to express himself through the very art form his ancestors set out for him, and it’s beautiful to see: “Music is meant to be inclusive,” says Roney, “it’s universal, and it can be heard all over the world! Music is something that everyone loves, it’s a feeling like no other. One that evokes many different emotions… I want to be the voice for those that are underprivileged by showing that we too have many talents that should be uplifted and cherished.”
“Music, to me as a black artist, means the world,” says D!XON. “I love being able to tell my story through lyrics, melodies, vibrations, textures, and visually through dance and digital media. I love that I have the ability to take people into my world in the hopes of inspiring them, relating to them, helping them feel good, sexy, authentic and love… What I love the most about music is that it’s the soundtrack to our lives. It triggers special memories and significant moments as soon as you hear it. As a black artist, I am so inspired by all of the amazing musical works created by black people, both past and present. I love the influence that black music has on the world and I really appreciate it.”
Black History Month is also a good time to reflect on our contributions to humanity and learn how we can continue to make Black History. Educating and working on the social injustices we face is always so crucial and I hope my contributions encourage future generations to continue working together. We need to inspire future leaders.
Right now, that’s definitely harder to do because COVID is keeping us all apart, but black performers (or even just performers of colour, in general) didn’t have many opportunities to work together even before the pandemic. It would be great to see more opportunities for us to work together when venues open up and we start performing again. I really miss seeing my fellow black artists striving for and achieving excellence.
Who inspires me? Well, the one and only Naomi Campbell has been an inspiration of mine for a long time. My drag name, “Naomi Leone,” derives from her and my birthplace, Sierra Leone. She’s not just a black model/actress, she’s a fashion icon, a runway legend, a culture innovator, and the founder of Fashion 4 Relief (which is a nonprofit charity organization). Naomi Campbell is unapologetic and she’s helped me in my craft by showing me different ways to be an activist. She taught me how to have a voice for the people.
Michelle Obama, another icon, is also an inspiration to me and so many others. After reading her book, “Becoming,” I really held onto one of the things she said: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s the power of using your voice.”
This spoke so loud to me. Our voice is the most powerful thing we have, and there’s power in allowing ourselves to be known and heard, owning our unique story, and using our authentic voice.
So is it too much to ask for the normalization of black culture this year? Is it too much to hope that by 2022, my black brothers and sisters and non-binary family will be accepted? We’re tired, but we are resilient.
Remember that everyone is welcome to the table to discuss and amplify black history! Whether it’s by donating money, attending protests, educating yourself or amplifying the voices of black people, there are many ways to support the global struggle against racism. We should inspire and educate each other, but everyone needs to do their part – no matter where in the world you are.
We’re still making history!
Note: This project is truly a vision come to life and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved. These incredible human beings are the voice and inspiration in our community. Not only are they representing themselves and the meaning of what black means to them but also wearing local black designers! I believe we can all sit at the table by supporting one another!
Creative Director: Victor Keita aka Naomi Leone
Photos: Fabian Di Corcia
– Anastarzia Anaquway
– L’Uomo Stano by Mic. Carter
– Kyle Gervacy
A final thank-you to Elysia Stewart and Crews & Tangos for allowing us to use their spaces.