Next for the Stadium Goods Block by Block initiative, we'd like to highlight the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, an organization supporting and empowering Black transgender men and women across the nation.
One of the most marginalized groups in the country is the Black transgender community, so we feel it is especially important to highlight an organization protecting and defending their human rights. The Marsha P. Johnson Institute is named after and inspired by Marsha P. Johnson, a New York native, trans woman, performer, and activist that was a central figure in the Stonewall uprising of 1969. She was a true pioneer of the movement for trans rights.
The founder of the MPJI, Elle Hearns, was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about the organization and Marsha. Please learn more about the institute and how you can support the cause below.
Can you tell us the history of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute? When was it founded? And why?
I founded the Marsha P. Johnson Institute in 2019. Years before, I found myself organizing alone around the issues facing Black trans women. As a Black woman, I was on the front lines organizing nationally around Black trans power and resistance as part of a national organization. There weren't many other Black trans women doing that work at the time.
It became really clear to me that I had a responsibility in the role that I was in and the access I had been given, to make sure that I was supporting others who were trying to find their liberation.
The Marsha P. Johnson Institute really came out of a need to support new organizers that were emerging, but also out of necessity to respond to the murders of Black trans women.
Please speak about Marsha and how her story inspires you and the institute as a whole.
Marsha inspires us in so many ways.
Marsha always said, "I might be crazy, but that don't make me wrong."
I think a lot about what society has often told Black trans people about who we are. Crazy is something I believe has been assigned to us as a way of trying to make people understand the freedom that we have. While Marsha certainly gave her whole life to fighting for more freedom, there was something about Marsha that was already free. I have been so inspired by that personally. As for our organization, we have been inspired by the idea that we've possibly always been free; maybe we just didn't know it. Now the question we ask is, what power could exist for us if we knew that we were all free and we were all free together? I think that is a testament to how Marsha lived her life and how we certainly see the world through her eyes. She was providing the vision for what would become our today.
Marsha means so much to our possibility. Her efforts and those of the other men, women, and trans people who came before us, are a guide for us to reference as we continue to move forward. For us, Marsha is part of everything we consider in moments when we have uncertainty or doubt. We are always thinking about the things that Marsha left us. Whether it's photos or her voice, we are continually thinking about the role of our ancestors and our current reality. Marsha is a constant and a genius that we indeed rely on to help us navigate the uncertainty of the present time.
Your website lists the full mission statement and vision, but can you tell us, in your own words, your ultimate goal for what the institute can accomplish?
My ultimate goal is for the MPJI to be a sustainable, reliable resource for Black trans people. Whether it's ten, 15, or 100 years from now, our goal is to provide an opportunity for Black trans people to be supported, loved, and have a chance to know ourselves through the eyes of our community. The goal is to continue providing resources, educational opportunities, and monetary support for communities that need it and also serve as a mirror for our community.
How many members does the institute have?
Membership at the Marsha P. Johnson Institute is always growing. As of our last update, we have about 300 members. As the organization grows, membership grows. We are constantly finding new ways to onboard our members and engage them.
With the current nationwide protests against police brutality and racism, the institute's mission is obviously now more amplified than ever. How have you seen the community respond in support?
There has been such a tremendous outpouring of support. We are incredibly proud and filled with gratitude for all of the love and support that exists. One of the challenges is that we wish this level of love and support would have existed before we had so many names to count of people who are no longer alive. However, we certainly see the path forward and the possibilities that exist with so many new people interested in how they can be a part of movement and how they can support the emancipation of Black trans people from a system that forces us to have to make a choice around survival or death.
In your opinion, what needs to be done to call more attention specifically to the injustices and prejudices facing the trans community?
At this point, I think that there has to consistently be a clear calling for reparations. There has to be a clear call of redistributing resources at the local and state level. There has to be an overhaul of the American government for it to actually be in collaboration with people as opposed to ruling over people in this sole democracy that I think we all want to believe exists, but we know in reality it doesn't. There are a lot of overhaul opportunities that exist when you have this type of power. Whether it's through protests or through the member bases of organizations. There is a lot of power that certainly should be activated to make some room for more transformative changes that will create better circumstances for Black trans people.
What can somebody interested in your cause do to help?
You can certainly donate. That is the number one way that you can help support the Marsha P. Johnson Institute and help us be sustainable. We are a Black trans organization, which means that every person on staff is Black and so we try to make sure that we have the resources to sustain or team and our work. Your donations also help support our COVID relief efforts. We set a goal of being able to provide 100 people with $500 each, and we have an opportunity to surpass that goal and to continue to provide COVID relief for Black trans people for as long as this pandemic lasts.
You can also join our organization. We are a membership-based organization with lots of resources to support people. Those are two of the ways that you can get involved and be a part of our movement.
If you'd like to learn more about the Marsh P. Johnson Institute or donate, please visit its website HERE.
Photo credit: Serichai Traipoom for Marsha P. Johnson Institute