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IDK about y’all, but one thing that will def put a smile on my face is Southern gamechangers stomping out white supremacy.
We saw a lot of them over the past two years as they challenged racial injustices in the streets and city hall corridors in 2020. Many of these activists ran and secured political seats in 2021. This isn’t to say that this activism is a new trend. It is a Southern legacy that has turned the tides of justice in our nation throughout history.
As activism receives more media attention (as it should have from the beginning), we tend to reach out to movement workers during times of trauma. But what does liberating joy in activism look like? This is a question I toyed around with last year during my Black Power Heals series which explored how Black Southern women sustained themselves through liberating joy as they fought for social justice. Last May, I highlighted the nurturing power of movement mothers and how they inspire the next generation of activists.
So we tapped a popular Alabama activist who dove into the passion behind his work in a video produced by Reckon videographer Amanda Khorramabadi.
If you know of anyone else who is also interested in exploring this topic with me, forward this newsletter to them so they can discover how we as Black people are more than our resiliency.
Smiling through resistance
Ever since I started reporting on social justice issues a couple years back, Montgomery, Ala., activist Travis Jackson has been a regular on the frontlines of change.
It didn’t matter what the issue was – or where. From protesting officer-involved shootings in Huntsville, Ala., to fighting for LGBTQ+ rights at Alabama’s state capitol , Travis shows up and shows out with his thought-provoking signs..
Travis treats the fight for social justice like a full-time job. He is the cofounder and diversity, equity and inclusion officer of the LGBTQ+ organization Montgomery Pride United. He uses his male privilege to protect individuals as they seek abortion care and other forms of reproductive health services as a volunteer clinic escort with a nonprofit called POWER House. He’s also a member of Black Lives Matter chapters in Birmingham and Montgomery.
Travis said it is his duty as a bisexual Army veteran who did a 15-month tour in Iraq to fight for all citizens.
“When I got out of the military, I made a vow to myself that I will do my damndest to fight against anything homophobic, transphobic, racist, sexist, misogynistic or any form of hatred and bigotry,” he said. “I just felt like the greatest service to the country is to continue service after you get out of the military.”
Here’s how Travis find’s joy in his work:
- Fellowship of joy: Based on my observations, activism in the South is like being a part of a small family. They may not come from the same blood or share a last name. But they are bonded by a shared passion for justice. So, if someone is having a protest in north Alabama, it’s not surprising for other activists to take a trip to support them.
An example: A year after Huntsville Police launched clouds of tear gas and sprayed rubber bullets on peaceful protestors, activists from across Alabama returned to the city’s courthouse square and Big Spring Park to demand change on June 3, 2021. Travis, who was a speaker during the event, was happy to see that the traumatic events of 2020 weren’t repeated that day.
“Yes, we expressed some outrage,” Travis said. “But the fact that we didn’t have a repeat of June 3, 2020, and we were able to march through the streets without any type of police force period – that was a sense of liberation.”
After the event, Travis said his activism fam formed a prayer circle at the park and repeated mantras such as, “Regardless of the situation, Black is beautiful, creative and healing.”
“To me, Black joy is smiling while resisting,” he said
- Music is meditation: Music has always been a natural soother throughout Travis’ life. Growing up, his father filled their home with the sounds of Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and other icons and Travis watched his parents dancein the living room. After getting his first boombox at age 10, Travis would just be vibing to music in his room while staring at the ceiling.
“That was my form of meditation,” he said.
That love for music carried on throughout Travis’ adulthood. Right now, he’s vibing to Nas, Beyonce and Jhene Aiko. When the world shut down during the beginning of the pandemic, Travis kept by posting funny videos of himself dancing in his kitchen while cooking or dressed up in colorful pants or bathrobes.
“That was a sense of liberation because you know, when the pandemic first kicked off, basically shit went to hell? There was no vaccine. People were tripping about masks,” he said. “So I felt like that was dancing was my stress reliever.”
‘Bi is fly’
Learning to embrace his bisexuality has been one of Travis’ main paths to joy. He said he became aware of his bisexuality at five years old. But he kept his sexuality hush hush because he was part of a military family. After entering the military at 19, he wrote a coming out letter during the era of “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell,” a military policy that stigmatized LGBTQ+ service members for almost 20 years. Travis and other former LGBTQ+ military members revealed to the Washington Post how “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell” not only traumatized them during service, but also prevented them from getting benefits such as mental health care.
Travis is now on the journey of transforming himself from a trauma survivor to an overcomer. When it comes to loving your true self yourself, every day is homework, he said. In 2017, he purchased his first bisexual pride flag, which hangs in his kitchen. He started building community with other Black bisexual folks through Facebook groups and at protests. He wants them to know that they aren’t alone.
“I see that as a suicide and hate crime prevention,” Travis said. “Visibility sends a message of unity, power and even accountability because we need to make sure that you’re ok with being yourself.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey stated 75 percent of young people in the LGBTQ+ community identify as bisexual, but bisexuality is widely misunderstood. Due to stigma, bisexual people are at greater risk to experience anxiety and depression when compared to their gay or lesbian peers. Travis said he has faced biphobia both inside and outside the LGBTQ+ community, which is why he posts education resources on social media.
“I have heard people tell me that I’m confused or ‘You must choose the side.’ And I will tell them – and I still tell people now – the only thing I’m confused is why is someone’s bisexuality (is) an issue with someone else’s life?” he said. “I’m not confused. This is who I am. what you see is what you get. Love me or hate me. I am not going to lose sleep over you.”
Travis said speaking up has minimized his anxiety and influenced him to recognize his worth. So here are some affirmations Travis shared with us for people who may be struggling to embrace their bisexuality:
- “In a world full of rejection, there’s also going to be people who are full of acceptance. Don’t let someone’s rejection be a reason not to accept yourself. You’re beautiful regardless. You’re a sight to behold.”
- “Reach out to trustworthy people. It’s OK not to be OK. But it’s not OK to pretend that you’re OK.”
- “Don’t let someone force you to come out until you are ready to come out for yourself.”
- “Bi is Fly.”
Stay fly y’all by spreading your Black joy. See ya’ next time!