Senior Fellow Daria Sullivan lives with the philosophy that an assault on anyone’s womanhood is an assault on her own. As a firm believer that the Black community must remember that all Black lives matter, Daria chose to address the life expectancy rate of Black transgender women, which in the United States has been reported to be 35, for her Action Project.
“As a Black cisgender woman myself, I feel that it is my responsibility to fight for justice for all of my Black sisters; this especially includes those even more marginalized than myself.”
Daria was inspired by the concept of art for social justice that uses creativity to move an audience toward empathy and eventual productive change. She decided to create a huge poster with the number 35 in the center, highlighting the tragic life expectancy rate. She partnered with the Montclair Art Museum (MAM) and placed her poster in the museum during their recurring high-traffic event, Free First Thursday Night (FFTN). Daria placed Daniel Quasar’s redesign of the pride flag above the entryway to her display. Both that sign as well as the project description in the FFTN program notified all attendees that the space was only for those who accept the LGBTQIA+ community; “I sought to make the activity as ‘safe’ and transphobia-free as possible.”
“I live with the philosophy that an assault on anyone’s womanhood is an assault on my own.”
As community members entered the space, they faced a prompt: “Please write any accomplishment you made by the age of 35; anything you’re proud of. Or please write any aspirations you have for 35. What are your dreams? Where do you wish to be by then? Who do you want to be by then? Pick a sharpie, write your response on a piece of card stock, and use tape to stick your note somewhere around the BIG 35. Once done, watch the video on the iPad.” As people filled out their colorful papers, they noticed definitions for words such as “transgender,” “cisgender,” and “transphobia” listed around the room.
Ashlee Marie Preston dedicated her 34th birthday cake to Black transgender women who have lost their lives by the age of 35 because, statistically, she is not expected to reach 35.
The video shown was about a Black transgender woman, Ashlee Marie Preston, who dedicated her 34th birthday cake to Black transgender women who have lost their lives by the age of 35 because, statistically, she is not expected to reach 35. The pairing of the written responses with the viewing of the video was a means to get participants to understand and reflect on their privilege. “The fact that they either already lived to see 35 or are confident that they will both reach that age and thrive at that age is a privilege that many Black transgender women do not possess. I wanted to develop a creative means to educate the Montclair community in a memorable way.”
“The fact that they either already lived to see 35 or are confident that they will both reach that age and thrive at that age is a privilege that many Black transgender women do not possess.
While in the process of creating her piece, Daria continuously educated herself. She reached out to Black transgender women and other LGBTQ+ community members. They helped to expand her worldview and provided material for 35. Brianna, a Black transgender woman, provided a powerful quote that stood at the center of the 35 poster:
“I remember Laverne Cox making a statement about how it’s monumental for us to just step outside everyday. The risk that we take is so brave and courageous in just living and breathing in society day to day. I feel like that should be expressed in your piece. It’s so hard to feel like what you’re doing means something, but literally just being yourself everyday is breaking barriers for the next trans woman of color and the people around you are seeing the actual person and not reading about it on headlines. It’s important to be visible and in front of people. I often feel like how can I help our current situation. I am helping by just being.”