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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-09-06



Activist Rachel Williams talks #SayHerName, BYP100, intersectionality
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

This article shared 1054 times since Wed Jul 20, 2016
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Chicago native Rachel Williams has been an activist since their high school years at Chicago Public School's John Hope College Prep in Englewood. Along with their activist work, Williams also served on the student council and competed with the policy debate team at their high school.

Born in 1991, Williams grew up on the Far South Side. Like a lot of Black queer high school students, they struggled with accepting their identity. ( Williams uses the pronoun "their." )

"My high school activism was limited to putting ribbons together in solidarity with Jena Six and also being an ensemble member with About Face Youth Theatre," said Williams. "Going north to Boystown and the Center on Halsted [the Center], I realized that this supposed utopia for LGBTQ people was a fantasy for those of us who weren't white cisgender gay men with a hell of a lot of access and money. Black and Brown youth were over-policed and made to feel not valued, but at the same time were used to bring funding into the Center. We were forced to go through the side door because we aren't a good representation to what the perfect clientele was. This was the a turning point for me as a Black queer person."

During Williams' high school years, between 50-60 students were lost to violence; this fact, along with their experiences in Boystown, has fueled their activism since the mid-2000s. Williams explained that, at the time, they thought the only way to do community work was to go to college, so they went to Kentucky State University, a historically Black college, but didn't finish school.

"I don't have plans to finish my degree at this point of my life," said Williams. "Maybe one day when or if college education doesn't equal debt and having to hold off building a family because of the debt that you acquired trying to subscribe to a fake-ass American dream. Plus a degree shouldn't define your intelligence or worth in a capitalistic society."

Williams returned to Chicago in the fall of 2013 and immediately dove into activist work. In November 2014, Williams got involved with Black Youth Project 100 ( BYP100 ) and currently serves as an organizer with the group.

"I knew about BYP100 for quite some time before I actually took the plunge and joined their organization because I'd been scarred by other organizing spaces," said Williams.

Williams is also involved with the #SayHerName campaign—an initiative of the African-American Policy Forum think tank that raises awareness and seeks justice for Black women who've been subject to police violence. They got involved when one of the leaders of BYP100 at the time brought them in as a co-lead for the campaign.

"The #SayHerName campaign was created to address how Black girls, women, femmes and gender non-conforming folks are treated by state sanctioned violence, intra-community violence as well as intimate partner violence and how that ties together," said Williams. "Because when the Black community at large talks about these issues, it's directed at cisgender Black males who most of the time identify with heteronormativity."

Along with their work with BYP100 and the #SayHerName campaign, Williams is also a debate coach at Michele Clark Magnet High School—a CPS school on the Far West Side of Chicago.

"I spent most of my high school career in policy debate," said Williams. "I wanted to give back in a way that's transformative, so I became a debate coach."

In light of the recent events in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and outside of St. Paul, Minnesota, where police shot and killed Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, respectively, Williams told Windy City Times that "the assault on Black bodies by the state has existed since the inception of the 'new world.' The notable deaths of Black men, including Alton Sterling, Philando Castle and Alva Braziel—[the latter] in Houston, Texas—aren't uncommon. The fact that we actually don't know the names of the countless nameless Black women ( cis and trans ), girls, femmes and men who've been killed by police is disturbing.

"Rodney King's beating brought the horror that Black folks have known about all our lives. Before camera phones, the collective consciousness of America took the words of the police for the truth and justified the execution of Black bodies. In this moment where Black death is playing on replay for mass consumption, the disregard for the families and friends who have to watch their family member's execution for ratings or newspaper sales is the new age version of lynching. The fact that two Black men were found hung in Atlanta and New Orleans isn't lost on me, either."

As for how their identity influences the work they do, Williams said, "I identify as a fat, differently able-bodied [they have cerebral palsy, a condition that permanently affects body movement, muscle coordination and balance], queer, Black femme. As a person at the margins of society in so many ways, I'm in a unique position to amplify the most marginalized voices in the work for Black liberation. When I look at a lot of organizations, I don't see any Black folks who are differently able-bodied, so I try to push the door open because many of us have felt neglected in spaces. One of my missions is to make sure that spaces are accessible and inclusive of everyone."

Williams is also working on political education and deep community building and plans on continuing their liberation work for the foreseeable future.

As for Williams' message to the world, they said, "Stop overpolicing Black and Brown folks."

See and for more information .

This article shared 1054 times since Wed Jul 20, 2016
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