Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

In celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Days-Massolo Center hosted its annual community dinner. This year, attendees were treated to live a jazz ensemble led by Professor of Music Michael Woods and listened to speaker Jennicet Gutiérrez, a trans-liberator activist, before breaking into round table discussions on the topic of select MLK quotes. The event was the first in the DMC’s spring series, “After the Anger, Can You?”

Gutiérrez, a founding member of the nonprofit organization Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, considers herself political progeny of King, citing his belief in “fighting for the dignity of all people.” Gutiérrez began with a moment of silence to honor not only King’s life, but also “the lives we lost last year, and the people of color, immigrants and especially trans women suffering in detention centers across the country.”

As a passionate advocate for women’s rights and immigration reform, Gutiérrez is also a major player in the trans women’s movement and personally understands the importance of intersectionality in such campaigns. “Collaboration was a cornerstone for MLK’s movement,” she stated, “and he himself understood the enemy so well.” For Gutiérrez, “there are two Kings: the earlier one, who gave the ‘I have a dream’ speech and is most often evoked, then there is the second, who’s more radical.”

“The roots of racism run deep,” Gutiérrez continued, “and if racism didn’t still exist today, then we wouldn’t be celebrating Dr. King’s life, ponder that.” Police violence, which claimed over 1,000 lives in 2015, disproportionately affects people of color, she maintained. Even within the LGBTQ community, “the particular struggles of people of color are ignored or forgotten,” she argued, “and so I am very disappointed with the community.”

Particularly at risk are trans women, who are “one of the most vulnerable groups in the world,” especially in the prison industrial complex. For this reason, much of Gutiérrez’ work aims to benefit undocumented people of color, especially trans women, facing detention or deportation.

Refusing to stay in the silence imposed on her, Gutiérrez cited King’s refrain, “We have no alternative but to protest.” Gutiérrez commented on the Black Lives Matter Movement, saying that “they are showing us how to take direct action; I support them and stand with their movement. I stand for black power, I believe this is the vision [King] had and that he would be as proud of them as I am.”

Gutiérrez concluded by stating that many of King’s principles guide her own activism: “In the fight for liberation, we can’t limit ourselves to one cause or one community, we must fight state sanctioned violence, and fight for the dignity of all people.”

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