Guest Blog: Sharifa Whitney James on Queer Black Joy

Guest Blog: Sharifa Whitney James on Queer Black Joy

February marks Black History Month in the USA, and LGBTQIA+ History month here in the UK. Throughout the month we've been using our platform to amplify and to educate on Black Queer voices throughout history, and those of today, observing key moments for the Black and Queer communities, recognising the ongoing struggle for equality, and celebrating Black and Queer joy.

Week Four is all about Black Queer Joy, and we're thrilled to have a wonderful guest Blog by the awesome Sharifa, who will tell you all about her wonderful activism work for many members of her local and wider community, the other activists who inspire her, her exciting future projects and what Black Queer Joy means to her.

My name is Sharifa Whitney James. I am a Queer, Black activist, footballer, model and facilitator - originally from Wilshire, but I’ve been based in Bristol for 13 years.

I am passionate about elevating the voices of Black and Brown folks and my activism has led me to co-founding KiKi (a Bristol based QTIPOC organisation) and being part of the FA (Football Association) Advisory Board.

Kiki are a visible space and community group in Bristol for Black and POC queer people, who host music and cultural nights about our history and existence. We create safe spaces for discussions around our Blackness and our Queerness to happen and also collaborate with other organisations such as Bristol Pride, BootyBass (a Bristol DJ collective of women and non-binary people.) Another aim of ours as an organisation is to create events in spaces where you wouldn’t normally see Black and POC people, such as art galleries and cultural spaces in the centre of Bristol. I am proudest of how we founded and launched the organisation without any funding whatsoever - having people turn up to our first event meant so much to me.

My favourite event was the BootyBass collaboration, as it was the first time I’d ever been in a space that was centering Black Queer people in Bristol. It felt safe, wholesome, free and liberating, and we were able to foster this beautiful environment where people were able to understand and see our vision as an organisation. Through KiKi, I’ve had the chance to meet Black Queer underground rapper/producer Le1f, Toya Delazy (a Queer Black South African musician who creates ‘Afro Rave’ music) which was so much fun. Taking KiKi to Shambala Festival in 2019 and having a space in QTIPOC venue SanQtuary was really special: so rarely there are spaces in UK festivals carved out for Queer Black people.

I have worked in the charity sector for many years, with both community elders and young LGBTQIA+ folk and I love facilitating spaces where necessary dialogue can take place for these groups. This has led me to develop two new exciting projects for 2021:

  • OUR LAND: A project for Black Queer youth from rural areas (such as myself) - working with schools to develop safe spaces and support for young people who are grappling with their marginalised identities within the a rural context
  • THE QUEER BLACKITY BLACK JOY PODCAST: A podcast for Queer Black folk to come and share their daily experiences of joy and how they’ve cultivated it in their lives. My vision for this podcast is for it to be a space of healing, as it is a critical time to support Black Queer people.

My fundraiser for the podcast can be accessed here: The Queer Blackity Black Joy Podcast. The money raised will go to: podcast equipment, podcast technical support, paying an artist for the jingle, artwork and logo design and paying guests. Any leftover money will be set aside to work with Black Queer projects and individuals. I also hugely appreciate people sharing the GoFundMe page across their social media, as it has a big impact on the fundraising.

I am currently working with Football vs Homophobia and hosted a panel for them recently on the 24th of February. My ambition is to continue to develop more projects which facilitate dialogue with Queer and Trans people in football and other sports. Check out their future events here.

I've been playing football since I was 8 years old - it became a place of solace and escape for me as I was being severely bullied for being the only Black kid in my school. I ended up really falling in love with the game and have played in academies and at semi-pro level as well as grassroots. I’m currently playing for Red Falcons Women’s FC (an 11 a side team) and Steps FC (a small sided grassroots football team for women and non-binary people). Football brings me so much joy, it feels like the one place I can truly express myself, and I love being part of a team, scoring goals (…which rarely happens!) and socialising with my teammates.

I believe football is a great tool to bring people together, which is why I believe it's important to speak up and speak out about Queerness and Transness, especially at grassroots level - I say grassroots as it seems there are more barriers when it comes to elite football. There’s a bit more freedom in the grassroots context, and I really want to further conversations around inclusion in the game, especially when it comes to trans and non binary participation at grassroots and elite level. I would love to see more Black women taking up and being involved too, as there's a huge lack of female Black players in Bristol.

How I cultivate Queer Black Joy in my life:

💬Creating safe spaces with other Black Queer people

🛁 Hot baths with a lot of essential oils and Epsom salts

🥘 Cooking meals that remind me of home - comfort foods from both my Jamaican heritage and British upbringing

📺 Binging Real Housewives (if you know, you know!)

⚽ Playing in the sea, playing football and dancing

🌿 Being a Plant Mom - taking care of them and being amongst them

Regional & Grassroots Organisations

KiKi Bristol, Glitter Cymru - Wales, Unmuted Brum - Birmingham, QTIPOC Notts - Nottingham, Scotch Bonnet, Origins Eile - Ireland, Our Space Leeds, Rainbow Noir - Manchester, QTI Coalition of Colour - Cambridgshire, Colours Youth Network - meet-ups across the UK.

Queer Black Activists and Creatives Who Inspire Me

Chloe Cousins

Chloe Cousins (she/her) is a QTIPOC community organiser and youth worker. Chloe is Strategic Lead at QTIPOC group Rainbow Noir and Youth Worker and Director at Colours Youth Network. Chloe is passionate about creating spaces for community joy, exploration and love, and is a big lover of living room dancing and big green plants!

Suriya Aisha

Suriya Aisha is an Artist, Activist and Producer working in the cultural and community sector. Founder of UNMUTED - a network for LGBT people of colour in Birmingham and Co-Director of Colours Youth Network, she is passionate about creating spaces for the most marginalised communities. Suriya is the lead artist on soon to be released podcast @sickbabepod which will give voice to women and non binary people who live with invisible disabilities and chronic illnesses.

Camille Barton

Camille Barton (@afrooankali) (they/she) is an interdisciplinary artist, educator and embodiment researcher, who uses afrofuturism to imagine creative interventions towards systems change. They are invested in breaking down the mind body separation that is dominant in Western paradigms in order to create more space for flexible thinking, holistic healing and bridging across differences. Camille’s art practice weaves dance, clowning, DJing, facilitation, film and cultural production.

In 2020 the Berlin based artist directed The Grief Portal, a sci-fi inspired short film, commissioned by Performing Borders Live and Counterpoints Arts, exploring how grieving can be generative. Camille's work was also featured in the VPRO documentary, The Post Racist Planet.

Camille is the head of Ecologies of Transformation (2021 - 2023), a temporary masters programme at Sandberg Institute, exploring how art making and embodiment can facilitate social change. They are currently researching grief on behalf of the Global Environments Network, creating a toolkit of embodied grief practices to support efforts for intersectional, ecological justice. Camille also works as an advisor for MAPS, ensuring that psychedelic assisted therapies will be accessible to global majority communities (POC) most harmed by the war on drugs.

Lara Lalemi

Lara is a third year PhD Chemistry student, CEO of Creative Tuition Collective (@creativetuitioncollective) and co founder of Kiki Bristol. She is passionate about bridging the educational inequality gap by providing free tuition, extracurricular learning workshops and mental health support groups to young people from low income backgrounds. She wants to inspire the next generation of thinkers, innovators, and change makers to believe in themselves and their ability.

El Mose Issie

El (they/them) (@mose_issie) is a Black Queer Pansexual Podcaster and activist. They create and produce "It's A BAME's Life". They are also a member of Black Community Rising - a grassroots organisation against racism and oppression towards Black and Brown people. El is the co-chair for Sing Out Bristol, the biggest LGBTQ+ choir in the Southwest. El also creates self love workshops for the QTIPOC community and is a regular host on Ujima Radio, and board of director for House of Rainbow.

Tariq Elmoutawakil - Tarik Elmoutawakil (UK) is an artist and producer, and co-founder/co-director of The Marlborough Theatre in Brighton. Tarik created Brownton Abbey, the afro futuristic space-church themed performance party that centres celebrates and elevates queer, trans and intersex people of colour, to creatively address systemic problems of inequality and isolation for minoritised and marginalised communities.

Eshe Kiama Zuri

Eshe (they/them) embodies anti-oppression and kindness in everything that they do. They tirelessly consider how they can make events more accessible, how they can make places feel safe for those using them, and how to centre marginalised voices and people. They are involved with Notts Activist Wellness, @uk_mutual_aid, @yemojafoods and @vegansofcolour_uk.

Travis Alabanza

Travis Alabanza is a performance artist, theatre maker, poet and writer that works and survives in London, via Bristol.

Dr Ronx

Dr Ronx Ikharia (they/them) is emergency medicine doctor, who self-funded their way through medical school after leaving home as a teenager. They work in Hackney, and volunteer their spare time to give inspirational talks to local teens, working as a mentor, helping young people in Hackney with interview techniques and finding relevant work experience, and doing community charity work such as raising £2,000 to send more than 400 young people of colour in London’s East End to see Black Panther along with their parents and caregivers. They recently appeared on the BBC Documentary The Truth About Your Immune System as well as fronting other series The Unshockable Dr Ronx on BBC Three, and Channel 4 documentary Is COVID Racist? in November 2020.

Myah Jeffers

Myah Jeffers (@myahismyname) (she/her) is a Barbadian-British documentary and portrait photographer, dramaturg and director, living and working in London. She is currently the Literary Associate at The Royal Court Theatre and is on this year’s cohort of South London Gallery’s Film School.

Louise Ndibwirende

Louise (@louise_gw) (she/her) is an Equality, Diversity and Engagement specialist specialist, Public Speaker and Mental Health Advocate at Mental Health First Aid England

Anita Asante

Anita (@neetz2) is a footballer who currently plays for Aston Villa, an Amnesty International Ambassador and speaks on LGTBQ+ representation and acceptance in football.

Matilda Ibini

Matilda is a bionic playwright and screenwriter from London who writes for stage, TV, film and audio. She was awarded a scholarship from BAFTA and Warner Brothers to study a Masters in Playwriting & Screenwriting at City University and gained a Distinction. Her work includes her debut play ‘Muscovado,’ audio drama 'The Grape that Rolled Under the Fridge' and an upcoming play 'Little Miss Burden'

Sadie Sinner

Curator of The Cocoa Butter Club - a Black and LGBTQIA+ owned Performance production company; showcasing & celebrating performers of colour. Sadie is also a singer and has hosted Pride’s BAME stage for 3 years.

Aaron Phillip

Aaron Philip is an Antiguan-American model. In 2018, she became the first black, transgender, and physically disabled model to ever be represented by a major modeling agency and has since modeled in several major high fashion photo shoots and campaigns.

Trap Yoga Bae

Britteny Floyd-Mayo is a Yoga & mindset coach who does online yoga and wellbeing classes

ADHD babes

A support group for Black women and Black non-binary people with ADHD.

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