“I want to create a world that I didn’t grow up in,” said KOKUMO, 23, a transgender woman who hails from Jeffery Manor, a secluded community on Chicago’s South Side.
She never imagined that she would create the means to make her dream a reality.
“[Transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex] people are definitely making strides, but when it comes to black and brown TGI people, we’ve got a long way to go,” said KOKUMO.
She is working daily to close the gap.
KOKUMO, which literally translates to “this one will not die”, is living through learning. She is active in numerous organizations around the city – namely, Affinity Community Services, Broadway Youth Center and her own entrepreneurial venture, KOKUMOMEDIA.
KOKUMO graduated with an Individual Curriculum B.A. with a concentration in Psychology from Chicago State University. It was here where she found herself rooted in what she calls “artivism.” She is currently rounding up a 10-month program as an Affinity Fellow, while working at Broadway Youth Center.
“My job is to basically make sure that youth come into that space and empower themselves and that they are assured that their voice not only matters, but it can create change,” she said.
As a Program Design Specialist, KOKUMO works to create culturally-competent programming that speaks to the experiences that youth are going through.
“I feel like I’ve been doing too much,” she said, behind a giggle.
As an out, black, transgender woman on campus, KOKUMO performed her one-woman play entitled, “The Faggot Who Could Fly”. It’s the story of a transgender woman who survived sexual abuse and domestic violence in order to recognize her trans-womanhood. It is her story.
“I opened for the final Gwendolyn Brooks conference for Black writers where there were almost 300 guests,” she said. “I was an openly-trans woman telling my story on the south side of Chicago and I had a theater of black, brown and white people applauding me, applauding how I survived. It was wonderful.”
Organizations are lining up to applaud KOKUMO’s work. This upcoming Saturday, she will be honored as the recipient of the Outstanding Service, Youth Award by Pride Index at their 6th annual Esteem Awards ceremony.
Her activism — or “artivisim” — has included symposiums, one-day festivals, and her debut solo album, I Shall Not Be Denied, due to release next summer.
She is currently writing a three act choreopoem, slated for completion in the Spring or Fall of 2013, entitled “Beauty is My Revenge”. It will be centered on the lives of four transgender women of color and it will showcase their experiences with sexual abuse, the sex trade, their families and the world.
Her first major event for this summer is Trans, Gender Non-Conforming and Intersex Freedom (TGIF) Enterprising from the Margins – Chicago’s first transgender festival and picnic, and the world’s first Black transgender pride event, she said.
The festival will take place on Sunday, July 29 in Union Park from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. More information about the keynote speakers, Kyle Broadus of the Trans People of Color Coalition and the performance lineup can be found on the Facebook event page.