This is a picture of one of the most awesome people who ever happened to me.
His name is Ki'tay D. Davidson.
In this fabulous picture (from TL Talila Lewis), he's lounging on a wooden chair outside in San Juan, Puerto Rico, while at the National Lawyers Guild's Law for the People Annual Convention. He's got his laptop out, stickers facing frontward. One sticker is 3E Love's wheelchair heart. One says, Soapbox. One says, Some People Are Trans*; Get Over It. One says, I'm for Trans Students.
He's smiling, his warmth and fullness radiating love.
On December 2, 2014, Ki'tay left this world.
This is my fumbling, completely inadequate attempt to express the immeasurable magnitude of this incomprehensible loss.
You are fierce and fabulous, an unstoppable force, full of love, among the best of humanity. A gorgeous, radically living, out and proud black, disabled, queer trans man. An ally to the autistic community. A student leader. Community organizer, cultural activist, speaker of truth to power, advocate for truly transformative, compassionate justice.
There are people who have changed me so much that I cannot forget them. You were one of the best people to ever happen to me, and I know you have changed thousands of others. I am in awe of everything that you have done and everything that you are.
I only knew you for an incredibly short time, just a little over two years.
We met for the first time on Thursday, September 27, 2012. You and I (with others) were co-panelists in an American University sociology class. The phenomenal Allie Cannington asked us, separately, if we'd be willing to speak to Andrea Brenner's U.S. Society course about ableism, disability, identity, and the social versus medical models of disability. I remember the passion and commitment that filled your speech when you spoke on ableism.
It was impossible not to be moved, not to be impacted in some way by your energy. I have nothing but the highest admiration for your character, nothing but appreciation for your attitude, nothing but gratitude for your existence.
You became someone I went to first when anything came up. Something terrifying, overwhelming, and infuriating like a group I was part of deciding to support Autism Speaks over my objections. Something exciting and full of possibilities like the chance to speak on a panel about queer and disabled identities (that sadly never happened), or the request to suggest good speakers on ableism in education. Something personally important, something that made me feel accomplished, something I took as a success and wanted to share, like being quoted in two different news articles published on the same day. Something confusing, life-changing, and fraught with anxiety, like questioning my (a)sexuality. Something huge, intimidating, forward-thinking, like figuring out who to invite to join a planning committee for a Disability Cultural Center at Georgetown, or forming a new, community-based and grassroots-led disabled students collective.
When we were still barely acquainted, I was crying my eyes out on your shoulder because I sensed right away that you would get where I was coming from.
I began to see you at the Disability Rights Coalition meetings at American University, when I'd make the trek an hour or more each way -- shuttle bus to Dupont Metro, metro from there to Tenleytown, shuttle bus to American's campus, wait times in between. I didn't get to make it to all the events, but I made it to a few, drawn by the collective power of the group you were instrumental in forming. (I love the title you had: Director of Ableism Awareness and Community Outreach.)
We took this picture together on October 1, 2012, at a general meeting:
I fucking love how our only picture together, that's just you and me, is this one. I wanted to know, could you pick me up and hold me in a cradle grip like a baby. You picked me up, and here we are, captured on a shitty phone camera, grinning, laughing, and looking fabulous. Right in the middle of the Disability Rights Coalition meeting in a university classroom. Not everyone is willing to just throw professionalism and maturity and adult comportment out the window for someone they just met in a setting where a lot of other people would be more concerned with giving off a good impression.
You were one of the very first people I came out to as questioning and queer. I have no idea how to describe it, but you had a way of making me feel totally safe, totally comfortable, totally accepted.
Back at Georgetown, when I was looking for folks interested in building a Disability Cultural Center, you volunteered right away to be part of the planning committee. You came to our first committee meeting on Sunday, October 21, 2012. We met in a small room, called a library, which is really a glorified study room with an extra long table and one floor-to-ceiling bookcase. The meeting minutes, typed up by Reuben Atkins, suggest that I gave some ridiculous ice-breaker prompt for introductions. They say:
I can't tell if the question was about animals we're most like, animals we most hate, or what, but there we go, I said mosquitoes and you said cheetahs. I'm going to assume that this made sense at the time. (HA! When do things ever make sense?)
In fall 2012, I planned a panel at Georgetown on Disability and Inclusion in the Humanities to coincide with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network's annual gala. I asked four disabled activists to speak, and you were, once again, one of the first I thought to ask. Every time I heard you speak, I was blown away not merely by your wisdom and courage, but by your constant compassion and constant challenge.
Here's the flyer, for which I asked you what picture you should use. You chose the one where you're against a darkish blue gradient, wearing a gray striped shirt, diamond necklace, and jacket, somehow looking snazzy and professional and rad and casual all at once.
(Flyer has text on the left, a column of four photos on the right. Text says, "Disability & Inclusion in the Humanities. When: November 14th, 2012, 4pm - 5pm. Where: ICC 213, Georgetown University, 3700 O Street NW, Washington DC. Featuring: Elizabeth J. Grace, PhD, Ki'tay Davidson, Kassiane A. Sibley, Renleigh J. Bartlett. Accommodation Requests: email@example.com or 202-618-0187. Please send before Nov. 1." The pictures are, from top to bottom, Elizabeth (Ibby) Grace, Ki'tay, Kassiane Sibley, and Renleigh Stone. Under those is the Lecture Fund's logo.)
We spoke together two days later on Friday, November 16, 2012 about Ableism and Exclusion in Education, a breakout session for Georgetown's annual Education Week conference. There were maybe four or five people there, including Shain. At the time, I felt so defeated, even though there were still more folks present than during the empty room earlier this year. But it meant so much to have that opportunity with you.
On Thursday, July 25, 2013, you were one of eight disabled young people who were honored at the White House as Champions of Change for disability rights on the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Somehow, I was also chosen to be one of them.
During our panel discussion, you said, "Advocacy is not just a task for charismatic individuals or high profile community organizers. Advocacy is for all of us; advocacy is a way of life. It is a natural response to the injustices and inequality in the world. While you and I may not have sole responsibility for these inequities that does not alter its reality."
Here we are, all eight of us, smiling under the lights in the auditorium at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the screen behind us showing the White House's logo and the words, 23rd Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. There's Anupa Iyer, Zoe Gross, Anjali Forber-Pratt, Desiree Moore, Claudia Gordon (the White House's disability liaison), me, Zach Garafalo, Andrew Phillips -- and you. You all handsome in your dark suit, cobalt blue dress shirt, and black and white striped bowtie. The rest of us trying to look half as fabulous.
I will never forget how, for our blog posts for the White House's page, you opened yours, "An Open Letter," with this quote:
“It is our duty to fight, it is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” – Assata Shakur
The fact that you somehow got away with that and it's still up there is testament to your sheer awesomeness.
Just a few months later, you were there when Mia Mingus came to speak at Georgetown in October 2013. Her talk was called, "Disability Justice IS Queer Liberation," and it was soul soothing and empowering and beautiful.
At the end of 2013, after a surprisingly exhausting semester, I posted to Facebook my thanks for many of the people in my life whose existence has made it better.
Here, I find you too:
Ki'tay Davidson, Kylie Brooks, and [Nai Damato], thank you for your constant wonderful insights and challenges to re-examine and re-articulate how we do our relationships and how we do our activism.
When Nai Damato and I began to talk about who we wanted leading the Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective, you were one of the first people I thought of, but you were already living and working in California. It says right in our mission statement that we aim to be intersectional about disability justice and disabled activism, and if anyone's grounded and embodied in intersectional disability, it's you.
When I was invited this summer to the White House's first ever event on the intersections of LGBT and disability intersections, I was not surprised at all that you were among the speakers. Who better to ask? Who better to hear from?
Here you are, on the final panel, Youth & Resilience. Rebecca Cokley's moderating from her seat at the end of a long, polished wooden table. Then, arranged around the table, facing a room full of movers and shakers and dreamers and organizers and doers, you're in the middle, surrounded and covered in love. Smiling between Rohmteen Mokhtari, Allie Cannington, Rachel Eva Bass, Scottie Thomaston. Five people changing our communities at every moment.
When the Autism Women's Network and I announced the beginning of a fundraising campaign for an anthology on autism and race to be written by autistic people of color, you were among the first folks I asked for support from and among the first to show it.
This summer, (another) unarmed, young black man, Michael Brown was murdered by a police officer, shot six times, his body left lying in the sun in the middle of the street for four hours and twenty-eight minutes. You invited me to partner with you and Allie in conversation about solidarity and racial justice with the disability community -- a conversation you called, Answering the Call: A Conversation on Race, Disability, and Accountability. On Friday, August 22, you cultivated deep, critical conversations that have continued with #DisabilitySolidarity.
On September 23, you and Allie offered media partnership with #DisabilitySolidarity for the Lecture & Performance Series on Disability Justice that I've organized and hosted all semester at Georgetown. Coming from you? I immediately said yes. (Actually, I said, "That would be epic!")
The final event in the series for the fall was the other night, on December 2. The event was a panel called Critical Intersections with(in) Disability, Sexuality, and Feminism. The speakers were Julia Watts Belser, Julia Sanders, Karen Nakamura, and Ilana Alazzeh, four magnificent scholars, activists, poets, community builders. You would have loved the truth they spoke. I'd thought about asking you to join through Skype, but never followed through.
That night, I found out that you were no longer among us.
You were a part of so many communities, and I have absolutely no doubt that your existence, your presence was a transformative force for the better in every single one of them. The dozens upon dozens of messages left on your Facebook page, from those who knew you in middle school or high school, American's debate club, the Young People 4 fellowship, radical activist communities for queer liberation, disability rights, racial justice -- for all our limitations, for all our flawed memories, for all our bodies, shaking, weeping, empty, hollow, stiff, frozen, numb, devastated, bereft of you, for all our grief -- I can only weep for the loss we thousands must now grapple with in the wake of your departure.
Tonight, while moving through downtown D.C., spontaneous protests filled the streets after a second non-indictment in another case of police murdering a Black man. I checked my Twitter feed for the live updates streaming in, and I could only think of you. Just a few days ago, you posted to #BlackLivesMatter.
I tweeted: .@KitayDavidson, rest in power & love. For you, from all of us, #DisabilitySolidarity with #DCFerguson. You're with us. #BlackLivesMatter
The echoes of you, echoes of love, will keep reaching thousands more.
Ki'tay, may you rest in POWER and LOVE.
Here are links to some of the amazing things Ki'tay has written/said:
- On Being a Champion of Change
- Championing our Communities: An Open Letter
- Harness the Power of Diversity in the Workplace
- Reframing History and Reimagining Our Future
- Heart, Diligence, and Sacrifice
- Angry About The White Lesbians Suing For Having A Black Child? You’re Missing Something
- Disability Justice Is LGBT Justice: A Conversation with Movement Leaders
Read more about Ki'tay from the U.S. International Council on Disabilities and.Kurt Falk.