Why yes, that IS baby Denarii in that picture!
A certain class of people might wonder, judgmentally, why I'd add such a grainy and "unprofessional" photo to my fancy professional website.
But you already know what I look like today. This is my "About Me" page, where I talk about where it all started. If you're gonna learn all about me, I might as well start there.
Plus I was adorable.
I was born on March 11th, 1987 on Long Island (New York), but I was raised in Queens until I was about 10 1/2. I was raised with my younger brother, Ben 3, by my mom, Bevelyn. I also have two older half siblings: LaShawn, the eldest of us, and Ben 2. We all have the same father, who passed away in October 2016.
My mother, Ben 3, and I moved to (the Black parts of) Long Island as I entered the 5th grade; that is where we remained until I graduated high school. First we lived in Roosevelt, then Hempstead, the high school of the latter of which I graduated from in 2005. I am not ashamed of where I come from.
I left Hempstead to attend Rutgers University (New Brunswick campus) in the fall, where I majored in English. I planned to become a high school English teacher, but the ancestors were secretly laughing in my face. I officially graduated in 2011, after a two-year hiatus for...reasons, but "spiritually" I still consider myself Class of 2009.
While the sum of who I am is deeply impacted by my life before college (including trauma) - hence the baby picture - Rutgers is where my life changed. Despite the exorbitant expense, especially as an out-of-state student, I wouldn't be the person and activist I am today without it.
I came out as bisexual to myself on February 21st 2006, my second semester at Rutgers. The following school year, after spending the summer studying abroad in Italy, I joined an LGBT student group for people of color (what we'd refer to today as BIPOC), an organization with a rich history at Rutgers (that still exists today).
It was through this organization, LLEGO, that my political education and career as an activist began.
I came out publicly (but subtly) on Coming Out Day 2007, my first semester as co-president of LLEGO.
After leaving Rutgers in the summer of 2009, I returned to Long Island, where I began part-time work at Target. I worked there for three years; it was here that my class consciousness developed further and moved much further to the left.
Knowing that I needed to be doing something beyond working retail, I joined a recently formed community choir, Voices of Virtue, in 2010, spearheaded by my high school choir director, Ms. Rachel Blackburn. It was, and still is, comprised of alumni, former Hempstead High School choir members. The following year, we traveled to Prague for a youth choral competition, where we received the highest score in our category. VOV primarily sings classical music and Negro spirituals, though its repertoire is vast. I will always be proud of and grateful for my time under Rachel Blackburn's tutelage, both as a high school student and VOV member. Give music educators everything they deserve!
However, I also knew that I couldn't leave activism and queer community needs alone; it was in me. So I volunteered at the Ali Forney Center in NYC for a few months, which pushed me to move forward with my life and finally apply to graduate school. I was accepted to Pace University's Graduate School of Education, where I focused on Secondary Education - the English track, of course.
While I wouldn't be who I am today without Rutgers, there is no doubt that my two years at Pace pushed my politics forward and expanded them. Through my program, as well as the many lovely undergraduate students I met during my year as a graduate assistant at Pace's LGBTQ & Social Justice Center, I learned about disability activism, justice, and liberation.
Little did I know how much I would need that knowledge and community as my own disabilities began to manifest. I lived in Brooklyn for a couple of years before moving back in with my mom in 2015, where I currently reside. We live in government subsidized housing (a.k.a. the projects) in a predominantly Black and Latinx town on Long Island.
When I'm not working or traveling for work (conferences, panels, etc.), I'm here with her and my dog named Dog and my cat named Cat. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my favorite show of all time; Willow is my favorite character. Hanson (yes, that Hanson, for those old enough to remember) is my favorite band. Stevie Wonder is my favorite solo artist. Horror is my favorite film genre. I'm a Pisces and I love nature, which means I love parks and the beach. I hate summer with the passion of 10,000 suns, however; fall is my favorite season. I love Halloween, Spongebob, and New York.
I practice African diasporic religion, specifically Hoodoo, and consider myself a Blitch (Black witch), a term coined by Daizy October Latifah.
non-binary, specifically agender, and more specifically exogender, a term I coined for Black/African-descended people only
a survivor of sexual violence
multiply disabled, including (c) PTSD due to the above
poor and unashamed
and, of course, Black AF.
My (a)gender pronouns are she/they and I strongly prefer that people mix it up regularly, if one can remember to do so.
I have been in activist space of various kinds for almost 13 years. Like many (but not all, or even most), I started out as a student activist during my undergraduate years at Rutgers.
I began as a queer student leader, specifically co-President of LLEGO, the Rutgers University (New Brunswick) LGBTQIA student organization for Black and Indigenous folk and people of color. I spent two years in that role where, in addition to hosting student-led discussions, film screenings, organizing marches and protests, and curating both social and educational events, we also fought for trans-inclusive on-campus housing and other measures (laying some of the foundation for the successes that followed my tenure at Rutgers).
As co-President, I also helped organize the first ever Queer Ball, an end-of-year prom of sorts for queer and trans students who, in high school, are often prevented from bringing our full selves to celebratory spaces. That inaugural Queer Ball was in 2008 and, proudly, it continues to this day.
After a few years in retail, I returned to my role as a queer student leader at Pace University (Manhattan). I spent a year as the graduate assistant for Pace's LGBTQA & Social Justice Center.
There, my role was much more education and community-building centered. I started the student discussion group "Just B" in the spring of 2013. "Just B" was a safer space for folks like me: bi+ (plus) community (and our allies) carved out space to talk frankly about our individual experiences, discrimination, fears, joys, and community needs.
One of my most favorite things about my time there was the rapport I developed with queer and trans undergraduate student leaders. I was well-loved because I obviously cared about our community's youth, I wasn't judgmental, and I believe that they learned from me. To this day, I occasionally run into former students; they still greet me with the happiness that they did back then.
Building those types of relationships - with our contemporaries/peers, elders, and youth - is unbelievably important to our community's sustainability, growth, and liberation. It was confirmation of my desire to work with youth and young adults, just not in the way that I had imagined (as a high school English teacher).
Since I left Pace in the spring of 2014, my activism has blossomed and expanded. Up until this point, I was focused on student organizing, community building, and education. But I began to realize that I had another tool in my arsenal: my formidable writing skills. I began to focus my attention on writing as activism.
My freelance writing career technically started in November 2013, when my first ever essay was published on the (sadly) now-defunct Black Girl Dangerous blog. I continued school through the spring, then began searching for traditional work. By the end of the year, I found myself hired as a freelance writer working for Everyday Feminism.
I found my footing there; the vision for my life and career started to become clear, but it wasn't complete. I continued to write for various publications. Fast forward a few years and, after truly coming to grips with the fact that, as a multiply disabled person, I would never hold any "traditional" job, I figured out what had been in front of me since I was a child: I am an artist - and writing is only a part of that.
In 2017, I returned to music and began incorporating both it and my poetry into my activist toolkit. I produced three shows featuring my music, poetry, and storytelling right here in New York called "Denarii Grace Presents: HERSELF." The last show, in February 2018, featured bad ass all-Black woman rock group The Txlips (pronounced Tulips) and was attended by actress, singer, and out bi icon Sara Ramirez!
Also in those budding years, I found myself continuing in the vein of education and community building - that would never get away from me.
As I was writing and singing, I was also on panels for various events, including discussing bi+ (plus) representation in media for both GLAAD in September 2016 and in October 2017 at NewFest, NYC's LGBTQ film festival.
I was a board member of Boston-based Bisexual Resource Center for about a year and a half, where I focused mainly on the blog and other writing/editing endeavors.
In January 2017, I began co-facilitating the Bi+ (plus) Institute at the Creating Change conference (hosted by The National LGBTQ Taskforce). I've done it every year since, educating bi+ (plus) community of all ages (and some of our allies) on various issues relating to our experiences and needs.
Also in 2017, I became a nonfiction editor at The Deaf Poets Society, an online journal featuring D/deaf and disabled literature and art, curated and edited by D/deaf/hard of hearing, Blind/low vision, disabled, Autistic, and chronically ill folks.
In February 2018, I received the 2017 Brenda Howard Memorial Award from the Queens, NY chapter of PFLAG for my decade-long advocacy for and commitment to the bi+ (plus) community. In March 2018, I coined the term "exogender," a term for Black/African-descended people only, that most adequately describes my experience of (a)gender as it intersects with Blackness, fatness, and skin color. It is a form or subtype of agender.
In January 2019, I founded Fat Acceptance Month! That first year, I hosted weekly Twitter chats and, at the end of the month, I hosted an educational webinar "The Elephant in the Waiting Room: Self-Love, Health, and Queering Fat Acceptance." That's actually one of the workshops that I have listed! Click the FAM link above to learn more about what's to come for future FAMs and how you can get involved.
There are probably other works that I could talk about and list here, but I'm trying not to make this section too long or tedious. I say this humbly, but feel free to Google me! Honestly, I'm not 100% (percent) sure that I remember everything. I completely forgot about something I listed here until I searched for something else, lol. Disabled brain, I call it.
I am proud of the work that I have done as a Black, bi, disabled, fat activist. I pray to my ancestors that it has taught people, helped them unlearn and grow. I pray that it pushes our fight for liberation forward. And I look forward to much more to come - including a nonfiction book (and hopefully film)!
Legendary Elaine Brown, cultural commentator April Reign, and me at AfroPunk Solution Sessions 2019!