With the murder of George Floyd, rising protests, and the emergence of pride month, many turn to the history’s greatest civil rights leaders for advice on what to say.
From this, I have been able to meet as well as begin to admire the life of activist Marsha P. (“Pay it no mind”) Johnson.
Born in 1945, Johnson promptly moved to New York City with “$15 and a bag of clothes” after graduating high-school. Having worn dresses since she was 5, Johnson enjoyed the energy and freedom in femininity but was forced to hide this for most of her life. Surrounded by confusion and hate during a time where being transgender wasn’t understood/accepted Johnson was forced to alternate between her name Marsha, and her birth-name Malcolm.
However, Johnson believed in using her voice to stand up for what she believed in, regardless of what society thought of her at the time. As an activist for HIV/AIDS Awareness, Police Brutality, and LGBTQ+ rights, Marsha P. Johnson spent a majority of her time enacting change through activism. She served as a key figure in the 1969 Stonewall Riots as well as a strong member of ACT UP, an organization created to work towards ending the AIDS pandemic.
In addition to activism, Johnson believed in helping others. Through her work as a drag entertainer Johnson was able to become a drag-mother to many transgender youths by providing them with food, money, and most importantly love. She believed that everyone deserved the right to be whomever they wanted to be regardless of their gender, skin color, belief, or sexual orientation.
Years later, her message of love and kindness towards others still rings true today. In the context of today’s ongoing discussions surrounding racism, police brutality, and LGBTQ+ rights it is important to remember that every change has started with a voice calling for change. And it is our job, as caring citizens, to echo those voices, for that is what the world needs.