Forum for Equality’s 17th Annual Acclaim Awards Gala was held at the Westin New Orleans on Saturday, September 26th. I was the presenter of the Political Activism award. Here is my speech and Milan’s acceptance speech.

My name is Mary Griggs and I am the immediate past Chair for Forum for Equality Louisiana. I am proud to present this year’s Acclaim Award for Political Activism to BreakOUT!

BreakOUT! was founded in 2011 by a small group of LGBTQ youth of color in response to discriminatory policing in New Orleans. BreakOUT! has since grown to a powerful youth-led, membership-based organization of queer and trans youth directly impacted by the justice system. BreakOUT! works to end the criminalization of LGBTQ youth by confronting unfairness in the legal system, youth homelessness, school push-out, and other issues.

When Penny Proud, a trans New Orleanian, was murdered this year, BreakOUT! was dismayed by scant and inaccurate local media coverage. Taking matters into their own hands, BreakOUT! launched a media campaign with a highly visible billboard near the Orleans Parish Prison. Using the hashtags #MakePennyProud and #BlackTransLivesMatter, BreakOUT! is raising the visibility of victims of state and interpersonal violence in our community and across the nation.

In honor of BreakOUT!’s mission to personalize the experience of victims of violence, we’d like to name the trans people of color whose lives were cut short this year due to prejudice alone. May I have a moment of silence while I read the names:

Papi Edwards
Lamia Beard
Ty Underwood
Michelle Yazmin Vash Payne
Taja Gabrielle Dejesus
Penny Proud
Bri Golec
Kristina Gomez
Keyshia Blige
Mya Hall
London Chanel
Mercedes Williamson
Jasmine Collins
India Clarke
K.C Haggard
Shade Schuler
Amber Monroe
Kandis Capri
Elisha Walker

BreakOUT! believes that those most directly impacted by discriminatory systems must lead the efforts to transform them. Through leadership development, a healing justice program, and youth organizing campaigns, BreakOUT! is building the power of LGBTQ youth to build a safer city for all New Orleanians.

Please come to the stage to accept your Acclaim Award for Political Activism!

My name is Milan Nicole Shelby and I am a founding member and youth organizer on staff with BreakOUT! I am joined here by our staff and members Wes, Ja’Leah, Kwan and two other staff who couldn’t be here tonight, Shaena and Nate.

Thank you so much for this award – we appreciate Forum for Equality for this acknowledgement. We also thank Deon Haywood, who has joined us here tonight and is a previous Acclaim Award recipient and founding Advisory Board Member.

We would also like to lift the name and legacy of Miss Penny Proud, a 21-year-old black transgender woman murdered here in New Orleans this year and our beloved core member leader, Diamond D’maree, who we lost earlier this year.

We uplift their lives, their legacies, their resistance and resilience and bring them with us into this room today and into this world where – in the words of black lesbian poet Audre Lorde: “We were never meant to survive.”

We will continue fighting this movement until we win because Black Trans Lives Matter!

Thank you, Forum for Equality.