Civil rights activist, nonviolence resistance champion and lead strategist of the 1963 March on Washington Bayard Rustin, once said: “We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.” While the words “angelic” and “troublemaker” may seem to be fundamentally and diametrically opposed concepts, the phrase speaks to and empowers those of us who desire to see a world that does not yet exist. It is a contradiction of terms and a call to action for activists to disrupt and to heal. It is a model and framework that transcends every issue silo, every community, and every movement that speaks truth to power. It is a practice that is deeply rooted in living—and owning—our intersections, boldly, proudly and unapologetically!

Across the world, there are angelic troublemakers who are using their voices, their lived experiences and their truths as weapons in the fight for equality, equity, space and inclusion. DETROIT is right at the top of that list. As we close out LGBTQ Pride Month and look toward November’s Facing Race National Conference in Detroit, we speak the names, honor, and lift up the work of some of the most committed and inspiring agents of change who are breaking up the block, disrupting the system and giving us LIFE in the process.

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    Photograph: Courtesy Asadullah Saed Muhammad

    Asadullah Saed Muhammad — “The Father”
    Pathway Coach, United Way for Southeastern Michigan

    Asadullah “Asad” Saed Muhammad is a loving, dedicated father of three whose work in emotional justice, radical queer parenting and education reform is inspired, transformative and revolutionary. In his work, Asad supports principals, educators, and school counselors in aligning curriculum with dual enrollment and career-based opportunities for Detroit students. He has over 15  years of experience in teaching, school administration, and youth development in New York, New Orleans, and Atlanta. Asad serves on the Board of Directors of the Ruth Ellis Center—a nonprofit organization focused on providing a residential safe space and support services for homeless LGBTQ youth— where he leads the program committee and helped spearhead the addition of an on-site health and wellness center. Asad’s work leverages his personal and professional lives in a way that uplifts youth and LGBTQ people of color while also demonstrating to his children a healthy, open and free view of the world and the people in it.

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    Photograph: Courtesy Jeynce Mizrahi-Poindexter

    Jeynce Mizrahi-Poindexter — “The Mother”
    Transgender Victim Advocate Equality Michigan / Trans Sistas of Color Project - Detroit

    An award-winning advocate and legendary house mother of the House of Mizrahi—one of the most respected international ballroom houses among communities of color—Jeynce Mizrahi-Poindexter is the quintessential definition of an “angelic troublemaker.” This soulful sister is the Transgender Victim Advocate for both Equality Michigan and the Trans Sistas of Color Project — Detroit. At the root of what inspires Jeynce are her spirituality and faith, which she describes as “the literal foundation of who I am.” She has worked for over 10 years to address the health disparities and advocacy needs of marginalized and disenfranchised communities throughout the Detroit Metro area, with a strong emphasis on HIV/AIDS prevention and transgender rights.  She has also worked in varying capacities with organizations such as Men of Color Motivational Group, The REC Boyz, Ruth Ellis Center and Community Health Awareness Group (CHAG).

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    Photograph: Courtesy Rhiannon Chester (Imara Mwalimu)

    Rhiannon Chester (Imara Mwalimu) — “The Healer”
    City Action Strategist, IOBY (In Our Backyards)

    If you ever have the privilege of have a conversation with Rhiannon “Annon” Chester, M.A., you will walk away feeling lifted, energized and inspired. Annon is a social justice educator and artist who understands that healing can be a revolutionary and disruptive in its power to affect change. Her work centers the dignity, wisdom and creativity of Black and brown people in combating social identity politics, power, privilege, and oppression dynamics. Annon’s approach is rooted in the belief that our multifaceted world—and the systems within it—requires equally complex solutions that recognize the trauma and pain caused by injustice, while also lifting up the beauty and resilience of marginalized communities. Her artwork, and specifically her photography, speaks directly to and for Black women by unpacking and challenging traditional tropes. She is inspiration whose sheer presence is, in itself, a healing salve.

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    Photograph: Courtesy Thomas “TJ” Rogers

    Thomas “TJ” Rogers — “The Liberator”
    Development Director, Freedom House Detroit

    Thomas “TJ” Rogers is one of the hardest working advocates in Michigan, whose work around immigration and the rights of LGBTQ immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers serves as a master class in intersectionality. TJ leverages his privilege to make space for the denied, uninvited and overlooked. His work spreads awareness about the plight and courage of asylum seekers, particularly those whose identities render them further marginalized and oppressed within already-marginalized and oppressed communities. His globalized understanding of the critical importance of providing asylum seekers with a true place of belonging has led to his participation in conversations with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Office in Washington, D.C., on alternatives to the detainment of LGBTQ asylum seekers. He is also on the Steering Committee of LGBT Freedom and Asylum Network, a Board Member of the Mary Turner Center for Advocacy, and a proud member of Amnesty International. Beyond his impressive resume, TJ embodies an energy, presence, and infectious joy that spreads to anyone around him.

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    Photograph: Courtesy Nicole “Kween” Denson

    Nicole “Kween” Denson — “The Warrior Queen”

    Co-Director of Advocacy Services, WC SAFE Program; Vice President, Women’s March MI

    Mother. Daughter. Sister. Detroit Native. Social Justice Maven. Nicole “Kween” Denson is a force of nature and an expert in providing advocacy services to marginalized communities, with a focus on crisis intervention, counseling and advocacy for survivors of human trafficking and other trauma. Her extensive work on systems change related to the handling of sexual assault and domestic and intimate partner violence within our criminal justice system has helped to shape survivor-centered practices and protocols. In 2017, she spearheaded the #MUTERKELLY campaign in Detroit, which lead to a collaborative Anti-Rape Collective, national protests and demonstrations at the artist’s concerts, and a signed resolution by Detroit’s City Council to no longer support R. Kelly coming to Detroit. As a member of the Detroit Police Department’s Chief of Police LGBT Advisory Board, Nicole helps to break barriers between law enforcement and Detroiters while fostering a safer and more inclusive community. This Kween is unapologetic about being a Black bi-sexual womyn who will not be divided by her intersections.

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    Photograph: Courtesy Denzel “Denz” McCampbell

    Denzel “Denz” McCampbell — “The Wordsmith”
    Deputy Communications Director, Engage Michigan; National Public Policy Chair, BYP 100

    Denzel “Denz” McCampbell is a Black Queer Feminist whose activism centers around the use of words and frames as an agent for change. A graduate of Michigan State University, Denz works with various social justice organizations throughout the state and performs Black liberations work through an intentionally Queer Feminist lens. He also serves as a Board Member for the Mary Turner Center for Advocacy and the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice in Detroit. With a background in voting rights and election administration reform efforts, Denz has also served as Campaign Manager and Field Director, respectively, for State Representatives Stephanie Chang and Andy Schor. Denz’ work amplifies the experiences of those who are at the margins of the margins, and is a true demonstration of his commitment to ensuring that no one is left out the conversation.

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    Photograph: Courtesy Lilianna Angel Reyes

    Lilianna Angel Reyes — “The Boss Lady”
    Interim Executive Director, Affirmations; Co-Executive Director, Trans Sistas of Color Project

    Lilianna Angel Reyes is a sought-after thought leader/trainer around diversity, equality, and inclusion. As one of the first trans women of color to run a historically white, cis-male-led organization, she is in a prime position to show the world what she is capable of. A graduate of the University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School, she has an extensive background in coalition building and organizational leadership and development. Lillianna leverages her experience to reduce health disparities among marginalized groups, including people of color, women, and LGBTQ and HIV-positive communities. She has worked with many state and national civil rights organizations including Planned Parenthood, Detroit Police Chief LGBT Advisory Council, Transgender Michigan and many others. Lilianna is, in her own words, a “feather ruffler,” pushing back against those who believe in hate and those who choose to ignore it.