A new mural honoring seven local Black Trans women recently went up on the wall of Philly AIDS Thrift at 710 S. 5th St. The “All at Once” mural includes portraits of Kyra Cordova; Charlene Arcila; Nizah Morris; Michelle Tamika Washington; Shantee Tucker; London Kiki Chanel; and Dominique Rem’mie Fells. A dedication ceremony, which was emceed by Nadia Malik, program director of the Porch Light program at Mural Arts, was held in front of PAT on June 21.
“I remember the first day we did a site visit at Morris Home,” Malik said. “This was pre pandemic in 2019. And I was just blown away by how that site is run. You know, just getting to know the participants there, just getting to see how they do their work. You could tell why Morris Home is amazing and why the work it does is amazing.”
Malik also highlighted the collaboration and process of creating the mural, including the two years of workshops led by Wit Lopez that helped bring the mural to life.
Jane Golden, executive director of Mural Arts Philadelphia, spoke about the transformative power of art and its role in keeping people’s legacies alive.
“I love the fact that you can turn almost any corner in this city and see murals that look like the people who live here, that resonate deeply with the people who are here, that are not disconnected from the citizens of Philadelphia,” Golden said. “When I think of the catalytic power of art, I think of something like this. The people in this mural sadly and tragically are not here with us and yet they will live on for 10 years, for 20 years for as long as this is here, they live on in our hearts and souls, and now they live on right here in this beautiful location where so many people walk by.”
Dr. Jean Wright, Deputy Commissioner of the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBH IDS), spoke about the importance of finding and building communities, especially for LGBTQ people.
“Finding and becoming part of a welcoming community can literally be a life saving experience, especially for trans individuals and those in the wider LGBTQIA+ community. The loss of these women was devastating. But the networks they helped form have benefited so many others today and going forward.”
Among the networks that the women on the mural helped form include the Trans Wellness Conference, which was founded by Charlene Arcila, and Morris Home, which was named in honor of Nizah Morris.
Wright also spoke about the Porch Light program and its work in improving mental health.
“About 15 years ago, Mural Arts and DBH IDS launched the Porch Light program to give Philadelphians, especially those dealing with trauma or behavioral health issues, an opportunity to contribute meaningful works of art and help further the cause of achieving universal health and wellness by offering needed support and services. Since then, Porch Light has become a model for other cities. It brings communities together to discuss needs, conduct workshops, provide health forms, and finally to create works of art that serve an ongoing reminder of what the community is capable of achieving.”
Michael Byrne, Board President of Philly AIDS Thrift, said PAT was honored to be chosen as the site of the mural.
“We are truly honored, Philly AIDS Thrift and Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni’s Room, to have been chosen as the home of this year, for multiple reasons,” Byrne said. “We have been a beneficiary of the Morris Holmes life changing work for a number of years now, and we are so excited to know that they’re back in their new building with the resource center that we funded, and we are so excited about that. And personally, knowing several of the women on this mural, has really touched my heart in so many ways, and it’s made me so excited and so thrilled that this has happened.”
Laura Sorensen, director of Morris Home, highlighted each of the seven women featured on the mural.
“I have been so impacted by the women on this mural, and our community has too. And it is an honor to remember the activism of Kyra, who distributed safer sex supplies and information and resources in her community as a part of galaei, and Charlene, whose activism made SEPTA safer for trans people in Philly. It’s an honor to continue the work of Nizah Morris who mothered and supported people in her community. We remember Tamika Michelle Washington’s humor, we remember Shantee’s deep love for her family and community. We remember London’s strength and independence. We remember Remmie’s deep love, her fashion, her creativity, her brilliance. And I’m so grateful that they are going to be remembered here for as long as this mural stands.”
Crystal Davis, the sister of Tamika Michelle Washington, spoke about her sister’s life and impact.
“Thank you for having me. I want to thank you for the beautiful pictures, the amazing work that is being done. If my sister was here today, she would be out here, with us, honoring people just like her. And she was such a big voice in a little teeny body. She had such a big heart for her trans community, her regular family, like it was all one. There were no lines drawn with her. And I love that about her. Every day it’s a struggle with her not being here, but those memories, when she used to bring me to things like this growing up, I still have them. And because of y’all, I can keep her memory alive.”
Other speakers included King, a Morris Home resident, who spoke about Rem’mie Fells and also read a poem; and Philadelphia City Councilman Mark Squilla.
At the end of the dedication ceremony, lead artist of the mural, Ali Williams, said to the audience, “I hope that this mural serves to memorialize not only the women that are pictured on the wall, but everyone in the Trans and gender nonconforming community that is still with us and those that we’ve lost. I also hope that, aside from this being a memorial of sorts, I hope that it also speaks to love and joy and pride.”