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Speaker Jazz McKinney wants us to break free from labels assigned and embrace the labels in which we most align.


By Tsion Hawkins

This year’s Black History Month Keynote Speaker Jazz McKinney took the podium on Feb. 9 as part of Grand Rapids Community College’s ongoing Diversity Lecture Series. As a non-binary, queer two-spirited, afro-indigenous person, McKinney had a very unique perspective to bring to the lecture series. 

The speech began with a great introduction from Erin Mieskowski, GRCC Assistant Director with the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and friend of McKinney’s.

“They are passionate about working to decolonize gender roles and identities, as well as discussing the impact that harmful gender binaries can cause in our community” Mieskowski said.

 They open the speech describing life in the diverse city of Detroit. However, even though the city of Detroit is diverse, McKinney said many people in the city have an “unconscious bias”.

“It was very heavily focused on being proud of your culture, but not mixing it with other culture,” McKinney said. Growing up as a mixed person, McKinney experienced colorism from people of different colors as well. “I heard a lot of times ‘You’re not really black.’ ‘You’re not black enough.’ ‘Who are you really mixed with?’”

The Collegiate asked McKinney for their opinion on other self-binding labels in the mixed community. 

“(If) I used the word queer 20-years-ago, people would have been throwing stones at my head because it was such a negative word,” McKinney said. They went on to explain that labels are for ourselves to align with rather than assignments. 

McKinney ended the speech by encouraging people to inspire others to break free of labels that are binding, adding that we can encourage tolerance for the intersection of different groups and races. 

Attendee and Student Conduct Coordinator, Alyssa Gamez appreciated McKinney’s unique perspective on social reforms they discussed. Gamez was also impressed by McKinney’s interaction with the audience’s questions.

 “Doing the things I want, especially with the people I want, is how I celebrate myself,” McKinney said. 


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