In this interview, Justice Gaines, Brown University class of 2016, discusses her undergraduate career at Brown and highlights her activism on campus.
Gaines begins by sharing some background on her high school experiences participating in theatre of the oppressed and JROTC in New Jersey. She explains choosing to attend Brown on the recommendation of her mother and describes how she found her friend groups on campus. She mentions participating in Gravediggers Poetry Collective and the Third World Center, now the Brown Center for Students of Color.
Gaines describes in detail the reaction of the campus to a scheduled presentation by Ray Kelly, Commissioner of the New York Police Department. She talks about the student protests on campus before and after the event which was cancelled, as well as the University’s response. Additionally, she addresses student movements regarding Brown’s investment in coal, Imagine Rape Zero, and the name change for the Indigenous Peoples’ Day holiday.
In closing her interview, Gaines briefly discusses her path toward identifying as a trans-woman, grappling with topics of race and socioeconomic privileges, and being politically involved in Providence’s communities.
The Pembroke Center thanks Sebastián Castro Niculescu for serving as the peer curator of trans oral histories for the Pembroke Center Archives.
Recorded on December 12, 2018 in Page-Robinson Hall, Brown University, Providence, RI
Interviewed by Sebastián Castro Niculescu
Suggested Chicago style citation: Gaines, Justice. Interview. By Sebastián Castro Niculescu. Pembroke Center Oral History Project, Brown University. December 12, 2018.
Copied from https://www.justiceforward1.com/about/
I grew up in Franklin Township, New Jersey in a racially and economically diverse community.
Initially, I made my way to Providence to attend Brown University from 2012- 2016, where I studied Sociology. During my time there, I helped lead various efforts to improve campus life for students and workers. I organized to turn out hundreds in support of survivors of sexual assault and racial justice. I served on the committee that overhauled the university’s sexual assault and prevention policies, and I worked with the administration to establish the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan.
I’ve lived in Providence full time for six years, working with several organizations and community groups.
For the past two years, I’ve worked as an organizer with Rhode Island Jobs With Justice, dedicated to fighting for workers’ rights through a holistic lens that includes gender and racial justice. I became heavily involved in the campaign to pass the Community Safety Act in Providence, the most comprehensive police accountability ordinance in the nation. This included serving on city council’s CSA Working Group, where I sat with city council staff, police leadership, and other community members in a public process to negotiate final changes to the ordinance.
I also facilitated the RI Racial Justice Coalition in 2017, helping the Economic Progress Institute to develop their report “The State of Black Families In Rhode Island”. I am a board member of Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) and currently serve as the Queer Justice Coordinator for Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM) working to develop a housing cooperative for queer and trans people of color.
As a trans woman, I am a proud advocate for LGBTQ protections and transgender rights. Earlier this year, I testified to ensure that all RI schools have policies in place to defend and support their trans students. I was honored to be a speaker at the 2018 RI Women’s March and the keynote speaker at the 2018 Trans Health Conference hosted by TGI Network of RI. I believe in inclusive and intersectional feminism that guarantees reproductive rights, access to quality education and healthcare, and freedom from all forms of discrimination.
As a poet and spoken word artist, my art is a critical component of my politics. The freedom to express creativity is paramount in a just society, particularly for youth. My work explores experiences of race and gender while challenging systems of oppression within our society. I have competed and performed in poetry slam venues across the country and served as a coach for Providence’s Youth Slam Poetry Team this summer. I am a two-time Providence Grand Slam Champion, as well as one of the inaugural Feminine Empowerment Slam Champions. I have work published in Glass Poetry Press and POETRY Magazine.