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Empowering the Black Trans Community

Actress and activist Sis uses her platform to raise awareness and distribute resources.

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Sis wearing a “Black Trans Lives Matter” T-Shirt created by her resource group, The Next Generation Project (photo by Gavin Calais).

Pop culture is rich with single-named icons like Oprah, Madonna, Prince, and Cher. And in addition to Beyoncé, Houston has a second star to add to that list: the multi-talented Sis, who is using her talents to bring awareness, resources, and change to the trans community through The Next Generation Project. The project’s mission is to make sure trans people of color, like herself, get the peace, love, and respect they deserve.

After making her mark on Houston’s stages (including Miller Outdoor Theatre and The Alley), Sis moved to New York City in 2019 and began auditioning and working as a bartender at the famed Big Apple Circus. A chance Twitter interaction with acclaimed playwright Jeremy O. Harris, who was giving away a ticket to see his Broadway production of Slave Play, led to the “surreal experience” of seeing the show alongside the playwright, and even meeting Harry Styles. “It was so crazy,” the 22-year-old laughs.

Today, in the midst of a pandemic, Sis has returned to H-Town to ride out the storm. “I work a full-time job at Target,” she says. “I was about to perform in a regional theater production and had booked some TV projects, but I had to come back home to make some money.” The vivacious performer explains that her next move was the result of seeing the disconnect between the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the fight for justice within the trans community. Pulling together a dream team, Sis co-founded The Next Generation Project. “I want to highlight that it’s not just me doing the work. I’ve got my friend Eva (who is my co-founder), Deante, Yasmyn, and Jacob!”

“The Next Generation Project started out of my need to do something,” she explains enthusiastically. “I was feeling helpless, and I’m the type of person that if I’m going to be an advocate for change, I need to be on the front lines. I wanted to find the best way to create change in the quickest way possible. For Black trans lives, that’s through awareness.”

After attending a recent protest in Houston with a friend, Sis was reminded of the lack of awareness about how the BLM and trans-rights movements connect. “[The Black and Brown trans community] is finding so much opposition because people don’t know better. If you know better, you do better,” she says, matter-of-factly. “At the protest, my friend suggested the trans fight and the BLM fight are different. I explained that since I’m Black and trans, my trans Black life matters. All Black lives matter. I wanted to work with BLM, while also supporting trans lives that are being cast out or senselessly murdered,” the activist emphasizes.

The back of The Next Generation Project’s “Black Trans Lives Matter” T-Shirt was inspired by Sis’ hand.

The change-makers began selling T-shirts as a way to raise funds. “The tees have BLM and trans colors on the front, and the Black fist with a trans woman’s hand (inspired by my own nails) on the back,” she explains. Celebrities such as Lin-Manuel Miranda and MJ Rodriguez have already placed their orders.

“When I was in NYC, I wanted to go to Sephora and Forever 21 to feel affirmed in my womanhood,” the fierce performer recalls. “So I thought, why don’t we provide Black and Brown trans and nonbinary folks with self-care and mental-health resources. We are talking about ways to care for yourself when you are being misidentified all day, or if your family isn’t supportive of you.”

The organization also provides scholarships to college students. “Scholarships are currently $500, [to be awarded to] a trans woman, a nonbinary person, and a trans man. We have raised enough for one each, but we want to keep selling these shirts to pay half the bill for someone’s first year of college.” Sis explains the funds could be used to buy personal-care items. “They can buy things to set themselves up for success. All of these things come from personal experience. I want to make sure people don’t have to go through what I, Eva, or others went through.”

As for the future, Sis and her team have big plans. “We want to start a house. In ballroom culture there are houses, and we want to start our own brick-and-mortar home for Black and Brown folks to live, create, and exist in as themselves—something like a recreational center for the next generation,” she says with no hint of apprehension in her voice. “The Next Generation Project’s goal is to make the world better for everyone to feel comfortable and have space.”

Follow The Next Generation Project on Instagram @wearetngproject. Keep up with Sis on Instagram @ucancallmesis.

This article appears in the July 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Zachary McKenzie

Zachary McKenzie is a marketing professional and freelance writer in Houston, TX. He received his bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin in 2014 and has lived in Houston since. Zachary is a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and enjoys spending his free time with friends, exploring the richness and diversity of Houston.

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