It was a night of enchantment that began before the event even began. Myself, my son Joshua, and my brother Anthony were transported to Sacramento, where there was a glorious dinner in my honor, held at the home of my longtime friend Tanya Beverly. The food was made with love; I know this because the love was present in each and every bite. We laughed, talked about old times, and reminisced about the old days of Transgender advocacy. You see, I come from an era where transwomen were not valued or appreciated — we had to fight for those privileges.
2nd from right:: Event Host Bamby Salcedo “vogues” for the crowd.
I come from a time when Transwomen, particularly those of us of color, were regarded as “fake people” trying to be something we were not. Now that I am of a certain age and have made the contributions I have to the liberation movement of my people, it was good to be treated in a manner of one who has worked to expand the culture in the way I have.
The California Endowment, along with Sol Collective and Black Women United, made every effort to treat me and my family with care — like we were special. I had not a care in the world when I arrived, which left room for me to enjoy the honor of being honored. It’s a special time in one’s life when you can receive the kindness being directed toward you — no more fighting, just joy.
From left: Dea Montelongo and Salvin Chahal of Sol Collective announce the DIY #SchoolsNotPrisons grants while the evening’s hosts Tre Borden and Bamby Salcedo (right) watch.
When I entered the ball, it was like magic. I began looking for Ebony Harper (my daughter) to tell her how proud I was that she had spearheaded this event. Everything was well-coordinated and planned out so that the beauty of the evening could simply shine.
I must say, hearing all the kind words about me and my work made me uncomfortable. I never started the work of HIV prevention, transgender health justice, and liberation so that someday I could be thanked. I leaned over and said to my brother, “All this about me is making me feel uneasy.” He replied, “Sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor sister, you deserve this.”
Yeimi I. Lopez Lemus accepts her #RiseUpAsOne award for her intersectional activism in Sacramento. Yeimi organizes with the A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to End War and Stop Racism) Coalition.
Tanya Beverly read a professional and personal history about me. SHE TOLD ALL OF THE TEA! Then there was a beautiful piece of poetry that enveloped the use of Spirit in its tone and message. But I must say, it was the presentation speech by Elika Bernard of Black Women United that set my soul on fire. She compared me to the greats of civil rights movements and social justice movements. I began to weep as I reflected on what it took to get to this movement.
Valerie Spencer addresses the crowd when accepting her #RiseUpAsOne award.
When I rose to accept the award, I was escorted by my son, Joshua Johnson, Esq. I strutted to the podium prepared to be honest about the personal toll of liberation work. I shared my story, the work, the depression, and the years when being me was too hard to bear. I told of how for years I secretly wanted to end my life, but then there was God who revealed to me the greatness of who I am; my power, beauty, and future. I choose each day to keep living. I choose to keep planting. I choose to trust that even though harvest season is not upon me, it’s coming.
Soon I will be Rev. Valerie Spencer, PhD, LCSW. Not now, but soon. I’ve retired from the world of activism and picked up the mantle of healing and well-being for my people. This is what I came to share, and the people first responded with complete silence, but as I took my seat, the audience agreed with my grand vision by breaking out into thunderous applause.
The vogue-ballroom performance that followed the ceremony had me yelling in my seat – ushering in the end of an amazing night. When the evening concluded, I was happily worn-out and tired-eating in my room with friends and family. I didn’t know people were paying attention to my work and my being, but I am grateful they were. I feel stronger than ever, ready to run the race with even more clarity than before.