I acknowledge that I can be clumsy, ignorant, and awkward when writing or talking about diversity or our creative communities. So please forgive me in advance if I am not eloquent in this post. Kindly let me know how I can do better in the comments. I felt compelled to post as I have been consumed with learning about the lives and art that we lost in the Oakland Warehouse Fire, Friday night.
Better known as “The Ghost Ship” it was a space and a place for artists and musicians and people who loved art and music to gather and share their gifts with each other. Here is a list of some of the victims and their stories posted on CNN:
The first thing I noticed from the list was how many of them had their college or university listed as a way of identifying them to the world. Many of these folks were current college students or recently graduated and their stories we see in our students every day. They had such hope and promise and seemed so alive! But alas to be themselves, to express themselves, they had to gather in a place that was inherently dangerous. An old warehouse that had no sprinklers that we know of and was not up to code for the type of activities taking place. It is so sad to me that in order to embrace your creativity so many artists need to huddle together in places that put them in danger.
Among those lost on Friday were members of our communities of color, GLBTQ communities, and creative communities. I was struck by people such as Em Bohlka, who at 33 had finally come out as a woman and was living her life as she saw it to be. Her own father writing “My heart goes out to the entire trans community who feel as if they must gather in unsafe buildings to experience their community and celebrate their identity.” I think about Micha Danemayer who had to be identified by his array of tattoos and how his friends said he would have loved to know that the ink on his body was how everyone knew he had passed on. I think about Chelsea Faith Dolan, an EDM artist known as Cherushii who would go anywhere to learn and create beautiful electronic music. I am listening to her music as I write this and am inspired by her artistic vision. There are so many more, so many lost.
I post this so we can remember who we are fighting for when we battle others who say we should not embrace diversity, embrace art, or provide safe spaces for students on our campuses. That somehow these things are not part of the college experience. Not all of those who died were college students but we can and should be advocates for all of them just the same. A college campus should be part of a patchwork of safe spaces all over cities like Oakland that make the need for the “Ghost Ship” rare because the alternative is too hard to accept. I live in Orlando and we lost 49 of these similarly creative and diverse souls on June 12th in the Pulse Nightclub. The University of Central Florida, Valencia College, and Rollins College were the safe spaces for mourning and I am so proud of our city and how we have stood together to let the world know we are #OrlandoStrong. We are working hard to ensure that Orlando is a safe place for everyone in our GLBTQ Community. I hope Oakland experiences a similar renaissance to ensure their creative community’s loss is not in vain. I hope their colleges and universities join in that effort and we all decide that protecting these wonderful people is worth more than political expediency.
I put together a Spotify playlist of some of the artists who died in the fire to share with everyone. I hope you will listen. These musicians were so talented and amazing it moves me to tears to know they are gone. But they left behind a beautiful legacy and I know I am better for it. I hope this makes sense and this is the right forum to post this but I don’t know. There are a lot of things that just don’t make sense to me anymore and I am often just saddened by how it takes these tragedies to change the direction of our discourse. Let’s hope that we can muster the strength to be the defenders of the change we need to see and to advocate for everyone who feels marginalized. Thanks all.