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Resisting Gender Definitions: Alok Leads the Trans Community in Social Change



Alok, a social justice writer and performing artist, sits in a chair in front of a blue background with flowers, while wearing multicolored clothing surrounded with books, and other items.

Alok is a gender nonconforming writer and performance artist who identifies as nonbinary. Alok uses they/them pronouns, believing that their gender resists definition and continues in a fluid motion.

Alok’s work is focused on gender and racial justice. They also write about trauma, healing, and belonging. Alok has performed in over 40 countries and 500 venues across the world, speaking from their personal experience with social inequalities.

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Alok just released a book titled “Beyond the Gender Binary” that speaks about gender fluidity and ways readers can stand up for gender equality. Alok’s book is a life-changing account of the arguments that are used to delegitimize trans people, and it offers tools that people can use to respond to those attacks on the transgender community. The book can be purchased on Alok’s website; proceeds will be used to support Alok and partnering community organizations that work with LGBTQ youth.

“It is a handbook so that people can advocate for themselves,” said Alok.

Alok identifies as gender nonconforming and is defying what society thinks a man or a woman should look like. Alok exudes both feminine and masculine characteristics. Alok explains that they identify as neither a man nor a woman, but rather a person with their own unique gender. According to Alok, gender nonconformity is a political critique in that it does not support the political system that society has established when it comes to self-identity.

Alok often feels pressured to represent all transgender people who are currently facing pain, trauma, and violence caused by the lack of representation of minorities. According to Alok, no one person can represent an entire community and the groups within that community. According to Alok, generalizations are being made about the transgender community because of the lack of education about what is going on all over the world about the issues faced every day by people of the transgender community. Alok mentioned the pressure to meet stereotypical expectations that many trans people face in society.

“Strength doesn’t actually come from perfection. Strength comes from interdependence.”

Alok grew up in the small town of College Station, Texas. The community there was predominantly White, Christian, and straight. As a minority, Alok grew up feeling polarized between the Indian community, being Alok’s family, and the predominantly White community, living in the surrounding area. Alok experienced a lot of homophobia and racism in both communities and felt that they had to hide their true identity and pretend to be someone they were not.

As a young child, Alok’s feminine style was seen as “cute” and was accepted as something that was just a “phase.” But when Alok began attending public school, bullying and harassment made Alok feel ashamed of who they were. Not knowing that they did not have to identify as either a man or a woman, Alok felt trapped and alone.

“Dividing billions of people into two genders is a cultural choice, not a biological fact.”

Alok’s parents were concerned about Alok’s safety because of the overwhelming cruelty they saw acting against Alok in the world. But they ultimately accepted Alok’s identity and now support Alok in whatever ways they can. Alok’s parents’ acceptance has led to Alok’s realization that identity is mainly about the mental health of the individual. If a person is not happy with who they are expected to be, they have the power to change it.

“There is no loneliness like having people see you after you have erased yourself.”

Alok attempted suicide at the age of 13. The amount of homophobia and harassment that Alok was enduring had gotten overwhelming to the point that they believed there was only one way to make it all stop. But Alok reminds us now that there is a way to find support.

Poetry remains a huge coping mechanism for Alok. It provides a medium in which Alok can process their past experiences. Years ago, writing began as a way of releasing the pain that Alok had suppressed for so long. That way of coping has now developed into the art that Alok creates.

“That practice of taking my pain and turning it into my art has been how I still survive today.”

Alok compares being an artist to being a sponge, in that they are constantly absorbing conversations, media, and culture. Experimentation with photography, makeup, and theatre, sparks Alok’s artistic creativity. Though the exposure of so many stimulants is a great motivator for Alok’s artistic ideas, the most inspirational experience Alok has had is simply people watching.

“On the one hand, we are so close to each other, but on the other hand, we are so distant. It creates this need to understand how people are living their lives. What they think about, what matters to them.”

Art is not just inspired by violence or discrimination. It is an integral part of each of our lives and it speaks about universal truths. Art is a tool that people can use to access their emotions.

“Pain and suffering inform but never define.”

During the current global pandemic, Alok feels that they have a more clarified understanding of their role as an artist. To speak out about the inequalities in the world and ways in which those can be overcome.

“We are seeing a legal onslaught against trans people that is unprecedented, and no one seems to care.”

Alok has developed their own fashion line, and they have had a loud voice in the movement of the gender-neutral fashion industry. Conventionally attractive fashion is not inclusive to members of the transgender community; it is alienating them from it. It is not enough to just show gender-neutral fashion on runways and in magazines. It must also be used to educate people about the many struggles faced daily by members of the transgender community. It should not be safer for a trans individual to wear a dress on a runway than it is for them to wear it on the street.

“Anyone should be able to wear any article of clothing that they want without fearing violence or persecution.”

People hold onto what is familiar to them. But there is nothing more natural than people having the choice to identify as who they are, not what society tells them they are. People need to relearn how to relate to one another. If people truly believe in the change that they are trying to make, then perseverance is possible.

“When you actually focus on your own life and ask yourself, ‘what do I actually want?’ you can unlock your own creative purpose.”

Having to deal with extreme discrimination and pushback with each social media post and performance has helped Alok develop the strength to persist through it all. Alok knows that continuing the legacy of trans peoples is their purpose, as well as supporting others in being their true selves.

“You are part of a sacred legacy of people who have been persecuted for the truth. They are making you think that your gender is a lie, but actually their gender norms are the lie.”

Alok understands the pressure people face to fit into the crowd. Alok has experienced the feeling of not belonging. Upon reflection of these experiences, Alok advises others to live as their true selves. The parts of us that don’t fit into any ready-made mold are the parts of us that create connections with those who deserve us and love us for who we are. It is not our job to fit a stereotype while hiding the parts of ourselves that don’t.

“There is so much love waiting for you. Don’t give up.”

Alok celebrates who they are every day because that is how they find joy in life. Be yourself, and you may reach your own jubilation.

Host & Producer: Cielo
Lead Producer: Alla Issa
Developer: Samuel Holtzman
Editor & Writer: Sydney Murphy

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How Latin Grammy Award-Winning Artist Tony Succar Brought Unity Through his Music




Tony Succar, standing in a leather jacket and white t-shirt, holding drum sticks and smiling at the camera

Tony Succar is a Latin GRAMMY Award-winning producer, multi-instrumentalist, composer/arranger, and musician based out of Miami, Florida. He was born in Lima, Peru, and moved to the United States when he was just 2-years-old. Succar has been nominated for a Latin Grammy Award in four separate categories, winning Best Salsa Album and Producer of the Year in 2019. He spends the majority of his time recording and performing music. He loves what he does and maintains a balance between his personal life and work in entertainment

Music began as a hobby for Succar following in the footsteps of his parents. Succar’s father Antonio F. Succar is a pianist and his mother Mimy Succar Tayrako Sakaguchi is a singer. They have both continued to be Succar’s strongest supporters throughout his music career.

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The first musical instrument Succar learned how to play was the Peruvian Cajon and then as a teenager, moved on to playing the drums with his parents’ band. Aside from playing instruments, Succar also played on several soccer teams and won the 2004 state championships with his high school team. Though he loved playing soccer, Succar had already discovered his true passion for music and began his journey into the music industry. 

“Follow your dreams, never give up, and have the discipline to truly dedicate yourself to what you are passionate about.” 

In pursuit of higher education, Succar was accepted to the Florida International University’s School of Music and he joined the Latin Jazz ensemble. After gaining a Bachelor of Arts in Jazz Performance in 2008, he gained a master’s degree in 2010. Succar built a network of musicians throughout his university years that he continued to maintain into his professional career. Shortly after, his music career took off when he released a music album in 2015. 

Tony Succar, sitting next to a drum set with one leg crossed over the other, sitting and smiling while looking into the camera

Unity: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson is a musical tribute to Micheal Jackson. It includes 14 Jackson songs that are rewritten to include Latin influences and features more than 100 Latin superstar musicians. Succar raised the funds for the project by fundraising and putting unwavering work into outreach projects. The entire project took about five years to complete and Succar spoke about the importance of looking at every aspect of the product when creating something that will continue to be incorporated into the lives of others.

“It’s not only the music, but it’s also the presentation of it, the brand, the story, and how you make the content, how you reach the public.” 

Succar is motivated by the satisfaction of seeing something go through the long hard process of being born. He is energized by the thought of creating something that can give joy to others. He spoke about the importance of staying disciplined in decision making and delegation. Succar always makes sure he is hands-on with his projects to keep everything flowing the way he has imagined it. 

“Never give up. You don’t need to be born into a family of extremely successful people in order to make it.” 

Losing everything he had worked for at the beginning of his project gave Succar the courage to work even harder in order to complete the Unity: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson album. Succar is now working on his documentary based on his powerful story of overcoming challenges in order to get to the place in his music career he is today. He is now taking this year to plan for the future. Succar has learned a lot about himself and acknowledges that every obstacle that he has overcome has given him the motive to continue to dedicate himself to what he believes in. 

“Never leave anything for tomorrow what you can do today.”

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How Clarissa Ward Became One of the Few Women on Television to Document the Tragedy and Terror of War-Torn Countries




Clarissa Ward kneeling and speaking to a man, while surrounded by a large group of men all carrying guns and watching the verbal exchange

Source: IG | Clarissa Ward

Clarissa Ward is an American television journalist who is currently the Chief International Correspondent for CNN, based in London. For more than 15 years, Clarissa has reported from every major front line across the world from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, to Yemen. The list is endless. Where there is conflict, Clarissa is there documenting the tragedy and terror of war. Her job has taken her to some of the most dangerous places in the world.

Ward began her television career after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She knew that she wanted to get to the bottom of the question of how the terrorist attack happened. Fox News offered her a job on the spot to work on overnight assignments.

After learning Arabic by the age of 25, Ward was able to travel to Iraq for a rotation as a producer for six weeks. After moving past her position with Fox, Ward set herself up as a freelancer and developed her career into what it is now. 

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The hardest aspect of Ward’s job is dealing with the loss of people she cares about. Another challenge is transitioning back and forth between two different worlds. It is hard to straddle two contrasting existences. Something that has helped Ward deal with these challenges is by staying immersed in her personal life to have a place to feel grounded. 

“The assumption that most people make is that the hardest part of your job is that you see some really tough things and you see the worst of humanity and you see a lot of death and occasionally you come very close to it yourself.” 

Coping is a vital part of Ward’s career experience. When she is in situations in which she needs to stay composed and calm, Ward focuses on how she is going to bring justice to those people in danger. The primary concern remains to get everyone out of the situation safely.

Long-term effects of witnessing trauma appear and affect people in a variety of ways. Ward recommends that everyone who is pursuing this type of job sees a therapist to make sure they have someone they can talk to about it all. This can also help people recognize the warning signs of the development of PTSD and Depression

Ward’s published book, On All Fronts: The Education of a Journalist, wants to leave the reader with an understanding that people are bound together by human connection. In her book, Ward speaks about her experience in war-torn Syria and her investigations into the Western extremists who were drawn to ISIS.

Ward uses her story to explain to the reader that it is a lot more complicated than violence or peace. It is about the connections that people make with one another that truly make a difference in this world.

“People are people. No matter where they are in the world. No matter which god they worship, no matter what color their skin, no matter their sexual orientation.”

It is important to know that you will be willing to give this sort of job your everything. You need to prioritize this job over other things in your life. Ward travels every month to a new place around the world while also focusing on maintaining love and stability in her life.

She has learned to balance her home life with her travels. After having two children of her own, Ward has now developed more of an understanding of the mothers she sees in conflict zones and has also become more mindful of the risk she is taking herself when traveling to countries in conflict. 

When asked what advice she would give to her younger self, Ward said, 

“You need to find the things that energize you and nourish you. Enjoy it.”

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Police Shot Her Brother. She is Now Fighting Police Brutality-Meet Human Rights Activist Shackelia Jackson




Shackelia Jackson is fighting police brutality in Jamaica

Shackelia Jackson is a human rights activist fervently fighting police brutality. She advocates for equal policing and judicial reporting in Jamaica. She has been fighting for social justice since her brother, Nakiea, was shot in 2014 by police in Kingston, Jamaica. The effort that Jackson has put into making change after her terrible loss has been motivated by her brother. She has reflected on who she is as a human and how she can help others through her life.

“This situation has called me into discovering even my own strength and the purpose that extends beyond me,” said Jackson. 

Kingston, Jamaica holds one of the world’s highest rates of fatal police shootings, many of which are results of racially motivated police brutality. Growing up, Jackson felt support from both of her parents to strive for her dreams. She felt that her parents understood who she and her brother were and what made them unique and supported them accordingly. Jackson’s brother attended a technical high school and they both worked at a local newspaper. After Jackson’s brother began taking cooking classes, he put his heart and soul into his career and was an inspiration to Jackson.

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When Jackson’s brother was shot by the police and taken to the hospital, Jackson told him for the first time that she loved him, in hopes that his hearing would be the last to go. She also knew that if the police got anywhere near her brother, they might harm him because they did not want him to be a witness to the violence that they had unfairly used against him. Jackson reached out to the newspaper that she had worked for in the past, but they did not understand the extent of the incident. She then reported the incident to the investigative authorities, with little response. When Jackson got home, she was informed that her brother had passed away.

“I prayed that I would, over time, establish the right linkages and support to help me and my family.” 

Jackson has faced brutal intimidation from the police and little support from the Jamaican legal system in her efforts to create change. Jackson sees oppression everywhere and advocates for the need to reframe the biases against people of certain races and communities. She spoke of the irrationality of thought that the police had when they approached her brother on that traumatic day and she sees a need to fight back. The officer who shot Jackson’s brother was the first officer in the history of Jamacia to be charged with murder. But because of the faulty judicial system in Jamacia, the officer was given bail and eventually walked free.

“My fight starts with the need for due process.”

Jackson brought up something that was explained by the Minister of Security saying that the longer a matter takes to be brought before the court, the less likely that there will be a successful prosecution. Jackson faced verbal and psychological abuse during the court hearings, but continued to fight for justice. The dropped charges opened Jackson’s eyes to the real injustice in the Jamaican judicial system. Jackson had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Prime Minister’s office alongside the Write for Rights campaign, but was still not given a fair voice. Though the challenges she has faced have been major detriments to her efforts, this uphill battle has been worth every sleepless night and every brutal day that Jackson and other activists have gone through. And they are not about to give up now.

“It speaks to the fact that great work is still being done and I have now learned to celebrate small victories which maybe not in my lifetime, but in my daughter’s lifetime there will be some semblance of justice and the policy of legislative changes to support aggrieved families.”

The experience of Jackson’s family with the unfair justice system has amplified the need for change. They are motivated each day to keep fighting. Her family draws strength from the people who are still being oppressed and those who support them each and every day. Jackson relies on her faith to cope with the tragic loss that she has, and will, deal with for the rest of her life.

Racial profiling and police brutality is not just an issue in the United States. It is happening all over the world and causing unjust deaths to thousands of people. When looking at the history of Jamaica, police officers have allegedly killed more than three thousand people and the number of fatalities in the hands of Jamaican law enforcement officers in just 2017 was 168 people. An average of three people are killed every week by officers in Jamaica with a population of just 2.8 million.

The biggest change that Jackson has seen since she began fighting as a human rights activist is the increase of major organizations, such as the NBA, speaking out in support of social justice. She has seen an increase in support from these organizations and has appreciated each action that they have taken towards change.

“We cannot afford more children needing to be briefed [on how to stay safe] before going outside.” 

Stronger police forces do not mean a safer society. Society has a lot of work to do to create a safe environment. Recent tragedies all over the world could have been avoidable if people had realized the faults in the current system. According to Jackson, the origin of violence in the police force begins in the training that each officer. In current police training, more attention is given to shooting skills than the understanding of communication and nonverbal behavior. This needs to be changed immediately. The current system of engagement and policy establishment also needs to be altered to work against racial profiling and police brutality.

“When you have been oppressed for so long, it manifests itself in the degree of oppression that you’ve been forced to endure.”

Just as revolts lead to the abolishment of slavery in the US, social justice movements such as the Black Lives Matter movement, have the power to end racial injustice. No matter their race, people everywhere are as much at risk as others and need to work in unity in order to make change happen. Shackelia Jackson will never stop fighting for judicial reform and encourages others to speak up and fight alongside her and other activists all over the world.

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