by Princess Harmony
Black Girl Dangerous’ Crush of the Month is a feature where we choose the most swoon-worthy and inspirational QTPoC whose work and flair has left us inspired and blushing. Then we interview them so our amazing readers can join us in crushing, fanning, and absolutely swooning over these amazing QTs.
This month’s crush is Kelly Hayes, a writer, organizer, and activist based out of Chicago. As the cofounder of Lifted Voices and the Chicago Light Brigade, she was instrumental in raising awareness about the Chicago Police Department’s acts of violence and in holding a vigil for Sandra Bland. Together with her work with We Charge Genocide and her writing at Transformative Spaces, Kelly is dedicated to fighting for her community and the youth in Chicago.
Has it gotten hot in here, or is it just us? Without further ado, here’s Kelly!
Princess Harmony: I’m inspired by seeing all the things you’ve written and the organizations you work with. What got you started as an activist and what keeps you going?
Kelly: I think my stubbornness about social issues started at a pretty young age. I always wanted power to justify itself, or at the very least be able to explain itself. That didn’t always end well for me growing up, but I think it helped propel me in the right direction. As far as what keeps me going… there’s knowing you’re not free, there’s fighting to get free, and there’s actually being free. Only two of those are a way of life I can imagine embracing. So until we all get free, this is the only life I want.
Princess Harmony: In many ways, activism is art. And nothing can be more artistic and beautiful than light. Could you tell our readers a little about why you and the other cofounders chose to form a light brigade?
Kelly: For a bunch of artful, direct action oriented folx, the simplicity of building big, lighted LED letters, that could be reshuffled to spell out different movement messages, on demand, over expressways and on city streets, was kind of irresistible. So we imported the tactic from our friends in Milwaukee. Here in Chicago, the boards have made the rounds pretty beautifully. I’ve seen them spell out Sandra Bland’s name over the Chicago River, and I’ve seen them used as lighted shields against violent, advancing police. The focus of my work has shifted a bit since the days when we founded Chicago Light Brigade, but it’s a staple that’s still in the cupboard when people need it, and I feel good about that.
Princess Harmony: You wrote a piece for The Solidarity Struggle, BGD’s new collection about solidarity between peoples of color. What’s the most valuable thing your work with Lifted Voices, the organization you co-founded, has taught you about solidarity between Black and Native people, in particular?
Kelly: I think it’s been extraordinary for all of us to have the family we’ve found in each other. Lifted Voices is, in some ways, a response to the failures of white feminism, and a necessary vehicle for self-defense, but its founding was also a chance for us, as organizers, to build the house that we all wanted to live in. I think the first important lesson we learned together was that it was possible for us, as loving, militant Black and Brown femme and non-binary folx, to build that house. And now that we have, I can’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else.
Princess Harmony: You’ve worked with some really important movements and I imagine you must have done even more than what I’ve seen. What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Kelly: Being part of a community that laughs, loves, and throws down hard blockades together, is pretty much as good as it gets. We get to wield words and power tools and build dreams that empty cages. I don’t think there’s anything better I could be doing with my life right now, or better people that I could be doing it with.
Princess Harmony: Shifting gears, let’s talk about relationships. What’s your love life like? Are you in a relationship right now?
Kelly: Yes, I am. My primary partner and I have loved each other so long, I would never want the beautiful severity of what we have with anyone else, but we aren’t restrictive about each other’s love lives.
Princess Harmony: If you’re in a relationship, or you’re going to get in one, what’s one thing you need your partner to understand? Do you have any pet peeves you’d need to let your partner know about?
Kelly: Anyone I date needs to understand that, doing the work I do, being incredibly task-focused is an act of love. Anyone who wants to get closer needs to be able to feel that love with me, rather than feel eclipsed by it.
Princess Harmony: Do you have any requirements for potential partners? What are they?
Kelly: I can’t cuddle with someone who has shitty politics. Other than that, I’m open to a pretty wide spectrum of possibilities.
Princess Harmony: What’s been your most transformative relationship?
Kelly: Mariame Kaba, the founder of Project NIA and numerous other organizations, taught me how to dream like an abolitionist. Under her mentorship, I became a better organizer and a better human being. My action collective, Lifted Voices, probably wouldn’t exist without her influence. My dreams of tearing down walls existed long before I met her, but my freedom dreams grew out of our friendship, and all that she’s taught me.
Princess Harmony: For our closing question, let’s talk about music. What’s been in heavy rotation for you? Who have you been listening to?
Kelly: My playlists are pretty eclectic, but lately, I can’t get enough of Chicago’s local music. Sol Patches’ “As2Water Hurricanes,” is groundbreaking, and Tasha Viets-VanLear’s EP, “Divine Love,” is revolutionary comfort food. Tasha actually helped co-found Lifted Voices, and has lent some really beautiful music to our local protest scene. I’m not sure people in other cities realize just how much of a hub Chicago has become for resistance music. From David Ellis to FM Supreme and Ric Wilson, Chicago’s street rebellions are set to music, and it’s enough to keep my head up.
Princess Harmony is an afrolatin trans girl who speaks in the language of fire. She’s also unapologetic weeb trash that likes anime, video games, and visual novels. Go figure! <3