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It is by no mistake that Ms. Harley’s namesake is indicative of social change, inclusion, and uprising, as that’s pretty much what her free time consists of. Justice Harley is just ending her freshman year at The Ohio State University (OSU), but she’s leaving a mark that will resonate with her community throughout the remainder of her undergrad and far after she graduates.
The Columbus native has found a niche in fighting oppression and fostering connections within marginalized groups through multiple community and OSU student organizations/movements, such as OSU Coalition for Black Liberation, FemUnity, and International Socialist Organization (ISO), just to name a few. Each of these efforts recognize and actively combat the plight of under-represented groups of the OSU community, Columbus and even beyond.
Justice, who identifies as LGBTQ, says she came to OSU under the impression that she was “woke,” but it wasn’t until joining her first group on campus that she realized just how asleep she was. She attended a FemUnity meeting during her first semester and was immediately forced to recognize a world of marginalization and corrupt systems, and understanding buzz words, theories, and intersectionality.
She came into her freshman year as a psychology major, but after her first organizing experience, helping to orchestrate OSU2Mizzou in order to help combat racism on campus, “psychology just wasn’t cutting it,” she says. “Systematic oppression. I wanted to learn more about this stuff,” and she changed her major to African American studies.
“I think that Still We Rise is where I’ve found a home,” says Harley. She is proud to be one of the founding mothers, and now treasurer, of Still We Rise, a collective that she says came about “organically”. It started as an organizing effort around Black Lives Matter issues within the community, as Harley and her friends realized that there was no safe space for black feminist women within the community. Still We Rise, primarily a safe place for Black cis and Trans Women and Black gender non-conforming individuals, represents groups that Justice says are often “left out of the picture”.
Still We Rise gives an opportunity for black women to “tell our stories. Rewrite history in a way that we’re not in the background and the shadows,” she says. Justice is aware of the importance of creating safe spaces for other underrepresented groups who face similar oppressive realities.
As of next year, Harley plans to step it up a notch, stepping in as President of SHADES, a student organization dedicated to creating a safe place for “Same-Gender Loving (SGL), Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ)” people of color.
Harley refers to the works of Audrey Lorde and Patricia Hill Collins as inspirations to continue her work. “Black Feminist theory really influences me, and makes me feel like someone understands the things that I go through,” says Harley. “To keep writing, keep organizing, and keeping trying to place myself.”
In addition to being an organizer, Justice channels her emotions, feelings and trauma that she’s experienced through poetry; she’s been writing since she was about 7. She recalls her first time showcasing her talents when she was a sophomore in high school, performing during a school talent show, remembering how good it felt for everyone to hear her words and enjoy it. You can catch her some Wednesday nights reciting poetry at Kafe Kerouac during Poetry Open Mic.
Through organizing and poetry, Justice helps to shift social consciousness and bring forth hope to her communities, which can often be difficult. She says as she’s often the minority, working with and around white men in power, “sometimes you feel pressure to conform to societal norms. Having all those identities… It’s hard not to feel marginalized to that dynamic.” Even so, Justice remains diligent and hopeful, offering advice to others, and women like her who take on the pressures:
“I think it’s easy to get exhausted, they (oppressive power structures) do so directly impact us. Take breaks and you don’t have to justify them to anyone. Don’t invalidate yourself, or be so harsh on yourself… Nobody’s going to fight for you but you or understand what you go through like you do. Nobody else is adequate enough like you.”
Now that school is out Justice plans to take a break, but she anticipates that she will still be organizing, mainly with Cbus to Ferguson this summer.
She leaves a special message for Black LGBTQ individuals, like her:
“If you don’t have an outlet to get off the things that are on your chest, any pain or even joy … or anything, find one. Whatever works, doesn’t have to be words. It’s good to express yourself.
Even if it’s not necessarily good or happy. Don’t ignore that you have feelings. They like to think that we don’t feel or we’re super human. That we don’t feel pain or joy. They paint us as numb so that they can hurt us and kill us, without outrage or concern, because everyone thinks that we’re super human.
Express that you can be harmed and put that down in some kind of medium. Especially your joy. We’re not all pain and suffering. We also have good lives.
The entirety of blackness is not getting shot by the cops.”