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Story Publication logo July 24, 2023

Exercising Accountability, Mutual Respect, and Trust in a Black Trans Community



Mother Wit

Three Black trans women grieve the death of their matriarch and mentor, as they fight to achieve...

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Multiple Authors

Te Shima on camera during a weekly Monday meeting between LaTravious Collins and her assistant director, E'Jira Moore. Image by Rajvi Desai. United States, 2022.

When Te Shima Brennen first stepped into the Brooklyn GHOST Project in hopes of learning more about the nonprofit and its co-founder LaTravious Collins, they knew they would have a big hill to climb. The nonprofit, located inside of the Brooklyn Community Pride Center in Crown Heights, was no stranger to journalists stopping by to report on them.

The GHOST Project, which stands for Guiding and Helping Others Survive Transition, had been connecting Black and Brown trans people with services for housing, healthcare, jobs, and education for years. Their work had become a regular rotation for local news stations to include in their reporting around pride month. As a result, Mother LaTravious and her chosen children were no longer camera shy, but they were wary of journalists. The media had parachuted in and out of their space, with little accountability, oftentimes not even sending them a link to their own interviews when they published. 

Deadnaming, misgendering, misreporting, and not seeing trans people as experts in their own lives has created outrage in the community where there is an epidemic of violence against trans people. Te Shima walked into their space knowing this reality, determined to not repeat such journalism tactics. 

They watched Mother LaTravious command the room of Black and Brown trans people for their weekly Wednesday kickback event, simultaneously also holding space for her chosen children. Her passion for her community was evident. She was there to serve, to nurture, and to be a matriarch. 

“I am Mother because I've opened my doors so many times when [my children’s] actual parents have thrown them in the street…I keep a hot meal for you, and maybe a piece of clothing and a hygiene kit or something that you may need,” said Mother LaTravious as she sat still trying to figure out if Te Shima was an ally she could trust. 

After an hour of asking about her life and work, and her delivering well-prepared, practiced answers back to them, they thanked her, packed up their bags and left. 

Te Shima sat with the confirmation that there was a story worth telling about the family Mother LaTravious created and her place in the community as a matriarch. However, in order for them and their co-director, Rajvi Desai, to make a documentary, they would need to dig deeper to create a nuanced, intimate verité film about what was unfolding in front of them.

Rajvi on camera as E'jira travels to her 41st birthday dinner. Image by Te Shima Brennen. United States, 2023.

Rajvi came on board Mother Wit as co-director a couple of months after Te Shima first went to the GHOST Project. By this time, they had already been visiting the community weekly and had started building trust with them. Rajvi was eager to meet them, and nervous, also knowing how much mistrust the media had bred in trans communities of color through exploitative practices. As someone who grew up in India, Rajvi also recognized his own positionality in the space that was different from Te Shima’s, and both of them began a process of getting to know and trust each other that is culminating not only in this film, but in what they hope is a lifelong friendship. 

They frequented the GHOST Project every week, with and without cameras. As they got to know Mother LaTravious’ motivations, and started filming the GED classes, Rajvi and Te Shima realized the uniqueness of the space, and of her work—the focus on education. They realized this framework for the film in collaboration with Mother LaTravious, who then introduced them to her chosen daughters who were at different stages of pursuing academic excellence. Through wig drives, pride events, "Drag Race" watch parties, birthday celebrations, and trips to the nail salon, they solidified a relationship that was based on mutual respect, trust and admiration. They continue to film with the community as filmmakers, and show up as friends.

Rajvi and Te Shima hope Mother Wit can be an example for trans communities of color to absorb Mother LaTravious’ vision, see themselves in trajectories of success, and find some strength in the film as they continue to do the life-saving work they have always done for their communities.


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LGBTQ+ Rights

LGBTQ+ Rights
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Racial Justice
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Gender Equality

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