A Note from Cece Suazo, creator of Black Trans Stories Matter

Before I was introduced to TMI Project I was torn, broken, and felt like damaged goods. To be completely honest, I just wanted to end it all. Today, I live with a greater sense of freedom because I learned how to tell my narrative and live in my truth. I was accepted and gained a new family through TMI Project. I feel whole again, stronger, and more confident in my ability to continue life’s journey. I also felt inspired to reach out to others in the TGNC community to let them know there’s so much out there for us.

I am thrilled to partner with TMI Project to help launch Black Trans Stories Matter, a true storytelling workshop that will culminate in a live virtual performance. In the workshop, the TGNC community will have the support they need to pick up the pieces, dust themselves off, and learn to tap into their power and share their truth. In the performance, we will educate the public about what Black trans people go through. 

We will let the world know that BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER! We are human and deserve equality, yet we’re murdered at alarming rates daily. I know that, like me, many people in my community are afraid to go outside for fear of becoming a target of ignorant violence. But, we are warriors and will continue to fight for change, not only for ourselves but for all those who come after us in future generations. 

It is my sincere hope that Black Trans Stories Matter can help us pave the path for our survival; that by the end of the performance, people will have a different outlook on my community and will work with us to create a world in which we can live our truth with freedom and safety.

– Cece Suazo (She/Her)

A Q & A with Nationally Recognized, Visionary Musician, Drummer, and Poet Ubaka Hill

TMI Project recently had the opportunity to interview the nationally recognized musician, drummer, poet, master teacher of hand drumming, and 2019 Agent of Change honoree Ubaka Hill

Ubaka Hill (she/her) has been a performer of percussion, poetry, and song for over 30 years and a teacher of hand drumming for over 25 years. She is the visionary founder of the Million Women Drummers Gathering Global Initiative and the founder and curator of The Drumsong Institute Museum & Archive of Women’s Drumming Traditions of women’s folkloric and contemporary drumming. She is also one of three Agent of Change honorees at TMI Project’s 2019 Voices in Action: Benefit & Storytelling Showcase. Read on for our Q & A with Ubaka.

“It was during this “coming of age” where I awakened to being a Woman, a Black Woman and the role I have in representing myself and all of us. My Pride deepened as a Woman of Color and as a Lesbian which required self-honesty, deep healing, and unpacking internalized racisim, sexism, classism, and homophobia through self-love and acceptance.”

TMI PROJECT: What does being honored as a TMI Project Agent of Change mean to you?

UH: Being an Agent of Change honoree lets me know that my creative service and activism (artivism) in local and national communities are recognized and appreciated by TMI Project; that my visionary work and achievements of over 30 years matter and are worthy of public recognition. This honor will also show the importance of the arts and of artists as influencers, leaders, and activists (artivists) in the movements of social change.

TMI PROJECT: What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?  What are you most excited or passionate about? What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your work, the goals you hold personally?

UH: I know that I have the power to encourage and inspire positive social change through the power of music, art, and spoken word.

My biggest personal goal is to inspire another generation to use the power of their creative intelligence to make positive changes that are impactful and sustainable. I am either in the planning stages of or actively working on so many other projects: I plan to produce a few more CDs, to write a historical book and presentation about the ancient and emerging Women’s Drumming Traditions; and I am working on a music video called “She Who Rises”. I am also an oil painter and would like to continue to produce my art as prints and note cards, just to name a few.

TMI PROJECT: Did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to be doing what you’re doing today?  Tell us about them.

UH: I was born in the Bronx, NY in 1956 a Brown-Skinned African American Woman. From my youth into early adulthood years I lived in Jersey City, NY. I’ve had life-changing experiences throughout my life, and I continue to have them.

I was a child during the timeline of MLK and MX, Angela Davis and James Brown and many others who are historically noted and not noted. As a 13-year-old, I was aware of the Civil Rights Movement and the violence and devastation from the organized forces pushing back against change. The riots were in my neighborhood, on my block, and on TV.  I was also aware that many White families, friends and business owners were afraid. I did not yet have the political acumen to understand what was going on and why. I felt helpless, afraid, and confused. I wasn’t sure if things would get better but I held that possibility in my heart.

By High School, I learned that Black people were systematically mistreated, disrespected and oppressed by racist white people who didn’t like us, who didn’t want us to have equal rights, who didn’t want us in their neighborhoods or to go to schools with their children. I learned that my family came from Africa as slaves held captive by white colonizers, missionaries and global capitalists. The Black Panther Party was very active during this time, and it was also a time of my own political awakening grounded in art, poetry, music, graffiti, novels, dance, and theatre. 

By the time I was 17, I knew that I wanted to be part of the movement for positive change, equal rights and justice for “my people” because I was afraid and I was heartbroken and I knew that life had to better for us. I also knew that non-violence was my way of influencing change and that art and creative expression was my medium. I was 13 when I was presented by my art teacher with my name Ubaka.

At 17 I met a woman drummer for the first time named Edwina Lee Tyler. She made a great impression on me. Here was a woman drumming on the Conga Drum and later an African Djembe. I had only ever seen men drumming. Seeing her gave me permission to drum as a girl. During this period of time, I helped to form an ensemble of musicians for positive social change. We called the group the Spirit of Life Ensemble. I played jazz on my Conga with a lot of great Jazz musicians like Daoud Williams, Calvin Hill, Pharaoh Sanders, and Joe Lee Wilson to name just a few. I was the youngest member and the only woman for many of the 8 years that I was a core member. This is where I learned to drum and I experienced the power of music and the arts in the movement of social change.

By my early 20’s I legally changed my name to Ubaka, and moved to Brooklyn where I “came of age” again as a Black African American Woman, Lesbian, and artist. It was in Brooklyn where I learned to Drum like a powerful Black Woman with a cause. It was there in Fort Greene Brooklyn where I learned and witnessed the beauty and passion of Black Women’s art, music, storytelling, body, adornment, and creative self-expression. It was there and then where I sat in the audience of and around the kitchen table of Audre Lourde, Nikie Giovani, Pat Parker, Edwina Lee Tyler, Sapphire, The Women of the Calabash, Jewel Gomez, and Sonia Sanchez and so many more artists and activists. My Pride deepened as a Woman of Color and as a Lesbian which required self-honesty, deep healing and unpacking internalized racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia through self-love and acceptance.

During my time living and growing upwards in Brooklyn, I learned what it meant to be a feminist. In addition to Edwina, there were many Women that were an inspiration who influenced me and had a positive impact on me in different ways: Dorothy Stoneman, the founder of the Youth Action Program / Youth Build USA; Lisa Vogal, founder of the Michigan Women’s Music Festival; Maya Angelou; Harriet Tubman; Oprah Winfrey; Vicki Noble, Author / Motherpeace; Audre Lourde; Madeline Yayodela Nelson, founder of Women of the Calabash; Kay Gardner, Musician/Composer; Elizabeth Lesser, founder of Omega Institute; and Bev Grant; Musician /Artivist of the Human Condition; Eve Ensler and Holly Near. What all of these women have in common for me is that they went big with their visions for healing and progressive change. They did with self-permission and courage while pioneering new pathways for peace and dignity.

My life changed when I embraced the fact that all women and girls are targets of systematic, organized patriarchal oppression and violence. I became acutely aware that our collective, worldwide oppression is the common drive that powers our collective movement for our human rights. Teaching drumming to women has informed the focus of my teaching over the years. I’ve deepened my research and added more knowledge about women’s drumming traditions and drumming as a healing tool.  In addition to teaching women how to play and to play the rhythms and music, I included drumming as a healing modality and healing circles, tools for personal transformation, encouraging joy, wellness, and building community.

I would have to write a book to speak about the influences of the Women that I have mentioned. There are also men who have inspired my coming of age and that had a very positive life-changing impact on my development as an artist and activist. Nelson Mandela, Sun Bear, Baba Olatunji, Daoud Williams, Cliff Watson to name a few.  What all of these Women and Men have in common for me is that they went big with their big vision for radical progressive change not just for themselves but for the greater good of many.

TMI PROJECT: What’s next for you in your work in our Hudson Valley community?  What are you looking forward to?

UH: In 2010 I was called by a vision to focus on being active in the environmental sustainability cause from the point of view as a drummer, a consumer of wooden musical instruments made from trees and I founded the Million Women Drummers Global (MWDG) Initiative. I’m now focused on the ongoing development of the (MWDG) Initiative, which includes collaborating, partnerships and community organizing to plant trees and play music together locally. MWDG also includes information, mindfulness, and consciousness-raising to influence a “new mindful model” for a sustainable future and to increase the number of trees in our neighborhoods for environmental and health benefits.

I’m also looking forward to working with the Center for Creative Education as the Music Director of the Percussion Orchestra of Kingston (P.O.O.K).  I’m excited to build upon the long legacy of founder Ev Mann and to continue to teach and feature the creative intelligence of children and youth of Kingston. To create a model of art education and socially responsible mindfulness and leadership through creative self-expression, self-development and community involvement.


On Sunday, June 2nd, TMI Project joined the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center at the 2019 Hudson Valley Pride Festival and March. It was a beautiful day, and we met so many inspiring LGBTQ+ community members and allies who came out to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the NYC Stonewall Riots. TMI Project was fortunate to have Woodstock Day School student and photographer Tonya Dechar capture portraits of visitors to our booth during the festival. Each person Tonya photographed participated in a true storytelling activity for LGBTQ+ community members and/or allies. Below are some of our favorites. We hope you enjoy reading these short stories as much as we enjoyed collecting them. Happy Pride Month, everyone!

“I came out on instagram as genderfluid/pansexual on 3/31/19 (my mother’s birthday). My mother is an ally but doesn’t believe my gender identity nor sexuality because I have a straight boyfriend. Today, I came out to my boyfriend as genderfluid. I love the community and everyone a part of lgbtqa+.” – Alison

“My best friend came out to me towards the end of our senior year of high school. She was sobbing, and asked me not to hate her. The way her family reacted was so disheartening. They still believe it’s a “phase.” My response to her was that I could never hate you, and you love who you love. I still try to remind her, myself and others everyday to just be yourself; you’re beautiful just the way you are.” – Tayler

“Chelsea Manning inspires me to fight for justice. She made enormous sacrifices to tell the truth about the Iraq War and the US Military and has faced years of imprisonment and solitary confinement (torture). As a trans woman, this experience has been horribly traumatic for her, but she stays strong and refuses to compromise her morals and testify against Wikileaks, so she has been imprisoned again. Her struggle is all of ours.” – Eli

“Growing up, I have been a part of and have been close with many folks in the LGBTQ+ community. I grew up with a very accepting mother, but living in a small town in Missouri was hard for a lot of my friends who were picked on by not only classmates, but family. I have and always will be someone who will listen and be there for you, no matter how you identify, I am your ally.” – Autumn

“My mom took 10 years to come around to my coming out. I was patient and fought to make sure she understood what was important to me. When she finally came around, she went all out: she wound up moving to a different church and switching denominations completely so that her faith still stayed intact, but her love for her son could shine through.” – Blake

“In the trans spaces that I am a part of, it is really beautiful and heartwarming to see how much support and community is formed between people. Like with my best friend from childhood, after reconnecting with me, against my fears, she supported me whole-heartedly. Likewise, I was lucky enough to help her come out and find herself, and I am as proud as can be.” – Ravenna

“As a lesbian, sometimes men will try to convince me that they could turn me straight, and that I’m ‘not really lesbian.’ It scares me, how predatory they sound when discussing my sex life without my consent.” – Jess

“I overcame doubting myself. I always took what people said I should be and what I should do and went with it, but doing so just left me so much more confused in the end. I had to realize that I need to follow what I feel and want in my heart and soul and stop doubting and questioning myself based on others’ opinions. The only thing that matters is how I feel and what I want and if it makes me happy. And everyone should get the opportunity to do that.” – Marlana

“My coming out experience was that of an emotional one, I started out with a written letter explaining my sexuality and my gender; I’m attracted to females but I identified as male, so for the generation my mum grew up in, in a not-so-open household, she never heard of what a transgender person is, but years down the line I’ve been more accepted and respected for my identity.” – Angel

“While leaving pride last year, I had a motorcycle accident, which resulted in a helicopter landing at the pride event. I spent 1 week in the hospital due to a shattered patella that required 2 surgeries. With the help of my teammates, mid hudson misfits roller derby, a lot of PT and a 3rd surgery, 1 year later I am back at pride, playing roller derby and riding motorcycles again. I could not have done it without such a wonderful community.” – Mimic

“It’s the second pride I’ve every been to in 2019. I’m walking around the festival and saying ‘hello’ to my friends during and after the march. It’s hot, loud, and crowded, and I walk up to a merch stand with flags, pins and clothing. I spot some pansexual pins in the corner, and feel a rush of excitement and nervousness. I’ve only out to a couple of people, and I’m no stranger to bigoted comments, but this is pride. After a moment of thought, I decide to buy one labeled ‘pantastic.’ As I continue walking around, I see a boy from my school. He is 3 years my junior, with curly hair, freckles, and covered in trans and gay pride colors. As we see each other, and he walks over, I say hello. He replies in suit, and notices my pin. Even though we’ve started to become friends, and I know that he’s nice, I can’t help but worry that I’m going to be mocked. Even still, I take a risk and hold out the pin for him to see better. He laughs at the stupid pun, looks me in the eye, and tells me that he loves it. We spend the rest of the day hanging out. We’ve been closer friends ever since.” – Tillie

Inside: Sam’s LGBTQ story of survival

Through TMI Project’s week-long intensive workshop and culminating Off-Broadway performance Life Lines: Queer Stories of Survival, Sam (they/them) shared the details of the anguish and despair they felt growing up bisexual and gender fluid in a Southern Baptist family and the torture they faced in conversion therapy with astounding bravery, candor and self-awareness. LGBTQ youth who hear Sam’s story will have a new sense of hope, know they’re not alone and that survival is possible. Watch Sam’s full story.

With your help, we can finish shooting and complete production on our forthcoming documentary about Life Lines.Our Goal? We will use these stories to inspire the world to be a safe and welcoming place the next generation of LGBTQ youth.

We’re 25% of the way to reaching our annual appeal goal of raising $25,000 by December 31st. With YOUR help we have raised over $6,000 since November 27th. THANK YOU if you’ve already donated. If you haven’t yet, please help us reach our goal by making a gift today.

If you believe in the power of storytellers as agents of change, and in the importance of amplifying the voices of populations whose stories often go unheard, please donate now and help us reach our goal of raising $25,000 by December 31st.

Together, we can change the world, one story at a time.

Stay tuned to hear from more participants whose lives have changed from their work with TMI Project! Next up, Beth from Vicarious Resilience…

A Message about Life Lines from Trevor Project’s James Lecesne [Video]

In the 20 years since The Trevor Project launched its life-saving suicide prevention and crisis intervention lifeline for LGBTQ youth, they’ve helped thousands of young people across the country. But they have never collected stories from those that have used the service.

The Trevor project and TMI Project came together in 2018 to do just that: to locate the people, to hear their stories of survival, and to help them to write and share those stories with the world.

Watch the video below to hear a special message from Trevor Project’s co-founder James Lecense, and to meet a few of the courageous storytellers who will join us on stage for Life Lines: Queer Stories of Survival on Nov. 5th!


[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lq1oIcG62hs[/embedyt]


Life Lines: Queer Stories of Survival
Monday, November 5th, 2018, 7pm One Night Only!
The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 W. 42nd Street, NYC

Get Your Early Bird Tickets ($25 off) for Life Lines: Queer Stories of Survival!

Life Lines: Queer Stories of Survival
November 5, 2018, 7pm
The Irene Diamond Stage at the Pershing Square Signature Center
New York, NY

    In honor of The Trevor Project’s 20th anniversary, a cast of 11 LGBTQ storytellers from around the country, selected from a nationwide call for stories, will take part in a TMI Project true storytelling workshop this November led by Academy Award-winner James Lecesne alongside TMI Project Co-founders Eva Tenuto and Julie Novak. Life Lines: Queer Stories of Survival is the culmination of that work.

    The production will feature inspiring true personal stories of triumph in the face of suicidal attempts or ideations with a goal of raising awareness about the importance of The Trevor Project Lifeline and similar suicide prevention services.

    Why TMI Project’s Partnership with Trevor Project Matters So Much to Me

    Blake Pfeil (he/him), Operations and Digital Coordinator

    Ever since TMI Project announced its upcoming collaboration with the Trevor Project this coming November, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Nick.

    I mean, if I’m going to be completely honest, I’ve always thought a lot about Nick. I tell myself, Well, yes, Blake, it’s hard not to think about your ex-boyfriend.

    He was your first love.

    And he committed suicide this past September.

    Obviously you think about him a lot.

    More recently, my preparation for TMI Project’s partnership with the Trevor Project has got me thinking about Nick even more. TMI Project and the Trevor Project have put out a national call for submissions to celebrate the Trevor Project’s 20th Anniversary (20 years of monumental, pioneering contributions to the LGBTQIA community). We’re on a quest to find stories from people who have been affected, changed or saved by a call to the Trevor Project Suicide Lifeline in the past 20 years. This November, 8 participants will be given the incredible opportunity to take a TMI Project true storytelling and memoir development workshop in NYC alongside Trevor Project Founder Celeste Lecesne (did I mention he’s an Oscar-winner?) and TMI Project co-founders Eva Tenuto and Julie Novak– which will culminate in a live performance off-Broadway. (And most importantly, for participants chosen from outside of NYC, transportation room and board costs will be covered.)

    My role at TMI Project has given me the privilege of doing all sorts of outreach to LGBTQIA organizations across the country. The more I chat with leaders, staff, and board members working tirelessly at community centers, youth shelters, and LGBTQIA foundations across the nation, the more I realize that Nick and I never really talked about his mental health. It was this awkward, unmentionable elephant in the room, this dark cloud constantly loomed over him and filled him with so much anguish and shame. I always worked my hardest to be there for him in those split-second-shift moments where he’d go from sunny to lightning stormy in a matter of seconds– but try as I might, reaching him during those spells was impossible. Of course it was. I was 20 and in no way equipped to deal with the severity of his illness.

    Even after we finally broke it off completely, I’d check in on Nick from time to time, through friends, making sure he was okay. Then one day he reached out to me to apologize for all that had happened between us. He knew I was in New York, and I agreed to meet him. We met on the Upper West Side at some pub. We’d both gotten sober. After our meal, during which the apology came and was accepted, we took a walk in Central Park and talked and laughed and dreamed together. It was the perfect day.

    Nick, I think about that day a lot. I think about the fact that you never felt like you had someone to go to so you could tell your story. You didn’t know that you had access to tools to beat this thing, this mental illness which claimed you. It makes me really sad, of course. I almost can’t believe it. Sometimes I still hear your laugh. It’s packed away in the suitcase in my head, where I stored everything you gave me, our whole story.

    Your story, in all its complexities, the one you never felt like you were allowed to share, is safe with me. And as the summer ends and fall comes and when the 8 brave storytellers take to the stage in NYC on November 5th to share their own personal stories of struggle and triumph, I’ll be thinking of you. I’ll imagine that you’re in the audience next to me, cheering those courageous souls on who, in some way, at least in my mind, stepped forward to share their survival stories, to honor yours.

    Click here to learn more about TMI Project’s partnership with The Trevor Project and how you can apply to join us in NYC for a storytelling workshop and performance this fall.