Fearless and Flawless: Meet Activist, Elle Hearns

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When you’ve survived and been beautiful while doing so – what could there be to apologize for? And to whom and for what? – Elle Hearns

Between the lines you’ll feel her confidence roar.  If you admire an unapologetic woman redefining femininity, meet Elle Hearns, former strategic partner of the Black Lives Matter network.  She’s now Executive Director of The Marsha P. Johnson Institute. Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, Elle is on the front lines daily lines fighting for the culture.

CASA Café:

Elle, is it true that your love of the beauty industry and makeup led you into the activism space?

Elle Hearns:

It is true. My experiences growing up in Columbus left me isolated and alone. From the time that I was a small child well into my adult years I always loved glamour.  I spent a great deal of time trying to break into the beauty industry. However, my unwillingness to conform to the corporate structure was too much for the Midwest to understand. I turned to resisting and protesting workspaces that were too conservative to meet the beauty needs and culture that I and so many others needed to stay alive. As you could imagine protesting your workspace or not conforming to their rules regarding what was appropriate dress, or hair led me to being unemployed. I spent some time homeless which opened my eyes to how little existed in the world for Black women like me.

Elle Hearns

Source: Kenneth Hamlett

CASA Café:

Let’s talk about power, confidence, and of course beauty – why is the Black women a force in your eyes? Is it fair to say that she is unapologetic?

Elle Hearns:

The Black woman is a force to be reckoned with, because we know who we are. The world for so long has tried to tell us that we were different or that we don’t belong, but when we look around, we see everyone emulating us or trying to have power over us.

There’s an acknowledgement that Black women must do regarding our ancestors and our mothers to understand our place in the world. That acknowledgement is what makes us so powerful. We know their stories, and oftentimes their stories become our stories in the same or different ways.

Our beauty is unmatched.  I remember being a young girl and recognizing the curve in my lip and the curl in my hair and being so fascinated that no one looked like me. It is completely fair to say that we are unapologetic. When you’ve survived and been beautiful while doing so what could there be to apologize for? And to whom and for what? We are everything and they know it.

CASA Café:

You’re a fierce supporter of the trans and black community – why is this space dear to your heart?

Elle Hearns:

I grew up surrounded by my sisters, my Mom, and my neighborhood. Those experiences shaped and molded me. My mother always instilled in me to never look down on where you come from. To be honest, I struggled with that. I came from the hood. I came from public assistance and food stamps. I came from Black people. I didn’t know how to be proud of that, while also being bullied for it. It’s the first place I learned to love. It’s the first space where I learned pain. So, in a lot of ways I learned how to win no matter how bad I was down. I watched my Mom and so many other Black young single Moms dedicate their lives to providing that I naturally learned to love from them.

The trans community has always been such an invitation into an emancipated life. The rules truly don’t apply to a people who’ve made a way out of no way when the doors everywhere have never been open. I met a group of young Black trans women after being released from jail and without those women my life and my activism would look so different. No matter where I go those experiences will always be with me and dear to me.

CASA Café:

You’re a co-founding member of the Black Lives Matter network and now the Executive Director of The Marsha P. Johnson Institute. Please share what The Marsha P. Johnson Institute is doing for the community?

Elle Hearns:

The Marsha P. Johnson Institute works to protect and defend Black transgender people here in the United States. Over the last 5 years, due to the advocacy of Black trans women, murders within this community are now part of mainstream conversations. We’re doing work to create more dialogue and community building for a marginalized community. Our work consists of advocacy. We’re the only organization of our kind doing that work across the country. We’re also building opportunities through political engagement around legislation proposals like ‘The Marsha P. Johnson Safety and Wellness Acts’ – which we hope will be a model adopted at the local level to improve the conditions of Black trans people. The Marsha P. Johnson Institute is an extension of a bigger picture that I’ve always imagined for Black lives.

CASA Café:

Can you name a few Black women who are your source of inspiration? What about them gives you life?

Elle Hearns:

My mother and sisters are the ultimate survivors. I love to hear them laugh and fight for themselves. My first love will always be music. I grew up listening, watching, and dancing to women like Mary J. Blige, Patti Labelle, Janet Jackson, Twinkie Clark, Ciara, and Lauryn Hill. Their voices and stories bring me great inspiration when I need it most. 

Originally written by K. Hudson and posted on MadameNoire.

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