Our Voices, Our Power
In the early morning hours of Saturday, July 28th, Jessica St. Louis, a 26-year-old Black woman was found unresponsive at the Dublin BART station. She had died after being released from Santa Rita, Alameda's county jail, at 1:25a. Without adequate transportation, food or a place to go.
We are in contact with Jessica's family who shared memories of a funny, beautiful and loving woman. Below is a statement written by the family. This is how they want Jessica to be remembered.
From the Family of Jessica
Jessica St. Louis was born in Haiti and moved here when she was seven. Her mother passed away and she was sent to the US to live with her father, who passed away when she was in high school.
She lived in San Rafael, Richmond and in Discovery Bay for 8 years.
Jessica was one of the warmest and loving people you would ever meet. She could talk to literally any person she met- she made friends with everyone. She had an openness to the world that people responded to and wanted to connect with.
One of her friends shared "there was something about Jess that always made me proud to know her. I knew she had a tough childhood....(you) didn't need to know more to know she was strong, brave and a beautiful human."
Another friend shared after hearing of her passing "She was such a thoughtful, kind individual. My memories of her are vivid and full of joy from middle school."
Jessica was stunningly beautiful. During a trip to New York with one of her beloved foster mothers when she was 14, many men (often grown men) tried to talk to her. Sometimes they needed to be informed that she was 14. When they returned to the family friend's home they were staying at, he asked her, in a educator/mentor fashion, how she decided who (the men who approached her) she would talk to. Jess thought for a minute and said, "I think everyone deserves to be spoken to and talked with."
This was Jess and it is how she moved in the world. This is one of the things we valued most about her and one of the things we will miss so much. She did not judge. She really loved people and cared about each person's story. She was upset by others' suffering and deeply wanted to help others.
She was an incredibly strong person. Not just in an emotional sense-- she had to learn that -- but really physically strong. She was tiny but could help move furniture. One of the happiest times was when she was dancing in a dance troupe every weekend and being the only girl on her Pop Warner football team. She loved taking pictures in a million different poses, and putting on makeup and pretty things. She loved dressing in high heels and nice clothes, AND she loved being on the football team.
One of the proudest day of her life and true joy was the day she gave birth to her son.
She was generous. She loved giving and getting gifts and even when she was really struggling herself, she showed up with gifts for her loved ones. She loved being able to give-- her love language was definitely gifts. She was also so affectionate-- she greeted everyone with a hug, and only needed to be introduced to someone once to send them off with a hug. Sometimes she just handed hugs out at random times.
Jessica was determined and wanted to do well. One of her proudest accomplishments was graduating from YearUp, a job training/leadership program in San Francisco. She wanted to be a credit to her family and really wanted people she loved to be proud of her.
She loved family functions such as holidays and birthdays. Christmas was her favorite because the tree was always beautifully decorated and loaded with gifts; the house smelling of delicious foods and full of lots of family and friends visiting from near and far to celebrate the love and joy of the holiday season.
Jessica really wanted to grow as a person, and she kept showing up, even if it was hard. It wasn't perfect but she did not stop trying--even if she would take a break from trying-- she always came back.
Jessica loved Reese's peanut butter cups, chicken, fried salmon and steak, scrambled eggs with ketchup, hoodies, high heels, Betty Boop, purses, laughing, dancing, being silly and really comfy pajamas.
Jessica loved her dad's ribs and my macaroni and cheese and loved her mother/daughter days with Benita, her foster mother. They would shop, get their hair nails and toes done together on their special pampering days. Some of her favorite moments were spending quality time with her God sister C'yna, watching movies and taking tons of silly pictures. She had one of the best senses of humor and lacked a filter at times when joking and having fun. We will all miss how Jess made us laugh.
This is how we want Jessica remembered; as a beautiful Black woman who believed every human should be treated with respect and dignity.
What has happened to her is tragic and there are many questions that we want to be answered. There is no reason why Jessica should have been released in the middle of the night. Alone and without any supportive services. While there is no way to bring Jessica back, we believe this should never happen to any other woman being released from a correctional facility again.
For 25 years the Center has been amplifying the voices of young women. We have hosted hundreds of writing workshops, through the San Francisco WritersCorps and with other partner artists, to support young women in developing their craft and getting their truths out into the world. As part of this tradition we are hosting an event where young women can create, celebrate, and perform! Join us for a writing workshop from 6-7, dinner, and performances. If you have ever been a part of our work and our community, come learn from the wisdom of young women and celebrate the beginning of this milestone year with us! We will offer space for workshop participants to perform and feature the work of current members and staff, and alumnae.
January 19th 6-9 pm
2301 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
To RSVP email firstname.lastname@example.org
By Jessica Nowlan
Susana Robles Desgarennes was a mother, entrepreneur and artist. She was also apart of our own community as a Sister Rising Intern at the Young Women's Freedom Center in 2013, along with her sister Paola. Susana worked tirelessly to support young women in our local community by building up their leadership through social justice work and community lead transformations. Susana was also a young mother struggling to negotiate a violent relationship.
On Saturday, September 30, Susana's life and the bright future she fought for, for her and her daughter was taken from her in an act of domestic violence. It is a story that is often cloaked in silence but all too common. Like Susana, 1 in 3 women reports being victims of intimate partner violence at some point in their lives*. As in Susana's circumstance, 72 percent of murder-suicides involve an intimate partner*.
My heart breaks for this immense loss for our community, for her family, and for our city. I keep replaying what those moments felt like right before Susana lost her life. I know too well those moments of negotiation and fear when your life is in the balance and in the hands of someone that you once loved, or even still love, who is using violence to control you.
For over 20 years, I have been part of the Young Women's Freedom Center. We believe in the power and brilliance of young women who have been impacted by systemic oppression. 100% of the women we work with and represent have been personally affected by violence. Women face violence at the hands of our partners, families, communities, and at the hands of the state. Together, we work to navigate the persistent violence that has become normalized, and unrecognizable. We celebrate transformation and victories along the way, as young women begin to find their voice and tap into their power. Collectively we sit in a circle, do healing work, learn about history, and share stories. We build sisterhood and collective power, and we understand social justice as a part of the transformative process of healing ourselves and communities, recognizing each other as spiritual beings connected to something larger than ourselves.
We are clear that liberation for young women is tied up with our personal safety. We are fighting for justice, yes, but many of us are also fighting for our lives. As a movement, we cannot ignore this truth.
The Young Women's Freedom Center honors Susana’s memory and the struggles of our sisters by making the reality of domestic violence visible not just in Domestic Violence Awareness Month but at all times. Join us in asking the hard questions and demanding accountability from both individuals and from the systems that tear apart our lives. Join us in fighting for the lives of all of our sisters now and every single day.
Support Susana’s loved ones here.
*Statistics from ncadv.org
Our words can change the world. At YWFC we are taking back the page, the stage, and the airwaves. Read, watch, and listen to our work on this blog.
Nobody gets to tell us who we are, but they try all the time. Here are words of resistance from YWFC women:
Julia Gabriella Guzman Arroyo
Too skinny, dumb, slow, special ed, orphan,
Too hairy, back hair, mustache, unibrow
Shit, at least I’m warm
Troubled, criminal, bastard.
Hoe shit, dope fiend, whore
Kandy Kalani Ifopo
Why is your name Kandy
You don’t look like Candy
You don’t taste like Candy
Ew you’re not even sweet
Kandy is from my Aunt
Named after a woman who is a survivor
Of judgement, beatin, hatred
and from a culture of structure.
Kandy. Why did you name me that mom?
It’s like people always make fun of me,
I been told that I have a stripper name
And that I could be sold for money.
Kandy rhymes with Mandy which
You look to be manly is what others
Used to taunt me with.
I never was accepting of my name
Due to the laughter
And jokes that scraped layers of confidence away
From my whole being.
That is a form of violence
A form of evilness
And the fuel
I wish that I had love embedded in me growing up,
But I have it now.
Never again will you contribute to my identity.
What they call me--
They call my passion aggression
My feelings, irrelevant.
My heart...so upset.
They call me a mess
I say it’s due to the
The stress they provide
Temporary authority over
My grown ass life.
They call my honesty
Truth endangered by
The bullshit I can’t lift,
Don’t want to take.
Bullshit Bullshit in
Lucero, Luce, Light, Nah is Lucero
It means star
Nah my name is Lucero
It may stand for that or other things
It stands for me, Lucero, Me, not Luchero
My mom named me Lucero
Who is Jonathan
My mom named by brother Remberto, not Roberto
Remberto, hate when our names aren’t pronounced right
Here we go
Kids can’t even pronounce my name
Not even my teacher.
I should have just been called Lisa,
No then they would call me pizza.