A Tribute to Nikeeta Slade
Since we heard the news a few days ago, I’ve been looking for some words in the silence, for some light in the darkness.
Our comrade Nikeeta Slade gave us and taught us so much, with her sharp mind, her laughter, her bold attacks on systems of power, her heartfelt solidarity and internationalism, her ability to debate and challenge in good faith, with utmost sincerity, and her voice as a queer Black woman.
I say never had the opportunity to organize in the same city with Nikeeta. To witness her day-to-day presence in activist spaces. But her impact was felt far and wide. My connection of perhaps 8–9 years comes from listening to her speak and collaborating at ISO conferences, engaging in FB conversations and one-on-one messages, and — rarely but memorably — actually sitting down and talking for a bit.
I can’t even imagine what those who met and organized with her daily are going through right now.
Please make sure you see the beautiful memorial that was organized by her Syracuse comrades. Such powerful images and videos and speeches — with testimonies and remembrances continuing at the pages of QueerWOC, the podcast Nikeeta co-hosted, and BLM Syracuse, of which she was an original member.
The memorial and the images I’m sharing here helped me find the words: the beautiful photo tributes from BLM Syracuse; tweets capturing Nikeeta’s wisdom about solidarity and political education; posts reminding us of her hilarious, welcoming voice; and a photo from a joyful gathering of comrades at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (2013).
Nikeeta always — always — put the lived experience of people at the center of her work. When talking about theory, too, not just activism and organizing.
I want to offer one example: the opening of her talk on “Black feminism and Intersectionality” at the Socialism 2013 conference, a speech that probably introduced Black feminism to many activists in that audience of hundreds.
The tweet below from our comrade Brian Jones captures it — and in fact, this same opening was part of the Syracuse tribute.
Nikeeta’s words and delivery made it clear: we need to talk through all these ideas and terms, but let’s know, from the start, that the people who the theory is about already have the knowledge.
They are already way ahead, and ought to be at the center of the discussion, every time.
My eyes fill up again and again. As they have been year after year recently, losing many comrades and friends. Mixed in with the COVID era, it’s just too much to bear sometimes.
I ought to be used to it by now. But no. Each experience of the void they leave behind is unique.
We may feel we know, as the saying goes, that we may not live to see the revolutionary changes we seek.
We may feel we know that we are, as I learned in a song from my childhood, दो दिन के मेहमान — overnight guests in this place, just visiting for a short time.
But these moments, when we lose a dear comrade, ask us pointedly: do we truly understand these phrases?
Writing tributes has become my way of grappling with this sorrow. Finding photos and clips of conversations to hold on to — now and later. Thinking on them, sharing them so I can move from despair to something deeper: acceptance and appreciation.
When I think of who each of these comrades were, and reintroduce myself to them now that their work here is done, the voids start to fill up with their spirit, their legacy.
I look through some of my conversations with Nikeeta over the years and I see her profound and ceaseless efforts to engage, dialogue and support. I see our many points of convergence and my spirit lightens.
Last summer, for instance, she celebrated our victory getting cops out of high schools in Worthington OH. She was following the movement — and recognized and amplified its impact.
At another time, we exchanged ideas about Black-Desi solidarity. I’ve been working on that topic for some time and my projects caught her eye. Typically, Nikeeta asked for links and resources to learn more.
Six years ago: I see the beginning of a discussion about postcolonial theory and Marxism — Homi Bhabha and Aijaz Ahmad and all that. And then more discussion on the usefulness and limits of using “East/West” as ways of thinking about global difference and hierarchies imposed by imperialism.
In scrolling through our posts, I am reminded that I shared praise for the QueerWOC podcast when it was featured in the New York Times: “5 Podcasts at the Intersection of Pride Month and the Black Lives Matter Movement.”
What a joy to see comrades’ work recognized like this, on a wide, national scale!
But this memory also brings regret. I promised myself I was gonna listen to the podcast more and talk to her about them. But it didn’t happen. I thought there would be time…
Now I’ll go back and listen, carefully, to hear and learn from Nikeeta once again. Maybe I’ll start with her last episode, featuring some of the critical questions on the BLM movement. She shared something similar in brilliant Facebook post just a short time ago, turning controversy and potential divisiveness into productive dialogue about the path forward.
And then that memory of DC, 2013.
Just imagine being with Nikeeta and comrades from around the country in that space, almost exactly a year before the uprising in Ferguson. A space that combined a celebration of past struggles and demands for racial justice, 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. A space in which images of then-president Barack Obama and the slain teenager Trayvon Martin mixed and clashed together.
What a place to be, and that too with a comrade like Nikeeta.
So many other dialogues and shared perspectives pop up: on organizing, on Palestine, on the liberal racism of Stephen Colbert, on Bernie Sanders. And on solidarity.
Sharing an I wrote about solidarity after our #Ferguson2MLA protest, Nikeeta highlighted a quote: “Their side wants to divide and conquer. Our side needs to unite and pull together.”
Solidarity was a topic Nikeeta was an expert on — and always educated us about. This tweet from Ashon Crawley from a few months ago says it all.
In 2017, Nikeeta sent me such a sweet message on my birthday, saying things about me that she valued herself: honesty, clarity and directness — but also respectfulness in debating with people close to you.
I’m not sharing the text here, but I won’t give you false modesty either — especially not when talking about Nikeeta, who would look right through all that BS!
I cherish that message — not because I have achieved what she saw in me, but because it’s an honor that a sharp and perceptive person like Nikeeta named the very things I am striving to achieve.
This thought of shared values and goals gives me joy and peace right now. And clarifies the path I want to keep following.
Deepest condolences to Nikeeta’s family and close friends, and to all who will feel her absence.
I will never forget what she stood for, and what she taught us.
Rest in power ❤️✊🏽🙏🏾