You probably didn't hear about this woman's death in the media. This group is making sure you will.

These young people know it's time to help their city change.

When Penny Proud was shot in New Orleans, her community had had enough.

The violence itself was upsetting on its own — only February and 21-year-old Penny was already the fifth transgender woman of color to be killed in America in 2015.


An image of Penny from the news. All images via BreakOUT!.

Media coverage just added insult to injury.

On top of already tragic news, it seemed like the police and the media felt that trans people were "almost less than human," as one person with the New Orleans group BreakOUT! commented. (More on that group in a sec!) They called Penny "him," even after activists pointed out that doing so was incorrect, and the media basically engaged in smack talk and insinuations about her, rather than sticking to the facts and details relevant to the story and the public.

Sadly, none of these problems were new.

Five deaths, and it was only February.

For years, the police had looked more like enemies than allies.

People of color and LGBTQ people experience more police harassment than anyone else. (It's not the kind of thing you can find oodles of statistics about, but if you're thinking, Really? then take a peek at this.) Things get especially gnarly sometimes when cops interact with people whose gender they may not accept or understand.

And in the state of Louisiana (y'know, the whole thing that surrounds New Orleans), they lock up more people than any other state in America ... and, it must be said, America already has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

(Fun fact time! Right now, Texas — a classic lock-em-up kinda place — is working on closing its prisons rather than opening more. Turns out it saves taxpayers money and creates a safe and happy society.)

Things were so bad in New Orleans that the U.S. Justice Department had to step in.

Yep. In 2011, the federal government had to investigate the New Orleans police department.

Basically, nobody in the black trans community was feeling too excited about asking the police for help protecting their lives. Most of them had already interacted with the police, and they weren't positive experiences.

"I've experienced police violence. Most people that I know have experienced police violence." — Shaena Johnson, BreakOUT! Co-Director

But that inspired a group of young people to change their city and their lives.

On the verge of change.

In 2011, they founded a group called BreakOUT!, just for people ages 13-25. Their main mission? Help people heal when shitty stuff goes down personally or in their communities, teach leadership, and, oh yeah, change the city of New Orleans for the better.

"We have to stick together because that's the only way we can survive." — Ja'Leah Shavers, BreakOUT! Outreach and Development Coordinator

After Penny's death, they put up this billboard:

Transgender people have often been "invisible." Hard to miss this billboard, though!

And they've run a Know Your Rights campaign to help young people deal with the police.

It really shouldn't be young people's responsibility to help the cops do their jobs right — they're still learning math and how to drive, for crying out loud — but it's a step toward keeping them safe and well!

Good to know!

New Orleans is more than the home of Mardi Gras and Jazz and vampires.

New Orleans is a huge part of the South's long history of civil rights activism.

It's also, incidentally, a place where people:

  • go to work
  • check out library books
  • adopt kittens
  • get stuck in traffic
  • eat doughnuts (though probably, they're eating more beignets, lucky them)
  • fall in love
  • watch videos on the Internet
  • get bug bites

In short, it's a place like anywhere else.

And the founders of BreakOUT! believe that you should be able to be safe in your own city. For New Orleans, their work is one step in the right direction.

"We have a shared vision of being able to be safe in the city you grew up in." — Wes Ware, BreakOUT! Co-Director

Home should always be fun and safe, right?

Meet the founding members of BreakOUT! in this video

This video is actually the latest installment from SIGNIFIED — a documentary series profiling the work of queer artists and activists. They traveled down to New Orleans to talk with BreakOUT! members about fighting the criminalization of LGBTQ youth there, the national "Get Yr Rights" toolkit, youth leadership development, and the deep history of social justice organizing in the South.

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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

Believe
True
Macy's