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A “firestarter” for the people

Remembering our comrade Nikeeta Slade


Every member of the Tempest Collective who knew Nikeeta Slade was crushed by the news of her death last month. Not only was she a principled fighter, but a too rare example of humanity at its best.  As we tried to come to terms with the loss, the breadth of Nikeeta’s activism, how deeply she affected people’s lives, and the variety of organizing and struggles in which we worked with her, all became a tribute to her commitment and impact. 

Of the many written celebrations of Nikeeta, we were moved by the emotion and accounts of Pranav Jani, and that of Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker, as well as those of her comrades on the Queer WOC: The Podcast, of which she was a host. And Tempest is incredibly grateful to Aly Wane for sharing his memories of Nikeeta here. In any kind of just world, we would have been able to look forward to decades of future struggle with this unforgettable comrade. As it is, we will collectively grieve and pick up the fight from here.  ¡Nikeeta Slade, presente!

Nikeeta was one of the most radically intersectional organizers I have ever met, working on issues of racial justice, police brutality, immigrant rights, and Palestine liberation, among others. She saw the organic connections between disparate movements.

Two months before her tragic passing, she posted on Facebook: “You build solidarity by saying I’m here with you today on principle, make the connections about how our struggles are linked, and invite you to fight alongside me tomorrow. Not by saying you weren’t there for me yesterday, so I refuse to be there with you today.”

One of the things that I have struggled with as an organizer has been lost friendships over some people I used to know becoming “movement celebrities” and shifting their ethics and political organizing based on having access to a higher socioeconomic status.

Nikeeta Slade was the very opposite of that. She seemed to be preternaturally anchored to some kind of ancient wisdom that helped her understand and appreciate her own value and self-worth without ever being in danger of “losing her way” if money was offered to her.

She just knew her worth and purpose. And nothing was going to deviate her trajectory. She was committed to the grassroots. She was committed to liberation and not mere reform.

Though she was younger than me, I will always consider her an organizing mentor.

One of Nikeeta’s many strengths as an organizer was that she had absolutely no fear about “creating enemies.” She also knew that effective organizing often involves creating and even heightening tensions to make clear class contradictions/interests and to highlight the way hegemonic power oppresses.

She was not an “everybody should get along” person. She knew that there were people and institutions of power that needed to be called out and shamed and she had no hesitation whatsoever about doing that.

She was not interested in softening her stance to make nice with people in power. She didn’t give a damn about “access” to power even as she was very analytical and strategic as to WHEN to create tension.

Of course, anyone who knew her was in awe of her public speaking, especially at protests and rallies.

She was the Firestarter in the best sense of the word.

When I knew she was going to speak at a rally, I made it a point to show up because, in my mind, all I could think was, “Nikeeta’s gonna burn this shit down and I want to be there to see it. Front row.”

But here’s the deeper part. Watching her speak at protests was like watching someone channel the energy of the Ancestors, as if unconsciously.

One of the first times I heard her speak in that (protest) setting, I remember running up to her, hugging her and saying some kind of gibberish like, “You were so amazing! How did you connect this issue to that issue? Remember when you said that amazing thing? How did you do it?”

Y’all.

Legitimately, she looked at me and said: “I don’t remember what I just said.” As if coming out of a trance.

And I believed her. Watching her was like watching a Black radical charismatic preacher in rhetorical ecstasy, somehow in command and yet seemingly channeling an energy that just passed through her.

She was a blessing on all of us. A wakeup call from the Ancestors. A channel. An emergency bell.

At a gathering in her honor, her best friend and partner in crime, Montinique [McEachern, co-host of the podcast QueerWOC] said it best:

“We owe Nikeeta a revolution.”

Yes. Yes we do. That is the only adequate way of honoring her spirit.

She was as good a friend as she was an organizer. Since I started posting my memories of her on Facebook, I’ve been reached out to by countless folks who were affected positively by Nikeeta. She was more than an organizing genius (which I deeply believe she was). She was also a charismatic and loyal friend to many and an amazing partner.

I also want to acknowledge how hilarious Nikeeta was. One of the quickest wits I’ve ever met.

I want to remember to be grateful for the laughter, too.

From the first time I met her, I knew that I had lucked into finding one of the most extraordinary human beings I had ever met. Selfishly, I hoped that she would stay in Syracuse because I knew that the entire community would benefit from her presence. And we did.

Calling her an organizer doesn’t do justice to who she was. She struck me as an old-style 60s and 70s revolutionary. She was cut from that same cloth. A kind of living anachronism. She was both of this time and yet an older soul. She was constantly educating herself, completely uninterested in the limelight, and fully committed to The People. She was the legacy of folks like Fred Hampton.

It was one of my proudest honors to organize with Nikeeta Slade. I know this wound will never fully heal and that, in some ways, this will always hurt.

What I want to say now to Nikeeta is: Rest In Power. You did what you came to do and you did it well. You have more than earned your place with the Ancestors. I’ll be calling on your energy in the years to come.

Image credit: BLM Syracuse

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Aly Wane View All

Aly Wane is an undocumented activist originally from Senegal who is on the Steering Committee of the Syracuse Peace Council. He knew Nikeeta as a fellow member of the Workers' Center of CNY and BLM Syracuse.

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