CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Hugs, tears and memories were shared on Sunday as three dozen community members and friends came together to celebrate the life of Blake Brockington, a transgender teen activist who died as the result of suicide on March 23.
“This afternoon’s gathering is not about death — it is about life,” Sacred Souls Community Church Pastor Tonyia Rawls told those gathered as the memorial began.
Brockington, 18, had made name for himself as an activist on transgender issues, racism, police brutality and violence, beginning last year with his nomination and eventual win as East Mecklenburg High School’s homecoming king.
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“He genuinely cared about everybody,” shared O’Neale Atkinson, director of programs at Time Out Youth Center, a local LGBT youth services agency. “He cared about the world. Blake recognized things needed to change. Not just one or two things, but a lot of things.”
Brockington’s death last week has sent shockwaves through the communities in which he engaged, both locally and nationally.
“This is a loss for you all and a loss for our movement and our world,” said Rodney McKenzie, the National LGBTQ Task Force’s director of faith work, who traveled from New York City to join the memorial in Charlotte on Sunday.
When McKenzie heard of Brockington’s passing, he shared the news with other staff at the Task Force during a staff meeting.
“All of us were incredibly touched and incredibly sad,” McKenzie said. “This is something touching all us, everywhere,” he added, noting remembrances being held for Brockington in cities like Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.
Brockington’s regional and national profile as a transgender activist was but one of his many faces. Rawls, who first met Brockington at a Trans Faith in Action Conference in Charlotte, said that his faith was also an important part of his life.
Fittingly, Brockington’s partner, Flo Ethier, shared what they said was Brockington’s favorite passage from Scripture, I Corinthians 13.
Others remembered Brockington for his sense of love and compassion.
“Family isn’t determined by blood. Family is determined by love,” friend Parker Petrucick shared during the service. “I can’t remember a single time that our conversations didn’t end with ‘I love you.'”
Petrucick also related a trip with Brockington to Trans Pride in Greensboro. Brockington had lost the written remarks for a speech he was to give. “He just went with it,” he said. “I remember there not being a dry eye in the room.”
From the outside, Brockington exuded a sense of confidence and strength, many have said in the past week. But those close to him also knew Brockington was struggling — with his transition and other issues.
When Rawls first met him, Brockington told a group of conference attendees that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue to live or not.
“It sent a shudder through the whole space,” Rawls said. “But it opened up this deep conversation that went on well into the night.”
Even in his struggle, Brockington exuded a spirit that was contagious, Rawls said.
“He was larger than life,” she said. “Blake was just this powerful force.”
Minister Deborah Hopkins also spoke of struggle — and the shared responsibility to work toward healing and love.
“As strong as we are, there are moments in our life we really do have real issues and real struggles,” she said. “It’s going to take them knowing there are people who love them and are there for them.”
Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, said Brockington’s passing and similar incidents are a call to action.
“Days like today, the weeks recently, it hurts more and more,” said Windmeyer, who shared that his staff knew and worked with Brockington. “It is a tragic reminder of our duty as individuals to do more, to try better in changing lives and saving lives.”
Atkinson said he was grateful for Sunday’s memorial and the opportunity to grieve, share and remember Brockington with others.
“We’re not alone in our suffering or in missing Blake, but we’re all here together for each other.”
Brockington was laid to rest by family near Charleston, S.C., on Saturday. On the same day, friends and activists with Southerners on New Ground remembered Brockington at a memorial event in Durham.
A second community memorial event in Charlotte might still be planned for later in the week. Details haven’t yet been announced.
Those youth in need of support are encouraged to contact Time Out Youth,timeoutyouth.org, 704-344-8335. Their center is located at 2320-A N. Davidson St. They are open Tuesday and have staff and counselors available.
Those youth in need of immediate support can call the Trevor Project helpline at 1-866-488-7386 or access resources online at thetrevorproject.org.