Jan 5

Interview with Tazmere Stephens

by: Ilse García Romero

We interviewed Tazmere Stephens, a former Morris Home resident and one of the people featured in Kah Yangni’s We Are Universal mural on the side of Cake Life Bakery in Fishtown. Find out how the project came to be and why it means so much to Tazmere.

How long have you been living at Morris Home and how did you find that community? 

I am currently a graduated member of Morris Home. I resided there for seven months. I found out about Morris home through word of mouth — a fellow trans sex worker told me about Morris home. Months later during a small stint of incarceration, I ran into the number for the program in the law library. That started my journey to freedom from homelessness, addiction, and a lack of home and community. After four years of hopelessness I finally was given the opportunity to receive the help I really needed.

How did you get involved in the creation of Kah Yangni's We Are Universal mural? What was it like for you to work on this project? 

This amazing journey started with an art workshop, where Kah pitched the idea for the mural. I was so excited to be a part of something that is such a pivotal and monumental step forward in our community. Upon that brainstorm they decided to do a photo shoot of the members that resided at Morris Home, giving our amazing muralists a closer sense of who we are and what we all individually represent within ourselves and as a community.

Large mural featuring a few portraits and phrases like We are universal and We are survivors, on the side of a building facing a parking lot.

We Are Universal © 2021 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Kah Yangni, Cake Life Bake Shop, 1306 Frankford Avenue. Photo by Steve Weinik.

How do you feel about your image being featured so prominently in Philadelphia's first trans mural? 

I feel honored to be a voice for the voiceless and to be a face of our faceless. I feel in my spirit now, for the first time in a long time, a true sense of purpose. I’m finding my space in the world, which is to leave a legacy of love and equality. I didn’t know how I was going to fulfill that purpose, but the mural has given me a sense of direction. I’m committed to speaking out when I can about anything and everything that has to do with my community and create solutions for some of the complicated questions.

What does the phrase "We are universal" mean to you? 

For me, it means when people start treating people the way people are supposed to be treated, there will be no “ism” or “phobia” you could come up with. There would be no racism, sexism, there would be no homophobia or transphobia. We would all be universally equal.

Group of people posing in front of the We Are Universal mural.

We Are Universal dedication, September 28, 2021. Photo by Steve Weinik.

What kind of reaction do you hope passersby will have when they see this mural? What do you hope members of the trans community will feel? 

I want people who are passing by to see the struggle that the trans community has gone through. I also want them to see a piece of themselves when they see the liberty I have in my eyes of being free to just be me. To remember the time they weren’t treated equally or less than just for being them. Without equality we have nothing. Once everyone is treated equally, we will have a sense of heaven on Earth. I want for my fellow trans community to feel a true sense of hope. You are not alone and finally your voice is no longer mute and your faces is no longer a blur to be missed. You are acknowledged. I hear you and I see you.

What are your plans for 2022? How has participation in We Are Universal changed your perspective of the future? 

My participation in We Are Universal has changed my perspective profoundly for what I feel my purpose and journey in life has become. I know that I want to be proactive and not reactive to some problems that I see my community will have in the near future. To have solutions already available for my community as we cross those bridges as we get there. Look out 2022, change is on the horizon, and I plan on being on the front lines of this historical and forward-thinking movement!

Last updated: Jan 4, 2022

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