On a picture-perfect autumn day, Newark, NJ honors Sakia Gunn with an emotional street-renaming.
Sakia Gunn was a teenager who was fatally gay-bashed in her hometown of Newark, NJ in 2003. After a night out with friends, Ms. Gunn was harassed and ultimately stabbed by a man who hit on her. She succumbed to her injuries and died in the arms of her cousin Valencia Bailey.
Ms. Gunn and Ms Bailey were both just 15 at the time.
Twenty years later, the Newark roadway known as Academy Street is officially SAKIA GUNN WAY, an overdue tribute to the young martyr whose senseless murder has long galvanized Newark’s LGBTQ community.
Sakia’s mother Latona Gunn and her cousin Ms. Bailey were both on hand for the unveiling. When the bunting came off to reveal the words SAKIA GUNN WAY, the crowd’s emotional reaction told the story. There was relief and joy. And clearly a lot of pain as well.
It’s hard to contemplate watching a loved one bleed to death in your arms. Ms. Bailey has lived it, a trauma that propels her quest to keep Sakia Gunn’s memory alive and vibrant.
“It’s a great day, a great day,” Ms. Bailey said her voice choked with emotion. “These are tears of joy, these are tears of…. some of the happiest thoughts that for a while I couldn’t even have for myself.”
According to Reggie Bledsoe, who runs the Essex County Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs, the recognition that prompted today’s happy tears, was long overdue.
“Sakia Gunn’s legacy serves as a powerful reminder that our identities are not separate, but rather intertwined,” Mr. Bledsoe told InsiderNJ. “Our struggles for justice and equality are interconnected. By honoring Sakia’s memory, we amplify the voices of those marginalized and overlooked, shedding light on the intersectional battles we face.”
The picture-perfect autumn day was loaded with bittersweet symbolism on the 14th anniversary of The Matthew Shepard And James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Mr. Sheppard was tied to a post and beaten to death. Mr. Byrd was chained to a pickup truck and dragged for 3 miles down a gravel road.
Their deliberately brutal slayings propelled Federal hate crimes legislation.
Sakia Gunn was by all accounts a natural-born leader. She was funny and smart and her life mattered. And despite her infuriatingly needless absence from our lives, Sakia Gunn’s legacy continues to grow.
“This street dedication is more than a symbol,” Mr. Bledsoe added. “It is a testament to the resilience and courage of the LGBTQ+ community of color. It stands as a beacon of hope, inspiring us to continue the fight for a world where every person, regardless of their race or sexual orientation, can walk freely, proudly, and without fear.”