By Ivy Barrett Fox Bryan
My heart is racing. My mouth is dry, it’s dark, and all I can hear is people talking. I’m in Brooklyn, New York, where I was born and raised (and am never leaving). I remember when this building was constructed. What used to be storefronts and apartments is now home to the New York Nets basketball team. I’ve been here plenty of times to see my favorite musical artists, but today is different. Today I will get up on the stage and encourage elementary school age kids, including those from my alma mater, PS 119, to become young activists and volunteers.
“Ivy Bryan?” a woman calls. It’s time to go on stage.
I’m shaking and nervous, reminding myself to breathe, blink, drink water until my foot hits the stage stairs, and it all melts away because I have people to inspire.
I’ve been going to protests since I was 5 years old. I like to say that I am a strong woman, raised by strong women. At 5 years old, I was on the front lines with my family, protesting the potential re-election of George Bush. I continued to go to protests throughout my childhood, because I’ve always felt a need for justice.
The presidential race in 2016 was when I found what would end up being my specialty. In November 2016, I was a poll worker for the presidential election. All day I felt purpose — I would help people cast their ballot, a right that has been fought for time and again, and hard won, especially for the immigrant community. Immigrants are so important to the American story, and their voices deserve to be heard. Part of why I feel so passionate about voting is because my father immigrated here from Jamaica. My father went through a series of interviews and tests to come here and become a citizen, and he became a proud voter. I felt so good about helping people make their voices be heard — and so I continued.
Shortly after I started working at a voter registration organization. In my time there I registered thousands — and I’m dead serious — thousands of voters. Everytime I registered a voter, it felt like wow, I changed some aspect of this person’s life, because now they can vote in their own interest. I registered people at protests, concerts, music festivals, street fairs — you
name it. My voter registration efforts led to some people voting for the first time ever!
I got the opportunity of a lifetime while registering voters in 2018. I was actually invited to be on Soledad O’Brien’s television show, “Matter of Fact.” Soledad O’Brien was literally on the TV every single day of my childhood. She was important to me growing up, because she was one of the people on the news who looked like me. Soledad O’Brien gave me the opportunity to
go on national television to talk about the importance of voter registration, especially as it applies to young people. I remember seeing myself on television, and realizing that I was making a real impact. There was someone out there listening and all I could do was keep going.
I continued on my path of public speaking. I headlined the main stage at San Francisco Pride two years in a row. I spoke about the importance of the queer vote as we’re often overlooked when it comes to political campaigns. I’ve been speaking on the stage at RuPaul’s DragCon for years, talking about the importance of queer people making their voices heard. It’s really important that marginalized groups show up to vote. I even flew across the pond to England, to lead a panel at RuPaul’s DragCon London, because activism is universal.
All of my efforts came together in November 2019, when I saw my future. I was awarded the first-ever Barbara Winslow award for Student Activism by Brooklyn College. I remember feeling so privileged, excited and proud for being able to bring the award to my family. I had begun working for Barbara earlier that year and it felt like being recognized by an idol. Barbara herself is a lifelong activist, and having the privilege of getting to know her is still one of the most inspiring things to happen to me. I won this award in a time of my life where I wasn’t sure if I was taking the right steps. I wasn’t sure what would happen to me. But while talking about me, Barbara told me to never stop fighting the good fight and in that moment I realized I would be okay.
The work doesn’t end and I know I’ll never stop fighting for what’s right. I currently work in voter registration and education. Knowledge is power and I’ll do whatever is necessary to make sure that people are using their voice and knowledge as power.
Ivy Barrett Fox Bryan is an M.A. student in the Women’s and Gender Studies program through the Center for the Study of Women and Society at the Graduate Center, CUNY.
Find her on Instagram @ ivyandthespookykids.