Tsion Gurmu ’15, legal director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and founder of the Queer Black immigrant project (QBip), was honored by NYU Law’s Women of Color Collective with the student group’s annual Woman of Distinction Award during a virtual event on March 2. At BAJI, Gurmu and her colleagues work to create coalitions and campaigns within African American and Black immigrant communities in the pursuit of racial, social, and economic justice. QBip, which describes itself as a Black radical lawyering initiative, provides legal representation to LGBTQIA+ Black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, along with a storytelling project to help clients reclaim their voices.
In her remarks, Gurmu, who emigrated from Ethiopia as a child after she and her family had been prisoners of war there under a military junta, discussed the ongoing work of combating systemic racism. She also talked about the disproportionate difficulties faced by Black immigrants subject to discrimination and deportation, and the importance of intersectionality to her mission.
Watch the video of the event:
Selected remarks by Tsion Gurmu:
“My experiences as a lawyer as well as my stellar—and let me repeat that—stellar education at NYU Law, and specifically the Immigrant Rights Clinic, really taught me the meaning of movement lawyering by putting me in a position to take instruction from directly impacted communities and community organizers, as opposed to imposing my leadership or expertise as a legal advocate. These experiences also ingrained in me the importance of building the power of the people, as opposed to the power of the law, to dismantle systems of oppression in our country.” (video 16:24)
“My practice as a lawyer working with organizers required a different ethos and continues to require a different ethos, and sometimes different skills, than traditional lawyering. These experiences taught me to avoid the flat sort of ‘migration to liberation’ narratives in which migrants flee an oppressive, homophobic, terrible country of origin to seek refuge in what is characterized as a liberated, tolerant, inclusive Western society. Because these sort of normative narratives ignore the discrimination present in Western countries and uphold a binary dichotomy that pits civilized against uncivilized nations and promotes a progressive US agenda, while simultaneously reprimanding our countries of origin for their supposed backwards politics.” (video 17:06)
“It is through the leadership of women of color that we can see points of resilience and hope. Most notably, a Black woman with a public interest background has been nominated to become a US Supreme Court justice after generations of a bench that has been oversaturated with white former corporate attorneys and prosecutors. This is particularly meaningful considering the history of this country has kept us from this coveted role on the highest court in the land, as well as many other roles, solely on the basis of racial and gender discrimination.” (video 19:16)
Posted April 14, 2022