“A Talk with Miss J.”: Celebrity comes to University of Guelph event for Black History Month

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Image by Brit Kovacs

Runway coach, model and reality television personality, Miss J. Alexander, delivered a keynote address, “A Talk with Miss J.” on the University of Guelph’s campus on Monday, March 2nd.

University of Guelph’s Cultural Diversity Office and Gender and Sexual Diversity Office, in collaboration with Laurier’s Student Affairs and Centre for Student Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and McMaster’s Equity and Inclusion Office, organized the cornerstone event to observe and celebrate Black History Month.

Lauren Burrows, the education and inclusion coordinator for The Centre for Student Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for the Laurier Brantford campus, moderated the discussion with Alexander.

“This is our second collaboration: last year, we worked together on Black History Month bringing in Dr. Angela Davis; this year, we’re bringing in Miss J. Alexander who is known for their work on America’s Next Top Model, but also is known as a public figure who has done a lot of work around conversations about blackness, gender and femininity,” Burrows said.

“And [Alexander has] really been working to normalize the experiences of those who identify as black and queer in public representations and the media.”

Burrows began the event by reading a thorough land acknowledgement that covered a variety of issues impacting Indigenous peoples in Canada, highlighting themes of reconciliation and the need for increased advocacy and inclusivity, broadly connecting to the topics that were covered throughout the discussion.

The keynote centred on Alexander’s identity as a black, queer person who has been working in the fashion industry for over 40 years, having established a highly-respected career that has spanned multiple platforms and reached people in various countries all over the world.

Born into a family of 10 siblings in the South Bronx, Alexander was interested in fashion from a young age.

He began altering the hand-me-downs from his brothers that he was given to suit his personal style preferences, authenticating his unique expression of fashionability and breaking down the norms of gender performance while growing up.

Throughout the hour that Alexander spoke, he reiterated his personal philosophy: to always be unapologetically who he is and to take on each opportunity and venture with unflappable confidence, even in the face of adversity.

Burrows hoped that discussion-goers would not only appreciate his perspective but walk away from the event with more knowledge and understanding surrounding the lived experiences of black and queer folks, as well as how to be more effective in advocacy efforts.

“Number one: to learn a little bit more about the personal experiences of someone who’s a public figure who maybe hasn’t necessarily talked about their blackness and queerness in ways that people have recognized,” Burrows said.

“So, for example, you’re watching America’s Next Top Model, that conversation might not have come up in a particular way, so really looking into how that mainstream media show is also connected to these issues.”

“Gaining more awareness around experiences, especially diverse experiences of blackness, black identity and how those intersect with LGBTQS+ folks,” she said.

Alexander touched on the ways that he disrupted the status quo without even realizing it, and the impact that his presence in popular media had on underrepresented populations.

He described being a part of New York City’s Pride Parade a few years ago and truly understanding for the first time in his career how much influence he’s had on younger people especially, who could be seen crying and screaming his name from the crowd.

After navigating the structured question and answer period, members from the audience were given the chance to ask their own.

Alexander ended the evening with a runway walk demonstration and commentary regarding his dedication to “making space” for marginalized communities in primarily white spaces, encouraging others to do the same.

Furthering the confidence he wished to demonstrate and share surrounding his identity, Alexander concluded on a note of self-assured positivity.

“Babe, I may not be pretty, but goddamn, I am talented,” Alexander said.

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