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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Activist discusses her work, music and hopes for the future
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2017-01-04

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Social-justice activism has been in Jasamine "Tweak" Harris' blood since she was in high school. Since then she's been on the front lines fighting for the now approved trauma center at the University of Chicago and against police brutality across the city.

"I became an activist and organizer in 2010," said Harris. "My best friend at the time was telling me about the Southside Together Organizing for Power ( STOP ) group and his cousin's death, which was a direct result of there not being a trauma center near where he was shot. Then two Fearless Leading by the Youth ( FLY ) [formed under the STOP umbrella] leaders—Veronica Morris-Moore and Fresco—came to my history class ( they were also students at Hyde Park Academy but I didn't know them at the time ) with the goal of recruiting people.

"I thought about what my best friend told me and what they said to us in my history class and decided to go to my first FLY meeting. After attending four meetings, I joined the group and I've been involved ever since."

Harris' roles include moving a crowd toward action and being the group's spokesperson. She explained that they operate as a collective where people aren't assigned specific tasks within the group. It's about who's available at the time to do certain things and that's led to her doing a variety of tasks.

As for the trauma-center victory, Harris noted that it made her "feel so good because back in 2010 I felt like we weren't ever going to win. I felt like they were going to keep giving us the run around because they didn't care. We held each other up and encouraged each other during this campaign. Five years is long enough, but I thought it would take longer. It's still a surreal feeling but I won't feel too good until that building is up and the trauma center is open and running."

Harris was born in 1993 in the Englewood neighborhood but spent most of her childhood in Bronzeville before moving to Chatham. She graduated from Hyde Park Academy in 2012 and currently resides in the South Shore area.

"I was in a foster home for a year when I was four going on five years old, with my two sisters and brother, because child protective services took us away from my mom due to her drug addiction and the fact that they found drugs in my little sister's system," said Harris. "We got to live with my mom again after she went through a program called Safe Haven that helps women with substance abuse issues."

After graduating from high school, Harris joined the army reserves and currently holds an E4 Corporal rank. She hasn't ever been deployed overseas but says it could happen at any time. Harris' contract with the army reserves expires in 2020 and she has no plans on renewing it when the time comes.

"I didn't want to go to college, but I needed something to do and at the same time I was going through a hard time with my family, so I needed to get away," said Harris. "The army provided me with that temporary get away. A lot of people were begging me not to join the army and I of course didn't listen.

"I started researching Black women in the military and saw how many of them were dying and it being labeled as a suicide when in actuality these Black women were murdered. This made me think a lot because I'm a Black lesbian and not too long ago someone like me wouldn't have been able to serve openly due to Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Harris explained that she can be an activist and army reservist at the same time, as long as she doesn't advertise anything about her army status when she's protesting or speaking out on social justice issues.

"If I did that I would get dishonorable discharged," said Harris.

Harris noted that she tries not to watch the videos of cops shooting and killing people of color because they are the norm now. She said they infuriate her and make her hate the police even more.

"Recently, I got pulled over by a cop when I didn't do anything wrong and I felt lucky that I walked away from that encounter without being physically hurt," said Harris. "I talk to my white friends and they tell me they aren't ever scared of the cops, which is the disconnect that's contributing to the problem. I think white people should use their privilege to dismantle the system and if they can't understand why that's important, then they're a part of the problem."

Harris is also known as "Tweak the RBG" in the music world where she writes social-justice songs, including "Real Talk."

"When they released the Laquan McDonald video of him being shot by Officer Van Dyke, I was a part of the collective that organized the march where we stopped traffic on Michigan Avenue. that night.," said Harris. "That incident sparked me into writing 'Real Talk.' In the song, I discuss Laquan's death, how Mayor Emanuel and Anita Alvarez responded and the everyday issues Black and Brown youth face.

"As for what's been going on recently, I have a new project called #MovementMusic: Vol 1. The songs will be talking about how the system treats Black and Brown folks, including police brutality. I'm using my music platform to talk about these issues. I look at my music as being music for the movement, which is how the title of the project came about."

Aside from her activist work, being an army reservist and a musician, Harris is a train attendant with Amtrak.

When Harris isn't working on her music, she likes to roller skate and hang out with her friends. She also loves tattoos, and has 22 to date. Harris' favorite one is a raised fist with chains wrapped around them that are breaking with the quote, "We have nothing to lose but our chains."

As for her hopes for the future, Harris said she wants to see people of color free from all systemic racism and police brutality.

"Whatever ways I can contribute to that goal, I'll do it," said Harris. That's everything to me. I also hope to have my music career take off but I don't want to be famous."

To listen to Harris' music, visit soundcloud.com/tweaktherbg. Harris can also be found on twitter twitter.com/tweak_therbg and instagram www.instagram.com/tweak_therbg/.


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