Winning Essay by Isabela M. from Florida
There have been many words that have been used to describe Marsha P. Johnson. She was loud, eccentric, strange, and passionate. Marsha P. Johnson, to me, is the clearest example of what it means to be resilient. By actively choosing to shine her own light, she gave people, including myself, the strength to start doing the same. 

Marsha P. Johnson was born Malcom Michael Jr. on June 26, 1944, in New Jersey.  In 1966, she moved to Greenwich Village in New York and legally changed her name. Once in New York, Johnson established a name for herself. She was a black, homeless sex worker and drag queen and she owned those titles with pride. Johnson was a major influence in the activism going on at the time as well. Homophobia and transphobia were rampant; Johnson saw a need to stand up to those who wanted to silence the LGBT community. In the 60s and 70s, it was not uncommon for the police to raid and destroy gay bars and clubs in the city. On June 28, 1969, however, many patrons of Stonewall, a known gay bar, decided that enough was enough after the local police decided the disrupt the Inn. Johnson is reported to have been the first person to fight back that night. The Stonewall Riots are considered to have been the start of the modern gay rights movement. The following year, Johnson joined Sylvia Rivera, another transgender activist, to create STAR or “Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries”. STAR provided a safe place for runaways and homeless drag queens. At STAR, Johnson was called “Queen Mother” firstly because of her involvement in the drag scene and secondly, for her maternal behavior within the STAR house; she called the youth that came into the home her “children”. In addition to her work with STAR, Johnson was also involved in the Gay Liberation Front, an activist organization for gay and transgender rights. During the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, Johnson worked alongside the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power; she marched with the group on Wall Street to protest the high prices of experimental AIDS treatment drugs. 

Marsha’s individuality came at a price. In 1992, her body was found in the Hudson River. Though her death was ruled a suicide, her friends all stated that Johnson was not depressed. They argued that she was seen earlier being harassed and threatened by a group of men, but the case was never reopened. 

As I continue to work in activist circles, I clearly see the type of leader and person I want to be. Like Marsha P. Johnson, I want to own my identity without fear. Marsha has inspired me to be a leader who does not waver at the sight of adversity. I want to show people that despite facing hard times, there is never an excuse to hide who you are. There is never an excuse to not stand up to people who wish to push you down.  

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