Florence • Interdisciplinary Artist & Student
Florence was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She grew up a Jehovah’s Witness, lived in poverty, and endured many hardships. Florence, a trans woman, shared that she has always known who she is, but because of societal bias, her family’s faith, and strict rules in the church, she kept her truth a secret in fear of being reprimanded, excluded, and potentially harmed.
Several years ago, she took everything she owned — which wasn’t much — and made the brave decision to move from the east coast to pursue an undergraduate degree in Colorado. Today, she is an interdisciplinary artist, scholar and on her way to earning double degrees in Art History and Photography at CU Denver. Her love for art has grown exponentially through serving her community at the Auraria Campus, where she is employed at the Women & Gender Center at CU Denver, the Emmanuel Art Gallery and the Next Stage Gallery.
My favorite part of Florence’s story is her decision to become. It wasn’t until a school trip to Florence, Italy that she chose to finally stand in her truth. Florence became beneath Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling of all places. She shared that while gazing above at the iconic artwork she realized that she is a woman, and in that moment chose to make another brave decision, to be herself; the self she’s always known herself to be.
I’ve quietly followed and joyfully witnessed Florence’s journey from afar. She is divine, and her story is one of resilience, courage, and authenticity. She is an inspiration and a testament to the power of being who you are. When I asked her to describe Denver in one word she replied, “average.” Here’s what it means to be her, here.
Who are you?
I am a Black woman. I am a Black trans woman. I am an artist. I am always thinking about art. I think about other artists’ work, I think about history, I think about my own experiences, and how I will impact my community. I think about my past. I question what is in store for my future, while trying to plant myself in my present moment. I have suffered stating my truths, but I can’t help the feeling that with the pain, I’ve also experienced immense joy. I can feel lonely, but I know that I am not alone. I am so proud of myself. I am proud of myself for cultivating a community who loves me unconditionally, and challenges me to continue to discover the greatest parts of myself.
What does it mean to be you?
I feel certain in myself and my journey at this very moment, but I question often if I die knowing every aspect of myself. I would not say there is a formula, or blueprint for being me. All I have are my experiences to guide my path. My life has not been smooth sailings. I choose myself every day, even in the face of death. My society does not reward me, it has contempt for me, and I have to tell myself almost every moment that I am valuable and worthy. I have to unlearn the hatred of Black people and Black trans women that the media has imposed on me. I work very hard to love myself and this will be a lifelong practice.
What does it mean to be you here?
I did not have a plan for moving across the country. I sort of ended up in Boulder and Denver without a clue of what was going to be my next move. I knew that I would be attending university, and that is it. I feel lonely a lot, but I recognize that I have a loving network of support from coworkers who turned into siblings, strangers who have turned into best friends, professors who have become mentors, and I’m forming a lot of acquaintances. Denver was the slow-paced setting I was looking for. I’m not from Denver, so I have a weird relationship with the gentrification that has pushed many BIPOC communities to the margin. Denver is a stepping stone for me, and I don’t see myself residing here much longer, but I am grateful for the opportunities I have received and the unforgettable moments I have shared with others.
What do you love most about living in Denver?
The architecture and forming a chosen family.
How have your experiences in Denver shaped you?
They’ve fueled my love for myself and for my art practice.