This story is part of Made In Philly, a series about young residents shaping local communities.
Daiyon Kpou greeted people as they enter what used to be a Baltimore Avenue tattoo shop. The store front, bustling with queer people of color, is the latest venture of Philadelphia based non-profit MOVES, a collective striving to provide safe spaces centering black and brown queer and trans people.
Being in that former tattoo shop is the culmination of years of work for Kpou and her team in order to create a space for celebrating the creativity of the community. That night, attendees could look at the work of various artists, or stop at a station to create their own work. The tattoo shop had left a stencil board and people were using it as a place to paint. When the pop up does not have programming it operates as a coworking space and rec center. The Womanist Working Collective donated a couch, while Fresh Grocer donated snacks.
MOVES had one mission for this space: Everyone has something to offer, and there you could show it.
The pop up gallery, operating through June 15, is located at West Philadelphia, only seven blocks from Kpou’s childhood home.
The location is deliberate. She notes that the neighborhood has changed drastically over the years and not always for the better, mentioning concerns of over policing and gentrification. But MOVES is in a place that is accessible to the community they are trying to reach.
“We can provide something unique while considering the social and economic changes that are happening here,” Kpou said.
In addition to maintaining the gallery space, the MOVES team is working to produce their annual arts culture and film festival JUICE, happening June 8 at West Philly’s One Art Community Center.
In its third year, Kpou describes it as what a more inclusive Pride festival might look like, where people can come together build community and celebrate in a space that is affirming and inclusive.
For Kpou, the search for safe community events and spaces was largely driven by her experiences in the Gayborhood. “I started MOVES because I really wanted to be out and feel what it might be like to be authentically queer in the city of Philadelphia,” she said.
In 2016, she began posting on Instagram to curate events that were free of the micro-aggressions, like dress code policies and confrontational security, she felt were common in an area that claimed but failed in regards to racial and cultural diversity.
Kpou was not the only Philadelphian to take note of this behavior.
A long standing history of discrimination in the Gayborhood can be traced back to a report conducted by the Coalition on Lesbian-Gay Bar Policies in 1986 that noted how the neighborhood’s establishments — including the still-operating Bike Stop and Woody’s — catered to largely a white male audience. More recently, the lack of inclusivity and discrimination resulting in a hearing hosted by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR) that issued recommendations to Gayborhood bars highly focused on diversity trainings.
In the three years since MOVES began, Kpou has been immersed in a community of friends, found a network of people willing to support the organization and met her co-director who works alongside her with a team of roughly 10 volunteers.
Chris Wallace joined the MOVES collective in 2017 after volunteering at the original JUICE festival and experiencing a space that catered to black and brown queer and trans folks for the first time in Philly.
Wallace is moved by the positive feedback the organization has received. Others, they observed, needed MOVES as much as they did.
Becca Graham found MOVES at its start when she was looking to engage with black and queer communities after finding little success doing so while growing up in Ithaca, New York. She has interacted with the nonprofit as an event attendee, volunteer and recently as a performer at the gallery’s Tea and Tunes event that centered around healing and wellness.
“They don’t just organize parties. It’s community. It’s being able to set up community that feels like it can sustain,” said Graham.
As MOVES works to fulfill their mission in Philly, similar work is being done for communities of color in New York. Chroma recently celebrated the opening of their studio space, on the Lower East Side, and Najla Austin’s Ethel’s Club is projected to open in Brooklyn this August. Like MOVES, both organizations aim to create spaces that center a specific demographic.
After June 15, the MOVES team plans to keep growing and learning as an organization in any way they can. They currently do not have access to another physical space, but hope that with continued support they will secure another consistent place for community building.