Lee-Ann Graham has never lowered her voice for the sake of others. The copper colored 29-year-old Undocumented and Unafraid founder and Sister’s United re-launcher said that she was just born with a distinct voice.
Her grandmother often said her mother created a monster that she didn’t want to live with. The Kingsborough student has made a name for herself on campus as the point person for all things DACA and women’s empowerment. However, when she was younger, she was unsure that this is where she would end up.
“I always liked to talk. My little sister, she used to dance. She’s danced all over the states. My older sister drew. She’s had work in galleries and stuff like that,” Graham expressed. “The only thing I could do was talk. I never understood where this is going to benefit me, you know? How am I going to do anything with being able to put two words together?”
Her office seemed to vibrate with the vibrancy of her wide smile and steady, booming voice. It was a voice that has always been loud, probably due to her poor hearing.
Graham put her oration skills to use with a YouTube channel she started in 2012. Since its creation the channel, called LilySweetz, boasts over 27,000 subscribers and 5 million views. Some of her most popular videos feature nude thumbnails and titles such as “Fat Naked and Worth It” and “Love Thy Body.”
The thumbnails and titles are meant to jar, but also to show solidarity with and encourage women from all walks of life, especially plus-sized women of colour.
“I am the best of you when you can’t see it. I am you when you are crying in the shower when you’re contemplating killing yourself. But I am also you when you are watching this video about you crying in the shower contemplating killing yourself- and you didn’t. Knowing that women watch my content and decide, ‘today is not a good day to die’, that is… the most insane thing. Giving someone hope… money can’t buy that.” Her voice was steady as goose-bumps dotted her forearms.
This is the same reason she started Undocumented and Unafraid.
Undocumented and Unafraid is an initiative executed last fall semester that focuses on undocumented and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students. The aim of the initiative is to change the narrative of the undocumented students at KCC, embolden them in everyday life, and provide useful resources for DACA and undocumented students. It takes place in a series of workshops.
“I will never be one of those people that doesn’t understand [what it is like to be undocumented], because I’ve lived it. So… being an undocumented person who now has the opportunity to be DACA and using the opportunity to bring light and awareness and hope; it solidifies my purpose. There is a narrative out there spun that undocumented people are afraid of Trump, and we’re in fear and we’re so scared- and not that we don’t have reason to be. But I think that when you say that about us, you take away our power [by saying that] we’re afraid. I’m not afraid. What I am is nervous, cautious… but not afraid. We have been here way longer than any municipality, than any president. We have been here before them and we will be here after them. We will not cower.”
Undocumented and Unafraid is a change-the-story initiative, but Sisters’ United has a completely different mission statement. Its purpose is to allow women to explore themselves, each other and the world free of judgement. The meetings, which are regularly attended by about a dozen women, focus on different topics such as “Is Black Girl Magic Real?”, “Dream Big Fail Big” and “Be Kind Anyway.” This is an idea she has been executing for a while, with an online workshop in 2015 named “A Good Place to Start”.
Graham’s efforts at KCC have earned her the respect of some KCC students and professors, such as Dr Katia Perea, a sociology professor at Kingsborough. The two met when Graham took Perea’s sociology class in the fall. Even though Graham thought Perea was rude initially, the two eventually hit it off.
“I truly believe [Graham] to be a future scholar,” commented Dr Perea. “I can see the beginnings of what I felt stirring inside myself as well when I was in college… I see in her that same kind of motivation and inspiration of asking those questions and challenging the structural institutions that have been complacent at best, and at worse are full of injustices against people who are marginalised. She’s taking a stand and that is a courageous place.”
Graham seldom stops one place for long. In April, she will host two panels at the Kingsborough Diversity Symposium. One will focus on Undocumented and Unafraid and the other on women’s rights. Her one piece of advice for young people was a phrase her mother used to say- “do it scared.”
“Once you have something literally worth dying for, life becomes so easy”, she said. “I found my something. My something is being the living.”