Interview by Amanda Kubic, photographs by Alice Wilder
June Beshea, a senior chemistry and biology double major, is doing radical and meaningful work for Black women, transgender individuals, and people of color at UNC. June is president of The Rejects, a spoken word and service organization at UNC. They are also an organizer with the Real Silent Sam Coalition (RSS), a group of students, faculty, and community members that recognizes and works against the legacy of white supremacy and the erasure of Black women on UNC’s campus. June also organized the “Say Her Name” vigil, an event held to honor the twenty three transgender women of color murdered in 2014 and 2015 at the hands of police.
Amanda Kubic: June, talking about RSS or your poetry, what are you most proud of in your work or in your activism?
June Beshea: I’m most proud, like on a broad level, of the Say Her Name Vigil. That was… I really…I mean that had to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. For sure. It wasn’t a fun thing to plan or even to have to go through, and I did it by myself, so it was absolutely awful. And like the day before, I was like “I’m not even going to go.” You know I was telling my partner, I was like “this is stupid I don’t…It’s not worth all the pain I’m going through.” And she was like “no, no, go, have fun!” I was like “sure, ok.” And once…once it started I was like “oh, that’s right. That’s why I did this.” Like, it was a hundred percent worth it. I think in a broader sense, though, I’m most proud of just the community that I’ve built here. That’s…that’s the biggest thing. It’s nice to go around and have people be like “oh, hey June, is anything coming up?” or something like that. I’m always like “oh, yeah, things are… yeah things are coming up.” That’s nice.
AK: What inspired you to get involved in Real Silent Sam or to write and perform poetry? What made you interested in it?
JB: I started writing poetry in like second grade. I don’t know if you remember. They used to have these computers that like printed out in the classrooms in second grade but they had like… you pulled off the sides of the paper. Yeah, so we used to like write poetry on the little computers and print them out and we thought that was the best thing ever. And I’m sure…I’ve seen the poetry. It’s absolute shit. It’s…it’s crap. But you know our teachers were like, “No this is great!” And just cause they said it was great you’re like “I’m an artist!” Like “I’m so amazing!” And I think that actually helped out a lot further on. I’m like, “No, my second grade teacher said I’m a good poet.” Like, no one can tell me differently at this point so… But that evolved into more of going into slam poetry just cause that’s where my community is. You know you find so many like queer, black, like gender-queer people, trans people there. And it was just like such a welcoming community to find myself, I think, was the biggest thing. But RSS was…I stumbled upon RSS. I don’t think there was any like motive besides I was just really fucking angry at that point. And I was like “who else is angry?” And they were like “those people over there are angry.” And I was like “I’m going to go with them.” And that was that.
AK: That’s great. On a more personal level, what inspires you to do what you do?
JB: I can’t stand to, like, watch people suffer and not have a voice or go through those types of things. And so for me, what inspires me is everyone around me. Just going through my daily life and seeing the injustices and things like that. That’s what inspires me. That’s… cheesy as hell but really that’s like…that’s kind of why I don’t stop. Cause then I’ll be like “aw stop.” And then I’ll get on Twitter and I’m like “Argh I can’t stop. Ugh!” But I have to go do something else.
AK: Going off of that, is there a particular person, figure, or even movement that’s inspired or impacted you the most, and how?
JB: People I look up to…Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Theresa Davis—who’s a poet out of Atlanta. Amazing woman. So the normal two and then my own special one. And then movements…I’m a die hard Black Panther. But they’re like, extra sexist so I think…the Black Panther movement without sexism or homophobia, which…what is it really? But…yeah. That’s always weird though you’re like…you enjoy someone’s work and then you like read into it and you’re like “you guys were awful!” So, yeah.
AK: Do you have any long-term goals or things that you want to accomplish in the future, either professionally or personally?
JB: It’s like two diverging paths. That’s where I’m at right now. I want to get a Ph.D. in Africana Studies with a focus on womanism. That’s like, that would be…ah goals in life. Probably going to end up on a commune somewhere, um… harvesting beans. I’m going to guess that’s what’s actually going to happen… I’m planning that right now. My friends and I are like “let’s just move.” Like, we are looking for land. That’s where we’re at.
AK: This question might be a little cheesy, but what is your personal mission statement? JB: Like a quote I live by? (shows tattoo on arm) “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.” Audre Lorde. So yeah. That’s…that’s easy. I just got that tatted on there like a week ago.
AK: Perfect. And is there any information you want to share about things that are going to come up with RSS or with your poetry? Any work that you’re excited about that’s happening this year?
JB: I’m always excited about everything. I’m hoping to do a black woman’s brunch. And I’m really excited about that. Also…this is the perfect time for that. I’m putting on a play. I’m putting on For Colored Girls. And it comes out March 3rd, but I could always use help if anybody wants to. Please help. Appreciate it.
If you would like to contact June about The Real Silent Sam Coalition, The Rejects, or getting involved in working with the production of For Colored Girls, please email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.