Monday, June 23, 2014

Finding KOKUMO

Our Chicago based sister KOKUMO is one innovative, gifted and talented artist and like myself an inaugural Trans 100 honoree.  I've had the pleasure of seeing her perform at the 2014 Black Trans Advocacy Conference in Dallas, while others recently got their opportunity to see her at the recent Philadelphia Trans Health Conference or the T.G.I.F. Festival in Chicago.  

So when I received the alarming report KOKUMO went missing Thursday from her Baltimore hotel in a city that had just experienced a trans woman being murdered, the concern was obviously high amongst myself, the trans community and our allies. 

But instead of this story having a tragic ending, it turned into a moment in which our Black trans community and our allies banded together.  Using the power of social media and the determined boots on the ground of the Black Transmen, Inc.-Maryland/DC Chapter, it had a positive outcome

I received an alarming e-mail message at approximately 8:50 PM CDT from Vann Michael, one of the members of that BTMI chapter.  He  told me that she was missing and the clerk at the Motel 6 located at 110 W. North Street reported that KOKUMO left with her black suitcase.   The clerk also reported to them that she appeared distraught and confused.

Motel 6 Baltimore City, MDThat led a very concerned me to post the initial alert on my blog and Facebook page.   The blog post eventually got 3000 hits by Saturday morning and the Facebook page alert being shared 312 times.  

From my awareness about missing person cases, if you don't find the person within the first 24-72 hours after they go missing, the probability they will be found alive precipitously drops.   So time is critical in these cases, and the earlier you start the search and file the police report, the better.

By default because I have a lot of connections across the country and even in the Baltimore area, I became the national communications point person.

Centralized communications was needed in this situation, especially when it comes to a well known in our community figure like KOKUMO that suddenly goes missing.  Rumors popped up on Facebook in that frantic Friday night she had been found a mere hour after the TransGriot blogpost went up alerting everyone she was missing.   Another rumor was posted she was okay and had called various people including her mother    Those rumors weren't true because KOKUMO didn't have her cell phone. 

Meanwhile, as I was getting the word out she was missing with emphasis to my Baltimore area peeps, Vann, Brendon and the BTMI brothers were filing the missing persons police report and gearing up to begin the search for KOKUMO starting at 7 AM EDT Saturday morning . A nervous Trans Nation, our allies and all the people who love and care about her turned their attention to Charm City, prayed and sent warm thoughts that our sister would be found safe and unharmed.  

Meanwhile other Baltimore area trans community leaders like Beth Morgan and Jenna Fischetti were busy spreading the word in their influence circles

Saturday morning dawned with the BTMI search team beginning the daunting task of trying to find her in the 209 sq miles and 623,000 people that comprise the city of Baltimore.   While some members of the search team checked Johns Hopkins Hospital and a rumored sighting at a shelter,  Vann doubled back to the last known location of KOKUMO at the Motel 6 to get more information after calling me with an update as to what had transpired since our initial contact Friday evening..

Longtime Baltimore area trans leader Cydne Kimbrough e-mailed me not long after seeing the news on my Facebook page, and I was amazed to hear that she lived mere blocks form the Motel 6 in question.   I asked her if she would get the people she knew in her neighborhood and influence circles to keep their eyes open in case she was still in the area. 

Black Transmen, IncThe BTMI search team hit the East Baltimore streets armed with a photo of KOKUMO and the steely determination not to allow her to become another casualty of violence against transwomen of color or law enforcement insensitivity.   Vann, Brendan and the BTMI search team shared her photo with Baltimoreans at bus stops, people setting up community outdoor markets, who were attending morning rehab groups and with local community members who keep track of the pulse of the street.  

One person they talked as they shared that photo prayed at that moment with them for KOKUMO's safe return. 

The search finally began to generate leads.  The search team began to run into people that recalled spotting  the statuesque KOKUMO on Friday.   One person reported spotting her near a local market which sent the search team quickly heading in that direction.  

Once they arrived at that local market, it turned out the lead was a solid one.  More people confirmed she'd  been the area but the ironclad one turned out to be when they showed her picture to a local gypsy cab driver.   The gypsy cab driver yelled to his friend to take a look at the photo of KOKUMO, of which the friend of the cab driver and his female companion recognized her immediately.

"Yeaaa! I seen her! This morning!" he said as the woman asked," She have on a flower dress?"

Unable to confirm what she was wearing when she left the hotel, the BTMI search team member was about to dismiss it as a soft lead until the woman asked,"Did she have a black suitcase?"   At that point he definitely knew he'd picked up KOKUMO's trail, and he was instructed by the helpful pair to go to West Baltimore.

After calling the rest of the members of the search team with the news, buoyed with increased hope, they headed to the West Baltimore location where the couple had spotted KOKUMO.   The couple also told them before they headed off to that section of town that some police activity had  happened in that area . 

While that was a concern, they were hopeful as they drove toward the West Baltimore location this was going to be the last stop in their search for our lost sister.  But the report of the couple of police activity had them unsure and worried this was in connection with KOKUMO. 

After they arrived at the location where the couple had last spotted her,  the BTMI search team approached a crowd and showed them the picture.  One of the people in the West Baltimore crowd recognized her and said she was last seen walking "Over there," as he pointed in the direction that he'd spotted her ambling off in.  When the BTMI brothers turned their gaze in that direction, there was KOKUMO, sitting under a tree surrounded and protected by bushes. 

Success!  Against long odds she had been found, and after
I got the call they found her a little after 9 AM Saturday EDT, the BTMI brothers cautiously approached her, identified themselves, scooped her up and took her to a nearby hospital to be checked out.   She was released to their care after the medical exam and was handed a phone to call some people as her mother Sandra Baker prepared to hit the road from Chicago to drive to Baltimore to retrieve her daughter.   

KOKUMO has been picked up,
is enroute back to Chicago with her mother and in great spirits after spending some quality time with the BTMI brothers.  She thanks everyone along with her mother Sandra for your warm thoughts, prayers, and pulling together as a community to ensure she would be in the position to come home safely.

KOKUMO is going to get a needed rest break, and when she's ready, you know she'll come back from it refreshed and ready to amaze us with her talents. 

Thanks also to Vann Michael and Brendon for their accounts of what happened that I used as the basis for this story, and the BTMI-Maryland/DC chapter search team that did the legwork Saturday to ensure this story had a happy ending.  

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