When stylist Gabriel M. Garmon initially put the call out on social media about a demonstration in remembrance of George Floyd, he had hopes that 100 or so other Black men might join him on the march through Harlem this past Thursday. The invitation encouraged participants to wear a suit, a shirt and tie, or “your best,” as a mark of respect to Floyd, whose funeral in Minneapolis would coincide with the event, a dress code that he felt his community of Black fashion creatives would appreciate. “We wanted to honor him and our other lost brothers and sisters in a way that felt appropriate,” says Garmon who organized the event with the help of friends and fellow Black creatives Brandon Murphy and Harold Waight.
The crowd of elegantly dressed men he found gathered on 125th street at 10am that morning far exceeded his expectations. By the time Tiffany Rea-Fisher, a choreographer and local community organizer, had taken to the podium to make the final address before the march began, the sidewalks were overflowing with people. “It was such a peaceful experience, it was such a unifying experience and that’s all we wanted,” says Fisher. “No matter our gender or what industry we’re in, it is upsetting to us on a deep level that our presence can be scary to people. Our chant was: We’re not to be feared. When people heard that, they were hanging out of their windows clapping for us, cheering us on.”
With Black Lives Matter shirts peeking out from their three-piece suits and fists raised in the air, the demonstrators who poured down Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard towards Central Park were a sight to behold. Some came dressed in the sober black suiting reminiscent of Civil Rights activists of the1960s; others were decked out in vibrant ankara prints and the kind of modern bespoke tailoring you might find at local menswear boutiques such as Harlem Haberdashery. Red berets jostled with jaunty straw fedora hats, sleek black durags, and white kufi caps; pocket squares were festooned with flowers, lapels studded with Black Power pins. At one point along the route, a young Black boy of about nine or ten was seen getting a tutorial on how to knot a tie from an older Black gentleman in a dapper gray suit.
“I asked myself, would I wear this to someone’s funeral? To a relative’s funeral? How would I bring myself?” says Elias Hightower, a fashion consultant who was among the demonstrators who took to the streets. “I almost wore Vans with my suit, but I knew I couldn’t do this by halves. This was really about changing the narrative and showing the power of dress.”
As the march moved further along Fifth Avenue towards the final stop on 96th street, the crowd tripled in size, swelling to be over a 1000 strong. In the sea of hand-painted signs, many bore witness to the injustices suffered by members of the Black trans community at the hands of the police. “A lot of times when we say Black men are under attack, we’re mostly thinking about cis-gender, straight Black men. There’s not a perceived solidtary between their queer brothers or those who identify as trans,” says James Felton Keith a local politician who helped moblize the march. “It’s Pride month and that particular march being led by those people was more impactful than anything else. This showed we have skin in the game.”
For Garmon and his cohorts, this is just the beginning of a much larger movement. “It doesn’t stop here. And I really want to highlight that. We all need to register to vote, we all need to be more vocal,” says the stylist who is in the midst of organizing a second demonstration, this time to commemorate Juneteenth. “Change is coming soon, I know that.”