Illustration of Dominique Rem'mie Fells by Shannon D. Taylor

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Dominique Rem’mie Fells would have celebrated her 28th birthday on Thursday.

The York, Pa., native loved celebrating the turn of the calendar. Her mom recalled that the annual occasion was one of just two holidays Fells actually cared about (Thanksgiving was the other fave).

This year, the milestone takes on a new, sad meaning to Fells’ family and friends, who are grieving her brutal June murder on the banks of the Schuylkill River.

To celebrate the birthday and honor a life cut short, members of Philly’s Black queer community organized a vigil. It starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, with people gathering at 734 S. 50th St. in West Philadelphia.

Organizers are expecting at least 75 attendees — and likely more. Fells’ friends and loved ones will share memories and celebrate her life, and hand out candles and posters decorated with her visage.

Terri Edmonds, Fells’ mom, wasn’t ready to talk to a reporter about her loss, but did provide a written statement.

“This year, the world celebrates the life of one of the most outgoing, caring, and vibrant souls to ever grace this earth,” Edmonds wrote. “Dominique was always one to give, no matter what she had. This week you all have given her the ability to give back one last time.”

Philly police charged a suspect with Fells’ murder about a week after her body was discovered. The event made national news. A GoFundMe to pay for her funeral raised more than $100k, and a New York WNBA player honored her before a game last week.

Local officials to responded to her death by classifying the murder of trans people as an “epidemic.” Counting Fells, at least seven Philadelphia trans women of color have been murdered in as many years. In May 2019, Michelle ‘Tamika’ Washington was shot to death in North Philly. Shantee Tucker suffered the same fate in Hunting Park in the fall of 2018. Police also investigated the suspicious death of West Philadelphia trans woman Alicia Simmons last November.

Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, cofounder of the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative, helped organize the vigil. They said anyone is welcome to come celebrate her memory — social distancing and mask-wearing required.

“I’ve been witness to the brutal murders of trans people,” said Muhammad, a lifelong Philadelphian. “If the Black queer community in Philly said nothing about their murders, no one would know their names. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth. There’s not enough being said or done.”

The vigil will double as a crowdfunding effort in Fells’ memory. If they can, attendees are asked to donate $28 each to three causes hand-picked by her mom:

  • Morris Home, Philly’s LGBTQ recovery house
  • Sisters PGH, a shelter and resource center for trans people in Pittsburgh
  • House of Tulip, a trans and gender-nonconforming housing collective in New Orleans

This fundraising for trans housing solutions underscores Muhammad’s overarching goal: To protect Black trans women so they don’t have to organize another vigil anytime soon. Also in the works is a permanent mutual aid fund specifically benefitting the community.

“What gives me hope is that there are communities of people invested in protecting and uplifting and supporting trans people…while they’re alive,” Muhammad said.

From Fells’ family, Muhammad has heard countless stories about the vibrant young woman  — fashionable and creative, strong and sure of herself, a fierce advocate.

“Rem’mie loved hard and loved deeply
, but if you got on her nerves, she would let you know,” they said. “All the spaces she occupied, you could tell Rem’mie was there.”

Friday evening’s event is a chance to pause, reflect and remember Fells.

“Every day, we’re hearing about violence,” Muhammad said. “It’s kind of one of those things where we can’t catch our breath. We can’t stop to really process this. The ultimate goal is to provide a space for healing, and help us collectively grieve the loss.”

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Michaela Winberg

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...