Academy Street in downtown Newark was officially renamed Sakia Gunn Way on Oct. 28 in honor of Sakia Gunn, a 15-year-old Black lesbian who was murdered in an anti-gay attack on May 11, 2003.
A group of friends, family members and LGBTQ advocates gathered at the intersection of Academy and Halsey streets, near where Gunn was fatally stabbed, to unveil the street sign.
Gunn and four friends were traveling home from a night out in Greenwich Village. They were waiting for a bus when two men, Richard McCullough and Allen Pierce, approached them and made sexual advances. When the teens told them they were lesbian, the men attacked them. Gunn attempted to help her friend, who McCullough was choking, but he stabbed her in the chest.
Gunn died in the arms of her friend, Valencia Bailey, on their way to nearby University Hospital.
Close to 3,000 students attended Gunn’s funeral on the first anniversary of her death, Gay City News reported at the time. The Newark schools superintendent renamed May 11 “No Name Calling Day,” in a measure to counter harassment against members of the LGBTQ community.
In 2016, muralist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh created a mural titled “Sakia, Sakia, Sakia, Sakia” along McCarter Highway in honor of the 15-year-old lesbian’s life. An estimated 40 people gathered there on May 11, 2023, to mark the 20th anniversary of her murder.
The street renaming in honor of Gunn’s life “means the world to me, because it’s an acknowledgement,” Bailey recently said to NorthJersey.com. “ It’s showing that my cousin’s legacy will never die, it’ll forever be here. … No matter if you don’t know anything about her or her situation, if you walk down the street and you see that sign … you get online and everything’s out there.”
“My baby’s smiling at everybody on this sunny day,” Latona Gunn, Sakia Gunn’s mother, told PBS during the street renaming. “This sunny day is for her.”
Lamonica McIver, Newark City Council president, said to PBS that the intersection of Academy and Halsey streets was chosen intentionally, because it is outside of the Pride Center of Newark.
Reggie Bledose, the head of the Essex County Office of LGBTQ affairs, told InsiderNJ on Saturday that “Sakia Gunn’s legacy serves as a powerful reminder that our identities are not separate, but rather intertwined.”
“Our struggles for justice and equality are interconnected,” he said. “By honoring Sakia’s memory, we amplify the voices of those marginalized and overlooked, shedding light on the intersectional battles we face.”