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‘A powerhouse’: Pittsburgh activist Nique Craft has died

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Nique Craft at a demonstration for Black lives on Sept. 2, 2020.

Nique Craft, an activist who rose to prominence during Pittsburgh’s Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, has died. The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office reports they were found dead in their home Tuesday. They were 36. The cause of death is still under investigation.

Craft, known as Gam by those close to them, attended and organized protests against police brutality after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last year. They advocated fiercely for solidarity and strengthening Pittsburgh’s Black and queer communities — Craft was Black and nonbinary themselves — and was a distinctive presence in crowds, often holding the megaphone or leading chants through city streets. Through that microphone, Craft challenged crowds to show their commitment to racial justice.

“If you’re not for the movement, I’m going to let you and everyone know who you’re down for,” Craft said during a Downtown Pittsburgh demonstration in support of Black trans women and femmes in September 2020. “If it’s not for Black skin in any shade it come in, y’all can get to steppin’. We don’t need you.”

Ariel Worthy
90.5 WESA

A vocal critic of Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration, Craft was among the organizers of a June demonstration in East Liberty after which there was a confrontation with Pittsburgh Police. Their actions drew the attention of law enforcement again, when Craft, along with several other local leaders,faced charges of riot, harassment and other offenses stemming from a June 24 incident at a bar in Downtown Pittsburgh during a protest.

They also attended an August rally outside of Peduto’s Point Breeze home where police later moved protesters into Mellon Park and deployed pepper spray.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Craft’s lawyer, Paul Jubas, wrote that “Nique was a profound lightning rod, during one of the most profound summers in any of our lives.”

Dannielle Brown, the mother of a Duquesne University student, who spent much of last year on a hunger strike, said Craft was one of the first people to visit her when she first arrived at Pittsburgh’s Freedom Corner.

“With [them] came a whole army, a whole village of people,” Brown said. “I credit Nique for setting up camp and providing me the security around the clock while I was sleeping outside.”

For 237 days, Brown was on a hunger strike to protest her son’s 2018 death at Duquesne. She credits Craft with helping bring attention to her cause.

“[Nique] was very influential in helping me with marches and organizing it,” Brown said. “[They were] a powerhouse.”

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Nique hugging a member of Black, Young and Educated during a 2020 demonstration.

While they were part of a movement that brought together activists and community leaders from around the city, Brown acknowledged Craft was sometimes criticized by other organizers.

“We all know [them] to be a firecracker,” Brown said. “They had some enemies out there. But I promise you, [their] enemies respected [them].”

Craft was also an active member of the South Side community, where they lived.

“They were a protector and a fighter,” Lissa Brennan, a neighbor and friend said. “They were tireless, they were selfless.”

Craft frequently organized fundraisers to help community members to keep up with utility, rent or medical bills. Craft was also the driving force behind a community gathering to honor beloved neighborhood personality Andrew “Kung Fu Joe” Anthony. When Anthony died in May, Brennan said Craft quickly put together a gathering at Color Park to honor him.

“That wasn’t something that, for Nique, was exceptional. That’s what they did,” Brennan said. “With both Nique and Kung Fu Joe gone, there’s a huge void in having those kind of protectors around.”

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community.
Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.