You are recognized as a leader in 2020 for continuously using your voice to fight for the marginalized—most recently during the “Brooklyn Liberation” march for Black trans lives. Can you tell us about how that speech came to be and what you took away from the moment?
“The speech was an amalgamation of many of my experiences and the conversations that I’ve had over the years with peers and other leaders. For me, it was a moment of historical reckoning for our community and those who claim to support us. We were showing up to do what we always do: name and claim our power as Black trans people and push for the systemic changes that will end our disenfranchisement economically, socially and politically. I wanted to honor the universal feeling of not being enough and how Black trans people have actually always been more than enough. We have and continue to lead movements. We push society to think beyond its most rigid boundaries and we pave more expansive ways for future generations.”
You are now the director of communications for the Ms. Foundation for Women. What's in store for you in this new role?
“I took this role with an interest in learning more about how we can make our movements more sustainable. A major part of that work is ensuring that we are resourced adequately in the philanthropic world. If we’re going to live in a capitalist system; we’re going to have to figure out ways to do the work that we need to do to liberate our people and alleviate the many restrictions that our economic system places on those who are marginalized. I’m excited to come in now, at a time when Ms. is led by a Black woman who believes in the leadership of other women and girls of color on the margins. I am excited to get deeper into what it means to be a feminist and woman leader and figure out how we can continue to expand this fight to make sure that we learn from the feminist movement’s exclusive history. We must move from a limited lens that focuses on one gender to one that advocates for universal gender justice.”
I think it’s important to know who you want to be, who you want to fight for, and not be afraid of naming that. I’m not afraid to say that I’m fighting for Black trans people, and I think that’s connected to a more collective fight for everyone’s liberation.
- Raquel Willis
On that note, what kind of advice do you have for others who are fighting for this movement?
“It’s important to know who you want to be, who you want to fight for and not be afraid of naming that. I’m not afraid to say that I’m fighting for Black trans people and that it’s connected to a more collective fight for everyone’s liberation. We all have a lane and it’s a very unique and creative endeavor to figure out what your commitment is within social justice and building the world that you want to see. If you are an athlete, how will you use your skills and platform to expand your social justice values? If you are an attorney, how are you going to fight for those directly impacted? If you’re a teacher or someone who works in education, how are you going to make sure that your curriculum reflects those stories of folks who have been voiceless for too long? How are you going to make sure those who have been blocked out of education are able to sit front row with their heads held high? I think we all have our lane and we’ve got to figure out how to organize within our passions.”
I know that you are writing a book right now. Are you able to share any insight into that process?
“My book is based on my experiences as a Black trans woman straddling various social justice movements. I’ve seen a lot; observed a lot. I have a lot of thoughts. But I’m still young—I don’t present my experiences as a definitive collection of advice. It’s really just my observations at this point in my life. In some ways, it’s sort of a clearing out, so that I can be more open and receptive to the fights ahead. I’m excited to tap into the vulnerability and what it means to be on this social justice journey. I think we feel so over our heads before we give ourselves a chance to really take in what we’re observing. We’ve got to figure out how we can be clear that nobody has all the answers and we have to be able to have enough humility to receive the lessons from our ancestors and peers. And even those folks who are coming up after us.”
This has been a trying year, to put it plainly. How have you been finding or seeking joy?
“I have been giving myself space to disconnect from work, from other people's and my own expectations. I have been trying to prioritize my relationships over work whenever possible. I’m one of those people that has to retreat into themselves and figure out how I’m going to navigate tricky spots in life. I’m working through the guilt of understanding that about myself. I have been dancing continuously. I love plants; they’re my meditation to witness growth. So, that's what I'm doing. All of that, and constantly learning.”