Advocating For Myself As a Black Trans Woman

Advocating For Myself As a Black Trans Woman

It may be a new year, but it’s never too late or too soon to pursue more fulfillment in your life. For Vanessa Warri, continuing her education and seeking knowledge was a big part of becoming the best version of herself. She writes about it in this op-ed and shares how Point Foundation, the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for LGBTQ students, is helping her achieve that for herself.
 

Having a vision of how to improve things can be hard when you feel like nobody thinks of you as capable or intelligent enough. When that sort of negativity comes your community, it can be a defeating experience. However, existing in a world that criminalizes and dehumanizes the existence of Blackness, transness, and womanhood, the achievement of our liberation must be procured through persistence, resistance, and the continuous challenging of authoritative truths about our lives.

I have always considered myself to be something of a futurist, who wants to see my community thriving. I believe this begins with education, specifically with the kinds of knowledge that have been historically gatekept and denied to communities who may be able to use this knowledge to inspire effective advocates, visionaries, and strategists in the movement toward our liberation.

My own lived experience served as a powerful educational tool in creating my identity as an advocate, and in creating my mission. As a Black transgender woman, the only opportunities for professional development that were available to me were in non-profit community-based organizations revolving around HIV prevention research and direct services. Belonging to a historically marginalized and struggling community and being in a position to provide direct services to my community was deeply challenging. I struggled to provide holistic support to transgender people far older than me, while simultaneously trying to provide the same for myself in a rapidly gentrifying Bay Area. It was during my time engaged in what many call “the work” that I came to see how, despite best intentions, community-based organizations and academic entities were facilitating the maintenance of disparity among trans and non-binary people of color.

In focusing so intensely on transgender and non-binary folks through the HIV prevention lens, almost to the exclusion of all other areas of vital need, we created a codependent relationship that stifled the opportunity for major growth. As a provider, I was pushed to sell a reality to a community with multiple systemic, spiritual, emotional, and physical barriers to success that engaging in your health was the first step toward improving quality of life. My advocacy was almost always silenced and ignored. In addition to being told to be grateful for the work I was qualified to do, I was told I was “too young” to really know “the way things work,” and finally that I simply didn’t have the credentials to be taken seriously.

During my time working at a CBO in San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to work alongside Point alum Erin Armstrong, who even before I had decided to pursue my educational goals had mentioned Point Foundation and offered her assistance in helping me apply when the time was right. Throughout my time in community college (about four years), every Fall she would check in with me to let me know that it was time to apply for Point Foundation, and for a while, all I could respond with is “Not yet, almost.” Nevertheless, she said she would reach out to me next time, and when the time finally came she excitedly provided feedback and support to prepare me for what lay ahead.

Applying to and then competing for the Point scholarship was the most intense experience, but it was also one of the most empowering experiences of my life. The questions they asked, and the precision with which they wanted answers forced me to think deeply on my mission, and my commitments both to myself and community. Being invited to be a finalist, where I would meet amazing LGBTQI people who embodied academic excellence, made me feel like for the first time someone was listening to what I had to say, and wanted to hear more.

When I received the call about a month later that I had received the award I was overwhelmed with emotions. It meant that in a society that usually ignores the voices of Black trans people, especially within the LGBTQI community, that I had been heard and considered worthy of investment. This process helped me begin to heal from the trauma of having my experience reduced to being just another angry Black trans person and helped to solidify myself as a professional whose expertise and vision was necessary to add to the future discourses that will hopefully uplift the transgender community and propel our larger LGBTQI community into the future.  

Having a vision of how to create change can be tough when you feel like nobody believes in you. Point Foundation exists to provide an opportunity for you to be heard, supported, and invested in as you seek to bring your vision to life through the pursuit of education. If you are not used to having a team of supportive LGBTQI people, and wonderful resources to aid in your development, then a Point Foundation scholarship and all the wonderful experiences that come along with it should be your next stop. I look forward to reimagining and recreating the future with you.

 
Point Foundation (Point) is the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students of merit. Point empowers promising LGBTQ students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential – despite the obstacles often put before them – to make a significant impact on society. Point promotes change through scholarship funding, mentorship, leadership development, and community service training. A total of 97 scholarship recipients are receiving support for the 2018-2019 academic year. 
 
To apply for a Point scholarship, LGBTQ students can submit an application at pointfoundation.org/apply. Applications are due January 28, 2019 at 11:59pm.
 
Header image via Getty

Vanessa Warri 

Vanessa Warri is a transgender Nigerian-American researcher, strategist, and advocate, committed to the liberation, empowerment, and safety of Black transgender women, and marginalized communities existing at various intersections of oppression.