My name is Toni Marie Preston. I am a Black, queer, trans femme with sickle cell disease. I'm also currently a senior sociology major and a women's and gender studies minor at Illinois State University.
My work centers around intersectionality, abolitionism and radical liberation. I have consulted on projects, moderated panels and presented educational workshops. In 2016 I presented at ISU's CRCC conference, and in 2017, I spoke on a MBLGTACC student panel and co-facilitated an identity workshop. I am invested in liberation work and challenging institutions that hinder the growth of the most marginalized communities.
Throughout my life, I have had to overcome many obstacles and cope with many struggles because of my intersecting identities.
I have also had to continuously work to understand my identities, the world around me and how I am affected by systems of oppression in society.
As a Black, queer, trans femme with sickle cell, I had to learn how to navigate the world in certain ways in order to survive and cope with trauma. Growing up, before I knew that I was trans and queer, my biggest struggle was having sickle cell. I didn't want to tell anyone when I was younger because I didn't think they would understand what I go through and I didn't want anyone to feel sorry for me.
After years of being silent and not being open about having sickle cell disease, I decided that I needed to be vocal because there needs to be more sickle cell disease awareness. Sickle cell disease affects more than 100,000 people in the U.S. and more worldwide, yet there hasn't been huge lump sums of funds allocated to finding a cure and helping families pay for medical expenses.
If no one speaks up and advocates for healthcare access and talks about the health issues we face, we will continue to not be visible in this world. In a world where people who are able bodied are privileged, it is important to have these conversations about accessibility, economics/poverty, healthcare access, and other things that affect folks with disabilities.
Though having sickle cell has made it difficult for me to excel in academia, I have achieved a lot thus I am grateful for my education and lived experiences. Being a student at a predominately white institution has been difficult but it has taught me a lot about the world. I grew up in a lower-middle-class, predominately Black neighborhood with parents who sheltered me so I was comfortable and protected from the realities of society.
Once I got to college, I realized how I was different from most of the students on my campus and I had to face the realities of the world. Facing these realities has been difficult but it's what drives me to abolish systems of oppression and it's what drives me to want to go into the field of social work. I have a passion for educating, advocating for others and helping marginalized populations because I know from first-hand experiences what it's like to be marginalized.
Now that I've told you all a little bit about myself and my story, I want to briefly talk about the current political climate.
This administration has attacked just about every marginalized population. Women, Black people, undocumented folks, LGBTQ people and disabled folks.
So now more than ever, we are coming together to provide each other with emotional and financial support because we know that at the end of the day, we have to have each others back. We have to protect our communities and other communities who are marginalized.
In order to protect ourselves and our brothers, sisters and siblings, we must educate, agitate and resist because violence and oppression should no longer exist. In order to live in the society that we deserve, we have to dedicate ourselves to liberation work. We know that legislation, policies and reform are not enough because we have experienced and lived through the failure.
We need to begin thinking of radical ways to get free because as we know from looking back on history, no people have gotten free by being kind and polite. It's time to start thinking about ways to get free and taking action.
I will talk more about radical liberation, leveraging your privilege and creating equity in society more in-depth in my future columns, but I will end my introduction with one of my favorite quotes by a famous activist by the name of Assata Shakur: "It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains."
Toni Marie Preston, they/them/their( s ) and she/her/hers is an Illinois State University sociology major with a women's and gender studies minor.