SparkAction’s #LeadYoung series spotlights young advocates and changemakers, sharing their perspectives and lessons in their own words.
We spoke with Loni Amor*, a young activist and advocate, college student and writer in New York State.
Q: Can you talk about some of the advocacy and activism work you’ve done?
I’m currently the lead organizer of the Jefferson Has Gotta Go! Campaign at Hofstra University. The campaign focuses on addressing manifestations of racism on campus, and specifically calls for the relocation or removal of the statue of Thomas Jefferson on campus.
We have also made a number of other demands that specifically address the inadequacy of the current process of reporting bias, discrimination and harassment on campus.
I’ve been working with other student activists to establish relationships with local organizations who may be able to provide us with some support. We also engage the student body on social media with different calls to action and hashtags. Finally, we work to inspire faculty to publicly support the goals of our campaign and to pressure the administration into being attentive to issues of race and proactive in addressing racism and bias on campus.
I’m also the founding president of the Queer & Trans People of Color Coalition (QTPOCC) of Hofstra University.
Q: What inspired you to start this inter-sectional, bridge-building coalition?
I noticed a lack of racial consciousness in queer and trans spaces and, inversely, a lack of trans-affirming and queer-affirming messaging and discussions in spaces for students of color.
While of course my expectation is never that spaces will cater exclusively to my experiences, it is my expectation that any space that exists to promote social justice will practice intersectionality and recognize that all systems of oppression are linked.
As president, I’ve tried to do that by organizing programming that consistently frames racial justice, gender equality, and gay liberation as one goal. QTPOCC’s (pronounced cutie-poc) programming for the fall is going to continue to push the student body to think and to act intersectionally. For example, for Latinx Heritage Month in September and October, we’ll be hosting an event breaking down “Latinx” and gender-neutral Spanish as well as evaluating attitudes that Latin American communities have toward queerness and transness. One key component of that event will be explaining that transantagonism and anti-queerness are colonial imports.
[We organize] programming that consistently frames racial justice, gender equality, and gay liberation as one goal.
Q: What has your leadership journey been like as a young person?
I credit a significant amount of why I am dedicating my life to activism to the Black Lives Matter movement. The murder of Trayvon Martin and the Zimmerman trial left me feeling so vulnerable and so angry.
I had the privilege of wearing rose colored glasses for a lot of my childhood, largely because of my parents’ reputation in my community and the privilege I have as a lighter-skinned person of color, and so I wore them for a while. I was experiencing racism daily and I knew that, but I did not want to read any deeper into it than “It is what it is.”
That changed for me as I experienced that case in combination with the election of President Obama in 2008 and 2012. Though these events were a necessary awakening for me, they were absolutely brutal.
Coming to the realization that the majority of those around me were so violently anti-black was a horrifying experience and I truly did not have any other choice but to organize.
I was never comfortable in leadership positions growing up. I was and still to certain extent am shy and socially anxious. However, if I’m running the risk of violence simply because I’m brown, non-binary and queer, I feel it is my responsibility to actively be as big of a threat to white supremacy, to “cisnormativity” (or the assumption that all people, or a specific individual, is cisgender, meaning that they identify as the gender they were assigned at birth) to heternormativity (or the assumption than all individuals are heterosexual) and all forms of colonial violence as long as I am able to.
Q: What impact or success are you most proud of so far?
I’m most proud of creating QTPOCC. It is quite literally everything to me. I grew up in a predominantly white area with a lot of anti-queer and trans-antagonistic messaging from home and other places. Growing up, it was very difficult for me to exist, basically.
Internalized racism is challenging enough to overcome, but to overcome internalized anti-queerness, racialized misogyny, and questioning one’s gender identity all at once is even more challenging.
QTPOCC has not only allowed me to be a part of educating different communities and different people about what it means to be a queer and trans person of color, but allowed me to actually be a queer and trans person of color. That’s an opportunity I don’t think I would have had otherwise.
Q: Where do you see yourself as a leader in the next five to 10 years?
I will be organizing and writing, but hopefully it’s as the director of my own nonprofit. I’m currently working on founding my own nonprofit, Concerned Students United. Concerned Students United will work to address educational disparities in the United States by empowering impacted communities and their allies with the tools to demand and to build inclusive, safe institutions with the means to educate tomorrow’s leaders.
I hope that in five to 10 years, our organization is thriving and that we’re tackling ableism in schools, access to resources for undocumented students who want to pursue higher education, support for students questioning their gender identity and looking to transition, and so many other issues that we’re just scratching the surface of right now.
Q: What are three skills you think every young leader or young social changemaker needs to learn to be successful?
Three skills every young leader or changemaker needs to learn to be successful are:
- Ability to cope with disappointment or stress. You need a solid self-care routine, because this work is exhausting and the institutions we are working to abolish or to reform have existed for such a long time for a reason. These institutions are designed to sustain themselves at our expense.
- Impulse control. It is so easy to act on impulse doing this work! Often, you do need to organize rapid response programs because we cannot always anticipate when the next thing will happen. However, it is easy to get sloppy when you’re just thrusting undeveloped ideas and plans into the world. You cannot afford to be sloppy as an organizer.
- Know when to step back. Whenever injustice happens, I immediately want to protest, to call my US Senators, to call my Representatives, to do something. Sometimes it is not my place to lead something and I need to take cues from those directly impacted by that injustice if I’m not directly impacted or to take cues from those with more organizing experience because, obviously, no one knows everything.
Q: What are some supports, trainings, or guidance you have received that have helped you learn and grow as an advocate? How did you find what you need?
Everything I know about organizing has come from linking up with other activists through Twitter and other platforms and my own growth as I continue organizing and working with other student activists.
I definitely think a lot of us (student organizers) are teaching ourselves and each other how to effectively organize, especially since a lot of us never get a chance to read the theory and our histories until we’re much older if at all. I did not read a book by a Latina author until college. I could not articulate the 10 points of the Black Panther Party until late into my high school career. I had already started organizing by then.
It’s a lot of trial and error. It’s a lot of strategizing meetings with your co-organizers. It’s a lot of me calling my Dad and asking what he thinks. It’s also a lot about looking at successful movements of today, including Black Lives Matter.
The students who mobilized after the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas admit that they are actively replicating those strategies and have found success because of both the brilliance of Black Lives Matter and of course their privilege as non-black people. A lot of us are doing the same and also finding success.
Q: How important to you is maintaining a network of support for you in order to keep learning as a young advocate and leader? How important do you find community for self-care, and how do you maintain your community or network?
My network of support is everything. I believe that being the lead organizer of the Jefferson Has Gotta Go! Campaign made me a target of some less-than-scrupulous and exploitative journalists, “white guilt” on the part of Hofstra faculty, and even threats from white supremacists.
I have experienced burnout before, but nothing near what I experienced after the Jefferson statue protest on my campus in March. If I did not have the support of so many student organizers and student organizations on campus, I would not have taken the break I needed and would not have been able to advocate for racial justice on campus. Three of my friends sat up until 2:00 am with me, writing an email to administration and helping me calm down.
If you want to do this work, you need a network like that.
: What do you want your peers to know about advocacy?
This work has always been much more difficult than it has been popular. You can and will have fun organizing, attending trainings, going to conferences and being a part of a social movement, but that cannot be what you’re doing this for because this work is just as exhausting and disappointing as it can be fun.
[Our] work has always been much more difficult than it has been popular.
*Loni, whose full name has been changed to protect against harassment, prefers the pronouns they/them.
All photo credit goes to Lola Solis.