Ashlee Marie Preston

As Ashlee Marie Preston approached her 34th birthday in early June, it was less a celebration than a sobering milestone. Preston is a successful media personality, producer, writer, speaker, civil rights activist, recent political candidate and The Root 100 honoree for 2017. She is also a black transgender woman, fully aware that the average life expectancy for trans women of color is 35 years, primarily as a result of violence.

To commemorate the occasion, Preston ordered a birthday cake decorated with the images of 77 slain black trans women and this message: “Today I turned 34, statistically I won’t live over 35. Black trans women will no longer accept this.”

Photo: Courtesy of Ashlee Marie Preston

Preston’s 34th birthday was also the day she launched the #ThriveOver35 campaign, which, in her words, “is intended to help black trans women reimagine themselves somewhere other than an open casket.”

In an email to The Glow Up, Preston wrote:

This campaign is an opportunity for black trans women to express gratitude for every year we survive the multi-tier marginalization we have to navigate on a daily basis. It’s hard for black people in general—but black LGBTQ people are often excluded from conversations around black liberation.

It’s either all of us or none of us. I’m pushing back against the notion that black lives matter unless they’re LGBTQ. I refuse to subscribe to the idea that all black people are homophobic and transphobic. We are educated, compassionate, empathetic, and warm people. Ignorance exists among every demographic—but I hope to inspire allyship that opens hearts and minds within the African-American community.

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In addition to hoping to inspire positive engagement and advocacy within the black community, Preston is encouraging black and brown trans women under 35 to use the #ThriveOver35 hashtag to celebrate their birthdays and existence, letting the world know “that we’re here and we won’t be erased!”

In addition, she hopes that trans women over 35 will use the hashtag to inspire younger women through their visibility, reminding them that they are more than statistics, that progress is being made and that it is possible to overcome these devastating odds. For those of us who consider ourselves allies of the trans community, we are encouraged to use the hashtag in solidarity as a demonstration of our commitment to protecting and advocating for the most marginalized among us.

Most important, Preston tells us that she is committed not only to ensuring that she and other trans women of color survive past 35 but also to “seeing to it that black trans women thrive. When we thrive, so will everyone else.”

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The Glow Up tip: In addition to creating the hashtag #ThriveOver35, Preston is the host and producer of a podcast entitled Shook With Ashlee Marie Preston and will be featured in her own TEDx Talk in September of 2018.