CeCe Speaks, SLU Listens

Cece McDonald inspires SLU students to act in solidarity.

Activist Cece McDonald spoke to students, faculty, staff and community members in the Center for Global Citizenship Wednesday night. The hour-long talk focused mostly on McDonald’s experience growing up as a black, transgender woman, her own time in prison and the prison-industrial complex. Following the speech, she answered questions from the audience about self care, choosing her name and her plans for the future. The event was sponsored by Free to Be, the Cross Cultural Center, the Student Involvement Center and Great Issues Committee.

In June of 2011, McDonald was walking to a grocery store with friends near her apartment in Minneapolis when they were accosted by a group of neo-nazi, white supremacists. During the altercation, McDonald was hit over the head with a glass. After warning her assailants that she was carrying a weapon, McDonald used a pair of scissors to defend herself, ultimately stabbing a man who died at the scene.

McDonald was charged with two counts of second-degree murder and eventually took a plea bargain. She was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter after the judge determined she had not acted in self defense. She went on to serve 19 months in a men’s correctional facility though she identifies as female.

Although McDonald’s notoriety and platform stem from this tragic incident, she doesn’t want it to define her. “I don’t want to keep living through this story. I want to change the world in so many ways,” she said. She spoke at length about the many dehumanizing aspects of being incarcerated and how she found strength in an outpouring of support from around the world.

Letters arrived in her jail cell from as far away as Tokyo as more people learned of her story. These interactions as well as reading books like “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander and “Are Prisons Obsolete” by Angela Davis got her through the toughest times.

“I cried for a month straight when I got there,” she said of her time in prison.

She also spoke of struggling with PTSD and suicidal thoughts, something she says many in prison must endure with little support.

McDonald’s vision for the future is one that challenges the way many think of criminal justice and incarceration. She also challenges the gender binary that places all people in categories of either male or female, man or woman. She spoke of a recent conversation with her brother in which she explained how she is forced to exist outside of this binary. Because she was assigned ‘male’ at birth and only later was able to reclaim her womanhood, she is viewed by many as neither man nor woman. This difficult discussion is one she believes we should all be having in our own homes with our own families.

She urged those in the audience to “center the voices of the most marginalized,” repeating the phrase three times throughout the night.

“Fuck ally!” she shouted. “I hate that word. We need to start acting on the things we say we believe. Start acting in solidarity.” The crowd of several dozen people agreed.

Although the audience didn’t quite fill the space, McDonald was not discouraged. While she doesn’t believe too much in faith, she quoted the bible in regards to the movement for black, trans lives. “You have to have the faith of a mustard seed and that’s pretty fucking small.”