In 2017, Tarena Williams, a transgender woman from Norfolk, was shot in the chest by a man she met on a dating app.
She was staying in a Ramada Inn in Norfolk while preparing to move into a new home when she invited the man over. Shortly after arriving, the man pulled out a gun and began making sexual demands, Williams said. After fighting with him, she managed to push the man out the front door and this was when he turned and shot her.
The bullet passed inches from her heart and permanently damaged nerves in her arm. She still cannot use her left hand.
During her long recovery process she said she found strength from the people around her and she became determined to give back to the community in some way.
“[The shooting] just kind of left me in a space where I didn’t feel safe,” Williams told the Washington Blade during an interview. “I didn’t feel loved and I didn’t feel like anyone had really cared about myself or the trans community. I wanted to make a change in the community by giving them resources and giving them job opportunities to get them off the streets. And I wanted to give them a safe space.”
Williams started a support group out of her house and began applying for grants. In July 2020, she finally received a grant through the Racial Immigration Family Foundation and got the funds to open a support center.
“It was extremely emotional [when I got the grant],” she said. “I always tell people it’s not about what I’ve already done, it’s about what I’m gonna do. I would’ve been helping people with or without that money. If I could only help one person, that would be enough for me.”
On Aug. 30, the Southeastern Transgender Resource Center on Colley Avenue in Norfolk opened to the public.
The center provides transportation, counsellor and doctor referrals, and support groups. Williams said she wants to turn the small space into a “one stop shop” for the trans community, which faces higher rates of homelessness and unemployment than any other subsect of the LGBTQ population.
The trans community has also been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic, Williams said. Many haven’t been able to receive unemployment benefits so STRC has been lending support to those without jobs.
“When you can’t find what you need and when you need help, I want this to be the place people can come to,” she said. “No one is left out here. Everyone is treated equal.”
To find the physical space for the resource center, Williams said she drove up and down the city for hours until she found the spot on Colley Avenue with the “For Rent” sign outside. She considers it “another blessing” that the owner of the shop allowed her to rent it.
Once they had the green light, Williams said she and several others spent hours every day for an entire month gutting the inside of the space and remodeling it to suit their needs.
The resource center opened with a party that doubled as Williams’ birthday celebrations — her birthday was Aug. 29.
“It’s been amazing,” she said of the weeks since opening day. “We’ve had our support group. We have had people stopping in, saying hello, giving donations. It’s been overwhelming.”
To those hoping to achieve their dreams in the face of violence or oppression Williams said resilience is the most important thing.
“Know that they are beautiful and never give up. Just believe in yourself,” she said. “I speak those words because I know that I’m a beautiful person inside and out. I wanted to do this and I never gave up on myself nor my community.”