We had the good fortune of connecting with Tonjie Reese and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tonjie, how do you think about risk?
Risk taking is the ability to push past fear and hope for the best. That’s how I was able to make pivots in my life and career. Moving to Los Angeles was one of my biggest risks. Although I had a great job and enjoyed my life, I felt unfulfilled and knew there was more opportunities in other places. I left my job and starting working at my father’s small business while also working part time at a shelter. Within a few months I landed a job at a national dating violence prevention organization, which was a catalyst to starting eleven24.
Most recently, I left another great job to become a full time social entrepreneur. Leaving my job during a pandemic was risky, however it gave me motivation to take more risks. I also relocated to back to my hometown, Detroit. By taking a risk, I developed confidence in myself. I felt prepared to make shifts, and knew that I would figure things out, even if it didn’t go as planned. Risks don’t always have to be impulsive, some risks can be thought out. Before leaving my job, I set goals, consulted with loved ones, and believed in the vision I saw for myself.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a preventionist. I believe that relationship abuse and sexual violence can be prevented through community connection and early education. I’ve spent the last 10 years educating young people and providing training for caring adults. In 2018, I took a leap and founded eleven24, an organization dedicated to prevention. When I first started, I didn’t have money so I relied on conferences to network. Most conferences didn’t provide payment for speakers, so I relied on building connections that would hopefully lead to opportunities to work together. Luckily, I was able to secure a few partnerships during that first year. However, things died down, I got rejection after rejection. While still being an advocate for survivors and the community educator, I worked several side jobs ranging from gift wrapper to tutor .
After a while, I decided to slow down and took on a role at a health and human rights organization working with survivors of sexual abuse behind bars. In this role, I learned more about the intersections of race, sexuality, and gender. I spent time inside of facilities and provided advocacy for survivors. It was a fulfilling experience, but I knew deep down I wanted to continue eleven24. At the beginning of 2021, I took a chance and left my role. The uncertainty was terrifying. Fortunately, I landed a contract with a university and university system. I began to lean into racial justice and ways it connected to gender based violence prevention.
Now, eleven24 is a nationally recognized organization that supports young people and caring adults by provided education, capacity building, and awareness. Our team is slowly growing and we are dedicated to providing programming that is relevant and accessible. We believe that prevention is possible and everyone can have a role.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If my best friend was visiting, we would got to all of my favorite places in LA. We’d start with a morning walk at Runyon Canyon or the Culver City stairs. Then, we’d hit Simply Wholesome for smoothies and patties. Later, we’ll go to Dockweiler Beach for a bonfire.
Since I lived in Koreatown, we would go to Wi spa and have Korean BBQ or Escala. We would visit the Marciano Art Foundation and LACMA. We would get food from Merkato and end the night at Normandie Club.
Another day, we would visit the California African American museum and the California Science Center. We’d take the train to the Arts District and visit the Arts District brewery. Later we would go to 84 to play games and listen to music. If it’s around, we would check out Art Walk in DTLA.
On another day, we’d visit Venice beach and rent bikes to ride down the path to Santa Monica. Once in Santa Monica, we would eat at Cha Cha Chicken. Depending on the night, we might visit The Bungalow or walk down the boardwalk.
We’d shop down Melrose, eat ramen at Tatsu, and get our nails done at Pampered Hands. We would visit Mama Shelter for drinks on the rooftop. If it’s a Sunday, we’ll visit Leimert Park to shop and listen to the drum circles. Somewhere along the way, we’ll eat slices Susie Cakes or Milk Bar.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would like to dedicate this shoutout to Brenda Perryman. She was my teacher, sorority sister, mentor, and friend. My introduction to violence prevention was in her classroom. She developed a traveling play, Into the Light, featuring vignettes about dating abuse. That experience and her guidance were life changing. Although she passed away last year, her legacy lives on through all the lives she touched.
I’d also like to shoutout my sister Jess, my first friend and donor.