Friend Of Slain 19-Year-Old Activist Oluwatoyin 'Toyin' Salau Says The 'World Didn't Deserve Her'
“Remember Toyin as someone who was fighting until she took her last breath,” Khepera Ma’at said of her late friend.
Over the weekend, Aaron Glee Jr. confessed to the sexual assault, kidnapping and murder of 19-year-old activist Oluwatoyin "Toyin" Salau, along with Victoria Sims, whose bodies were found in Tallahassee on June 13.
Khepera Ma’at, a friend of Salau, spoke with Blavity about the legacy her friend left behind.
Ma'at said she met the activist and aspiring model in a group chat intended to connect like minds, regardless of geographical distance.
Ma’at, who is studying graphic design at Gateway Community College in New Haven, Connecticut, and working at Subway, said even all the way from Tallahassee, Salau quickly became her cherished counsel after they met in 2017. While she says the two never met in person, they nonetheless shared a bond.
“It was so easy to talk to her. Even our first time on the phone, I automatically felt a sense of comfort,” Ma’at remembers. “She was the best person to give advice, too. The first person I would call. I don’t even know who to call now. It’s so crazy. I still don’t feel that this is real. Everyone in the chat is devastated.”
Ma’at, 19, said it was the loss of Salau’s wisdom that leaves friends, peers and online followers stricken with grief.
“I understand why so many people feel devastated by what happened to Toyin, she was a great person. The world didn’t deserve her,” she said. “Her wisdom was beyond everything.”
In her conversations with Salau, Ma’at said that she used her wisdom to elevate consciousness — spreading the stunning clarity that she expressed in speeches, prose and in bursts of Twitter characters.
“I learned a lot from her. Most recently, I talked to her that Tuesday before she disappeared. She was telling me about different things happening outside the U.S. that need to be spoken about,” Ma’at told Blavity. “Things I didn't know, that people need to hear. Things about Africa that the media doesn't cover because they only show it in a certain, demonized light.”
Salau’s unrelenting advocacy for the most vulnerable and the least visible defined her activism. With a willful tweet, she declared the obligation she felt to bring awareness to the killing of Tony McDade, a Black transgender man, by Tallahassee police.
“Tony McDade’s story really resonated with her, like a lot. She was just hurt by it,” Ma’at explained. “When she called me, I could hear the rage in her voice.”
Salau, who Ma’at says erected a memorial in recognition of McDade’s life and unjust killing, channeled her rage into action.
Ma'at said her late friend’s passion for the unconditional protection and liberation of all Black people will continue to reverberate in her wake.
When she wasn’t fighting to dismantle internalized transphobia within the movement, Salau was working on a move to either New York or Chicago, where she dreamed of launching a modeling career, Ma’at remembers of her friend and fellow artist.
In addition to her passion for modeling, Salau studied cosmetology at Lively Technical College, per the school's Facebook. She relied on the skill set to make extra money, Ma’at said.
Friends and loved ones are left to process the details of Toyin’s final days, following Glee’s confession. And, Ma’at wants the world to remember her friend’s purity.
“She never did drugs or drank alcohol. I saw something where the guy that did this to her lied and said she was trying to get a molly from him," she said. "But she didn't even do drugs. How are you lying on someone who can't even defend themselves?”
Instead, Ma’at remembers, her friend was focused on staying grounded — a sentiment also echoed by Alina Amador, a photographer whom Salau had posed for.
"My friend had amazing energy her presence always brought warmth to any room she entered. She was very calm and gentle. Always generous and so passionate," Amador said in a message to Blavity. "She is one of my favorite models, her beauty was so radiate and modeling for her was so effortless."
Ma'at also added that Salau was authentic and not easily deterred.
“Always be true to yourself. She always stuck to that. She was a firm believer that if you stay true to yourself, you will be okay,” Ma’at said. “She was a very spiritual person. She had been through so much, even before all of this happened. But she would always have her head up, no matter what.”
Indeed, Salau’s tireless advocacy for self and others stands immortalized by her online presence. There, prayers for serenity and a detailed documentation of her sexual assault show that the student, activist and friend never tired for long.
“Remember Toyin as someone who was fighting until she took her last breath,” Ma’at told Blavity. “She was such a fighter. And she never stopped, even after everything she went through.”