Black Women March And Demand To Be Heard

October 8th, 2017  |  by Veralyn Williams |  Published in Blog, Featured, My Two Cents


Last Saturday the March for Black Women (M4BW) was held alongside the March for Racial Justice (M4RJ), which was organized in response to the acquittal of Philando Castile’s killer, Minnesota policeman Jeromino Yanez in June.

Two days later, Seattle police officers shot and killed Charleena Lyles, who called 911 to report an attempted burglary at her home.

“What happened to Charleena devastated us. [And] as organizers started to plan the M4RJ,” says Farah Tanis, M4BW march co-chair and Executive Director of Black Women’s Blueprint, “we said there will not be one more march without black women being at the center.”

Ultimately, 3,300 people agreed and pre-registered for the march. I was one of them.

As I rode down to Washington D.C. from NYC, I imagined the energized anticipation I felt, was similar to what the nearly 500,000 people who flocked to our nation’s capital the day after Trump’s inauguration, must have felt. I did not go to that woman’s march. Mostly because I had no doubt I would be inundated with stories, images, and reports of what went down. But I questioned how many people would actually show up for (just) black women and if news organizations would send reporters to cover this it.

If I’m being honest– my main motivation for getting on that bus was to bear witness.

I arrived at the pre-march rally at Seward Square at 8:30 A.M. that Saturday morning. Immediately, I saw my friend and fellow journalist, Aaron Morrison. He was there to profile trans-activist, Elle Hearns for his outlet,

I immediately wished I had more of a plan. I wished that I had talked to an editor at Slate, where I work. I didn’t. Why? Because I feared hearing, “no thanks” and that this march, which fundamentally felt important to me, was not newsworthy. I feared being asked,“but what’s the peg?” And having to answer, “The lives of black women. My life.” I feared that would disqualify me (in their eyes) from reporting on the march at all.

I was grateful Aaron and the other journalists I saw reporting that day, did not have/or let such fears rule them.

By 9:00 A.M. more and more people were trickling into the square. And Monica Raye Simpson, M4BW co-chair and Executive Director of SisterSong, was leading a group of about 25 black women in a song.

We want liberations. / We want justice. / We want reparations. / We wont stop, till its our. / It’s our duty to win. / We’re the ones that we’ve been waiting for. / It’s our time to lead.

As I walked around, I overheard march attendee Danielle Carter talking about her sign, which quoted Black feminist scholar, Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, “black women are often credited and foot-soldiers, but we are strategists too.”

M4BW SignDanielle told me, “[Black women are] not just the boots on the ground. We make sure that there are enough boots on the ground, that the boots are covered, showed and respected at the same time.”

I asked her, “What do you hope this march will accomplish?”

“My greatest hope is that people will start listening and taking black women seriously,” she said. “Just like we told them that with President Trump the world would be terrorized. We strategize around making sure that you know Hillary Clinton would win, even if it wasn’t in the best interest of all of us.”

Oh– in case you haven’t heard, 94% of black women voted for Hillary Clinton (and no, gospel singer Tina Campbell, wasn’t one of them).

I spent the rest of the rally and march taking Danielle’s advice and mostly listened.

The rally kicked off at 9:30 A.M. and speakers included Black Youth Project 100, National Director, Charlene Carruthers, This Trans Sistas of Color Project, Executive Director, Bre Ann Campbell, award-winning playwright and poet, Ntozake Shange, National Women’s Law Center, CEO, Fatima Gross Graves, cancer-warrior, activist, and sexuality educator, Ericka Hart, and Puerto Rican activist/poet, Mariposa Fernandez– just to name a few. See the full list of speakers here.

To a crowd of about 500, which were mostly black women, speakers spoke about the adverse effect the Trump administrations is having on black women–from their move to rescind Title IX protections for sexual assault victims and trans students to the administrations initial lack of response to the devastation Hurricane Maria caused in Puerto Rico–all while calling for a unified effort to take on white supremacy, be loved, be heard, and be seen.

But that of course, doesn’t do justice to all that was said and discussed. Here is more on what I heard listening to black women:

M4BW_CollageFarah Tanis, M4BW co-chair and Executive Director, Black Women’s Blueprint

FARAH: I have been doing this work specifically with the Black Women’s blueprint for 10 years. But I’ve been in this movement as a transnational, black feminist for almost 20 years. And I can tell you, it is much more difficult for [black women] to receive any protection when there’s a sexual assault against us, or to receive any protection when there’s discrimination against us– whether on a college campus or in the streets or at the job. And so we want to set a new precedent. We want to transform a culture of racial justice that includes all black women.

VERALYN: What is the charge that you have for people that have come to the M4BW?

FARAH: The charge for the women here today is to get involved politically and make demands so we can have that America that we want. We should be listened to. And we will be listened to, as long as we are speaking.

VERALYN: Finish this sentence. If America listened to black women…

FARAH: There would be equity. We would be able to raise our children and think of our future generations without fear, without sheer panic when we birth our babies and think about what the future might hold. We would have joy unsurpassed– if America were to listen to black women.

Opal Tometi, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and executive director of the Black Alliance for just immigration

OPAL: I’ve been working in social justice and human rights for over 15 years now. Between when I started and now. Well, I’ve changed. I’ve grown up quite a bit. I was in my teen years and I think as a young woman coming up in this work, I finally see a lot more examples of black women in leadership roles. And beyond that, I’m also seeing a lot of very disconcerting things. I see and hear a lot of stories about young women who are being profiled [by the police], young women who are being locked up. [I’ve learned] that almost half of the prison population are black women, yet we’re only 13 percent of the population. And I’m finding my own way and my own voice to pursue justice, but I’m also working with countless, amazing women from all across the country and all across the globe to transform our society.

VERALYN: How do you think Black Lives Matter as a movement and as an organization has moved things forward?

OPAL: We’ve been able to move things forward by forcing the conversation. We had to talk about anti-black racism in US society, in a time where we had a black president. And so, I think the conversation and discourse around anti-black racism has finally come to the forefront. And in other concrete ways, we’ve been able to organize at the local level [with] people who have never been organized before. We’ve been able to partner with existing organizations and strengthen our coalitions at the local and national and even the international level.

Opal TometiVERALYN: What is the charge that you have for people that have come to the M4BW?

OPAL: I charge everyone who’s here to join an organization. Nobody can leave this march today without being plugged into a community where they are held accountable for living their values. If they believed that black women matter–if they believe that black lives matter–they need to be committed to a community organization that allows them to practice their beliefs and allows them to be part of the struggle for justice.

VERALYN: Finish this sentence. If America listened to black women…

OPAL: We will transform our entire world.

Bré Anne Campbell, M4BW co-chair and Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Trans Sistas of Color Project

BRÉ: One thing that really brought me to this March, even though I’m sick, is my commitment to a black woman. I wanted to come and support not only my co-conveners and to make sure that black trans women were actually represented in this space, but to show solidarity. Black trans women are always showing up in other movements spaces, so I wanted to use this opportunity to be intentional about connecting with other black women, to let them know I’m available, I’m a resource, and we’re in this struggle together. And to start having deeper conversations around why cis and trans black women are having a hard time organizing and supporting each other.

IMG_1101VERALYN: What is the charge that you have for people that have come to the M4BW?

BRÉ: I think it’s different for each individual person, but as [a trans] activist, as someone who has social capital and someone who people identify as someone who can easily pass… my charge is that we all check in with your folks. If you see someone being harassed– stop and say something. If you hear someone misgendering someone, step in and be that person to be that mediator. People need to just think about ways in which they are supporting the people who are close to them.

VERALYN: Finish this sentence. If America listened to black women…

BRÉ: Oww. You should just put the laugh emoji right there because we will be laughing. Um, if America listened to black women– we will be the greatest country in the world. No shade.

Michaela Angela Davis, Image Activist and the creator of MADFree

I’m here to celebrate radical fly. Look at how black women show up to a march. Braids, afro-puffs– ya can’t get that under a little pink hat.

VERALYN: What is the charge that you have for people that have come to the M4BW?

Michaela: Stick together. So this is your power. You can do this by yourself. Don’t try. Don’t try to do this by yourself.

VERALYN: Finish this sentence. If America listened to black women…

Michaela: We would be whole, we would be healthy, we would be alive. If America listened to black women then we would be– close to free.

Protests as they marched to the Nation Mall

“Black Women Matter” / “Trust Black Women” / “I love Black Women. You don’t love black women? What’s wrong with you?”

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