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Anjelika Washington Is A Superhero On & Off-Screen For Black Women Everywhere

"I'm just in the fight to hold the entertainment industry accountable and ensure that we make a world that looks like the real world."

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You don't always have to wear a cape to be a superhero - and Anjelika Washington is proof of just that. Though she plays Elizabeth "Beth" Chapel on CW's Stargirl, Anjelika uses her platform to advocate for Black girls and our younger generation and ensure justice on all fronts. With powerful Black women such as Angela Rye, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Eboni K. Williams, Ilhan Omar, Stacey Abrams and Kamala Harris on the front lines of politics, Anjelika Washington is a powerful role model for those inside and outside of the entertainment and television industries.

On a hectic Thursday evening, I had the chance to catch up with the real-life superhero herself over the phone about saving the world on and off-screen through her human rights activism, how she became interested in acting after failing an arts elective and the Black female vote in the forthcoming election. Anjelika and her energy were just the spark my day needed.

Drea Nicole

After exchanging mental health check-ins with one another, she revealed to me that she was in her hometown taking a week off from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles before returning to Atlanta to film the second season of Stargirl. Though the CW hit series only premiered this year, Stargirl has quickly become one of the DC Universe's most sought-after television programming series. "To be completely honest, when I auditioned for Stargirl, I did not know that I was auditioning to be a superhero. I just thought I was going to be a friend of a superhero," Anjelika admitted.

Because the casting agency had given the auditions specific code names, the character breakdown did not mention anything about a superhero, a superpower or any super suiting up. Though she had an inkling as to where the show was going because of DC Universe legend Geoff John's involvement, who was the co-writer of Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) and Aquaman (2018), she had no idea what she was in for - a life-changing on-screen journey. The day before her screentest, she found out that she was auditioning for Dr. Mid-Nite, Beth Chapel's alter ego, and she was no less than shocked.

"I felt equally obligated to be honest with Beth Chapel's story as my version, as I did the responsibility of playing a Black superhero on TV because I knew I didn't have that growing up," Anjelika said.

As a working Black actress in Hollywood, many will manifest and visualize their dream role, but the feeling of watching your visualization come to life is a feeling like "wow," as she described it. In the midst of the worldwide Black Lives Matter movement, the arrival of Dr. Mid-Nite on DC's Stargirl and watching a Black woman suit up to save the world is no less than perfect timing.

"I don't take it lightly [and] I think I'm very aware that representation matters. It's heavy on me right now, especially with the tragic news that crushed my spirit of no justice for Breonna Taylor. I get to be a superhero on a show that fights for justice," Anjelika noted.

As she continued to express her gratitude for being one of the newest additions to the fictional Justice Society of America as a superhero in her own right, the actress suddenly became speechless and began to trip over her own words. "I'm trying to find the words, but I guess I just feel a very big responsibility to be as honest in my real life and honest in my work - more now than ever," she told me.

"I don't take it lightly [and] I think I'm very aware that representation matters. It's heavy on me right now, especially with the tragic news that crushed my spirit of no justice for Breonna Taylor. I get to be a superhero on a show that fights for justice. I'm trying to find the words, but I guess I just feel a very big responsibility to be as honest in my real life and honest in my work - more now than ever."

With Black women such as Halle Berry and Alexandra Shipp as Storm in the X-Men franchises, Emmy Raver-Lampman as The Rumor in Netflix's Umbrella Academy, and Nafessa Williams as Thunder in CW's other hit show Black Lightning, Anjelika believes while there has been some improvement in representation in the superhero universe, there's still work to be done.

"Batwoman is a great start. When I look at Batwoman and I look at that cast, that's what all shows should look like because that's what the world looks like. My world looks like the cast of Batwoman," she said referring to the Javicia Leslie-starring CW series having a diverse cast of white, Black, Asian and Latino actors. "I don't think it's just about Black people having representation. We say representation matters because Asian girls need to see Asian girls on TV; Latina girls need to see Latina girls on TV; Indigenous girls need to see Indigenous girls on TV. Everybody needs to be represented and at this point, I'm just in the fight to hold the entertainment industry accountable and ensure that we make a world that looks like the real world."

Unfortunately, the real world is up in arms as we speak as we prepare to (hopefully) elect a new president into office and Black lives are still at risk every day we're alive. Luckily, Anjelika has no issue using her platform for the greater good of human rights activism and wants to use her celebrity as a means to uplift voices in marginalized communities. "If I'm going to be blessed by God to have any type of platform, I need to be using it for good because it does nothing in the world to sit idly by, watch all of these awful things happen, and say nothing. If I want change to happen in the world, I'm gonna have to be the change," she said.

"If I'm going to be blessed by God to have any type of platform, I need to be using it for good because it does nothing in the world to sit idly by, watch all of these awful things happen, and say nothing. If I want change to happen in the world, I'm gonna have to be the change."

Anjelika holds herself just as responsible as her peers and elected officials to create call-to-action items including encouragement for voter registration or even as seemingly small as signing a petition. "If I believe that holding our officials and people that we elect into office accountable, I need to hold myself accountable and hold my community accountable."

With the election coming up in less than 30 days and the raised stakes of the Black community, Anjelika knows what time it is for the Black community, especially Black women.

Drea Nicole

"The Black female vote is always important and we're usually always right. I love that about us," she said and added that her brother even encourages people to vote for whoever Black women are voting for. "He's right because we usually are. You look at the numbers and Black women didn't vote in Trump! We didn't do that! We knew ahead of time that this was going to be a very bad idea."

Moreover, she recognizes that Black youth vote just as, if not, the most important element of the upcoming election. Anjelika works tirelessly to engage the Black Generation-Z and millennial vote and urge the crucial note of their involvement. "When you look at what Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are committed to doing for Black people, once you actually break it down and go to JoeBiden.com to read his plans for Black people in America, I don't think that any Black person is going to disagree," the actress said endorsing the Democratic presidential candidate's Lift Every Voice plan.

Though she understands the community's anguish about Kamala Harris' past as a prosecutor, Anjelika finds it hard to argue that what Trump has done to this country is not worse than anything on Biden or Harris' resume. "I am willing to risk it all and take my bet on Joe Biden and Kamala Harris any day [rather] than stick with what we have. Think about the last four months of just this year during the summer of 2020 and imagine that being the next four years - are you OK with that?"

With the obvious answer being "no" due to the economic, public health, social justice and climate crises impacting our day-to-day lives, Anjelika encourages everyone, especially the Black community, to get out and vote for Biden and Harris. "Black people assume that their vote doesn't matter because we look at Breonna Taylor as an example and we see no justice. We see that we don't matter, but the truth is the people who made those decisions, we vote in."

When we all vote, we facilitate the change we wish to see. Anjelika's unapologetic stance is a reminder of the superpower we have in us all.

For more of Anjelika, follow her on Instagram.

Featured image by Drea Nicole

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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