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My Black Is Beautiful Made Me Feel Seen During Essence Fest

Life & Travel

If I could describe My Black Is Beautiful in a word, it would be confirmation.


While a lot of the initiatives, activations, and the ESSENCE Festival itself reflected and echoed a theme of validation, it felt even louder in the intimacy of a smaller room. On Friday, July 6, My Black Is Beautiful held an incredible intimate dinner where black women from different in the marketing and media world (as well as some men) came together and gathered at the Ace Hotel for a special kind of congregation. My Black Is Beautiful's hashtag of the moment was #BlackGirlsDo and God knows black girls certainly do, do.


Charreah Jackson, Gia Peppers, Lisa Nichols, Sylvia Obell, Necole Kane and Luvvie Ajayi attend the Black Is Beautiful Dinner

Within the confines of the beautifully decorated event space, I could feel confirmation more readily, I could see it more clearly, and so a lot of my quiet whispers to self about how fearless I was, how beautiful I was, how enough I was, was louder than I had ever heard it before.

It all began with powerhouse motivational speaker Lisa Nichols. What we thought was a dinner evolved into so much more as Lisa took the mic and filled the room like only she could. She took us away from the comfort of our soup, salad, and pinot grigio and asked that we become still so that we become present. "We have a tendency to be around each other without seeing each other," she said.

It was a heavy truth that a lot of us found ourselves nodding to despite how connected we tried to be. We were always somewhere else, in our thoughts, in our phones, in tomorrow, and next week. Closer than ever, yet so far away. And in a way, it was also how we've come to meet ourselves. We replace introspection with distraction with the quickness. So, she asked us to stop. And then she asked for us to stand.

She instructed for us each to find a stranger and partner up with this person that we didn't know. I parted from the creatives and writers I had become close to over the past day or so of our press junket and found a true stranger, one of the only guys seated in the room full of women, and unknowingly prepared for one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

We looked each other in the eyes and recited a poem of affirmations that Lisa penned. And although we didn't know the words, it somehow permeated through every hard layer I built up in a world where I'm made to feel small, invisible, and silent.

Here was a perfect stranger telling me everything I didn't know I needed to hear until I did. It was both foreign and familiar. A confirmation that I didn't realize I sought outside of myself. And while he didn't know me, it felt gratifying to feel seen. To feel smart. To feel great. To feel beautiful. To feel like every decision I had made in my life up until that moment was the right decision, no matter how wrong, because ultimately, I was led here. Those four minutes were uncomfortable but so needed. Because while it is amazing to be able to affirm yourself, I've learned that it's okay to be validated for the special blessing that you are and the gifts that you bring to the world simply by existing.

As a woman who is built to endure, and programmed to have it all together, it can be exhausting not to appear to fumble, or to be weak. As black women that write for publications, we are very rare. As black women that write for black publications, it's even fewer. But as I looked around the room, I noted that there were so many of us. Instantly, I thought of how – in one form or another – these women have probably all been through the ringer, fighting for visibility in spaces where they are made to feel that they are too much and not enough at the same time. And bigger than that, I know for black women, much of the fight is losing the battle but winning the war.

As black women, we are the key to so much of what is great about this life, but the power we have and the magic we unleash are very rarely seen, much less appreciated in a way that leaves us feeling vindicated for our worldly contributions. Be it entrepreneurship, political activism, education, humanitarianism, or even motherhood – who we are for others often comes at the expense of who we are for ourselves. We are community of women that house movers and shakers, and not just dreamers, but doers. "We do what we do in our own way and we do it unapologetically," Lisa continued. "I want to courage you, as we continue to do, we do us too."


"I'm honored to be able to hold this space, because I couldn't always stand up and be seen. I didn't always own the brilliance that was in me because my brilliance is unique, it didn't look like everyone else. My brilliance comes with being functionally dyslexic. My brilliance comes with getting a D- in speech. My brilliance comes with being on government assistance at one time. My brilliance comes from my son's father being in prison for 23 years and still there. My brilliance comes with a whole lot of salt and pepper and seasoning salt and cayenne pepper. It comes with a lot, but it doesn't change that it's brilliant."

While it begins and ends with us, it can be supported by people that look like us lifting us up and acting as gentle reminders to how dynamic, how magical, and how beautiful we are. Being surrounded by so many sisters that shared my melanin, my roots, my pain, and my triumph was a healing revelatory moment where I saw myself through learning how to better see them and embrace their brilliance and their light in all its uniqueness.


PS: The soulful sounds of Grammy-nominated singer Gallant, and an appearance by Queen Latifah was the icing on the proverbial cake to an evening honoring the acknowledgement of Queens.


Thank you for seeing me My Black Is Beautiful.

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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