I will be the first one to tell you that I am quite infrequently in these streets at nine in the morning on a Saturday. However, this Saturday, I slung my Canon Rebel t6 around my neck, strapped a sign to my wrist that read “I'm Rooting for Everybody Black" (that took me hours to draw up, being utterly uncrafty) and headed to Washington DC's Capitol Hill neighborhood for the March for Black Women.
At least 1,000 of us rallied around a grassy plot to demand black women be centered in the conversations and policymaking around sexualized violence, incarceration, state-violence like killings by police, and school pushout.
I was marching because almost every major justice movement in the US was built on the backs of black women.
I was marching because in spite of our persistent political participation, our degrees, our businesses, and our humanity, black women are are consistently given the short end of the stick. And that end is too often lethal.
Rather than ask the protesters, with their kinky hair, African pendants, and labored over signage why they were marching, I asked them who. Who did they want to call the names of black women who met deja-vu inducing violent deaths? Who did they bring to listen to stories about the weight of the sexism that intertwines with the racism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia we face? Who was by their side, singing of their commitment to defend black women and femmes?
Myron, 33 and Zahra, 33
“I'm a survivor of sexual violence and sexual abuse, and I usually would come to a march like this on my own, because I developed this idea that I had to protect myself. I used to rely on men to do so. But today, I brought my husband because there's a focus on being an independent woman after surviving, and it took my husband to realize it's an interdependent movement. I don't have to negate the protection of black men. We can protect each other at the same time."
- Zahra, a teacher in Philadelphia, Pa. (right)
Leo, 7, Jill, 38, and Sage, 9
“I'm particularly here with my daughter, Sage, because she goes to an all-girls school that's 99.9% African-American, and I feel like it's empowering her sense of identity as a young black woman. I want to support that as a much as I can.
As a white woman, since my children were very young, I've had to educate myself, read, soul search, learn, unlearn, in order to make sure that I am as unbiased as I can be in raising them."
- Jill (center), an artist from Baltimore, Md.
David, 29, Carllee, 26, Anna, 24, and Eric, 30
“I heard about the march from a Black Lives Matter open house in Southeast D.C. I pushed the march on social media. One of my coworkers came, she's a white ally, and this morning, she went for training to talk about her specific place in this march celebrating black women's lives. I have a lot of conversations with my friends about what we're to do about who's our President. How do we respond?"
- Anna (center left), an executive assistant at a public policy organization in Washington D.C.
“Anna went to Barnard University [a women's college], where she studied race, human sexuality and gender. She's opened my mind to a lot -- I mean, she could be considered an expert. She's talked to me about things going on in the D.C. community and beyond. Anna does that, all women do that, they are artistic reflections of the creator."
- David (left), a graduate student at the Howard University School of Divinity
“We have about thirty students here with us. The trip was organized by the Student Government Association [SGA] and the Office of the Dean of Students. I'm the president of SGA.
As a black man, I know I especially need to raise my voice for black women, undocumented, trans, all of them.
At Lincoln, we're fostering these conversations and doing the work."
- Gionelly (third from right), a 21 year-old student in Chester County, Pa.
Gracyn, 25, Cidney, 27, and Avril, 29
“It was my idea to come here today. I thought it was important to bring my friends because they are black women, and being in a space like this is self-care for us, our trans sisters, our disabled sisters, for anyone femme identifying."
- Cidney (center), a hospitality professional from Charlotte, N.C.
“We're actually working together to start a lifestyle brand and podcast that's all about enriching the lives of black women in terms of self-care, self-love and self-respect, and accepting all genders and black identities along the way.
- Avril (right), marketer and web designer from Durham, N.C.
Angela, 32, and Keyona, 32
“We're best friends. We've been best friends since the 9th grade. We're marching today because Angela is all about women's empowerment. I was kind of reluctant because I'm not good with big crowds, but this seemed like a positive event to come to, and I'm with her--women's empowerment is awesome and we need it."
- Keyona, a therapist
“It takes one person coming to these events who brings a friend, who tells another friend, who brings another friend. That's how you get everybody involved."
- Angela, a State Department employee from Stafford, Va.
Abby, 42, Guillaume, 31, and D, 62
“My life brings me here today. We're trying to save my life. And I'm here with my family. We [myself, Abby and Guillaume] all work together. The way we work together and the work that we do isn't corporate, it's not benign, it's really around health care."
- D, an inclusive health care consultant from Washington, D.C.
“When D describes us as her family, I thought about how much time we spend together. And our advocacy is so tied into our lives. Supporting black women is what we do for a living. Black women have supported me as a gay black man my whole life, so of course, I'm going to be here with Abby and D, who care so much about these issues too."
- Guillaume, a public policy associate in Washington. D.C. by way of Cameroon
Teetza, 21, Jayla, 21, Karen, 21, and America, 21
“We've all been friends since our first year of college -- we're seniors now. And Jayla and I are married."
- Karen (center right), a student at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C.
“We all work on different platforms for racial and gender justice, whether it be through campus organizations or on social media. We get educated, we read more and learn more, and bring the knowledge back to each other."
- Teetza (left), a student at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C.
Charmin, 31, Stephanie, 37, and Portia, 22
“The three of us just met today. We rode up to the march with Sister Song [a reproductive justice organization for women of color.] Portia and I decided to be 'buddies' and it's been nice getting to know her. It's funny talking to her because she's a lot younger than me, and making me think back. I wasn't participating in things like this when I was [her] age, so it's really exciting to see some younger people take part."
- Stephanie (center), assistant professor of public health at Elon University in Elon, N.C.
“One of the things that's been stressed to us on this trip is accountability, to work together to get all we can get out of the march. It was imperative for me to get to know someone and to know more about what it means to be a black woman, because that's not a one-sided thing."
- Portia (right), community organizer from Durham, N.C.
Mankaprr Conteh is a freelance journalist, writing about culture with an eye to race and gender.