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#SayOurNames: Black Women’s Leadership & Our Quest For Equity

Because we know that when Black women step into their power, what needs to be done, will be done.

Politics

Last Wednesday evening (August 19), Senator Kamala Harris took the virtual stage of the 2020 Democratic Convention and addressed the nation as the first Black and South Asian woman to accept a major party's vice-presidential nomination.

From a pandemic to divisive leadership and economic uncertainty, Senator Harris' historic achievement comes at a time when our country is in dire need of leadership, and more specifically - Black women's leadership.

Because we know that when Black women step into their power, what needs to be done, will be done.

A Legacy of Leadership

Last week also marked 100 years since the passage of the 19th Amendment, and while Black women were integral to its passing, their fight for a seat at the political table was just beginning.

Harris' achievement is the latest in a legacy of Black women's suffragists whose leadership galvanized communities and shattered glass ceilings. She notes this in her speech at the 2020 Democratic Convention saying:

"They paved the way for the trailblazing leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And these women inspired us to pick up the torch, and fight on. Women like Mary Church Terrell and Mary McCleod Bethune. Fannie Lou Hamer and Diane Nash. Constance Baker Motley and Shirley Chisholm. We're not often taught their stories. But as Americans, we all stand on their shoulders."

Image: Mason Trinca / Getty Images

In recent years, we've seen a new generation of Black women effecting change in politics, education, business, and beyond. Black women represent the fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs, with the number of Black women-led startups doubling since 2016. They also represent the most educated demographic and have become a political force with a record number of Black women set to run for Congress.

Despite these advancements, Black women disproportionately face challenges at the intersection of race gender. These challenges are not new and actualize themselves in injustices such as workplace biases, disparities in health care, income inequalities, and the erasure of Black women in today's fight against police brutality.

"Anti-Black racism is once again at the center of national consciousness, an unavoidable reality amplified by twin pandemics—the COVID-19 pandemic and the uprisings in response to unyielding forms of state violence," said Shermena M. Nelson, Chief of Staff and Director of Programs and Community Engagement at the African American Policy Forum (AAPF). "Both COVID-19 and police violence have made blatantly apparent the racial inequalities that persist in American society."

Image: September 2020 of 'O Magazine' honoring Breonna Taylor

For Nelson, AAPF's mission to dismantle structural racism and other barriers that disempower marginalized communities is increasingly important during this time of consciousness.

"We want to maximize this moment of attention, guiding attention to work that is transformative and sustainable. This cannot just be a moment."

Nelson joined a line-up of modern leaders like Linda Sarsour, co-founder of the Women's March, and Reverend Marcia Dyson at the virtual Black Womxn's Summit hosted by the Office of the Dean of the Chapel at Howard University, Senator Harris' alma mater. Hosted on Black Women's Equal Pay Day, the intra-racial summit celebrated Black womanhood while exploring other topics like education, health, sexism, and police brutality, among others, that uniquely impact Black women.

"With the killing of Breonna Taylor, we see once again the need for narratives that account for the racist police violence against Black women and girls. These stories are too often left untold, these names too often left unsaid."

Protecting Black Women in Today’s Social Climate

When it comes to Black women, public outrage often trails to that of their male counterparts. It's been approximately five months since Breonna Taylor's death and her murderers have still not been arrested.

We've seen this time again in cases of police violence toward Black women and girls like Oluwatoyin "Toyin" Salau, Atatiana Jefferson, Charleena Lyles, and Sandra Bland - a case that many of us first associated with #SayHerName, a 2014 campaign launched by AAPF to bring awareness to the names of these victims whose names we often do not hear.

But it shouldn't take for Black women's wrongful deaths to prompt action. How can we begin to effectively dismantle the structures that promote our erasure, so that we, and consequently all Americans, can walk in our full power?

"To properly diagnose and attempt to remedy the disparate violence we must use a framework of analysis that can identify the particulars of these two crises, namely, the ways in which race, gender, and class interact and compound," said Nelson. "We have to look at this as a structural issue. These killings are not just one case. One situation. One moment. They are the products of centuries of discrimination and systems that were uniquely crafted to oppress."

Our country is in a polarized, vulnerable state, one that presents many challenges, but the bright opportunity for widespread and institutional change - but only if we act. To do so, we must support organizations that are doing what is needed to knock down racial barriers and create pathways to equity.

"I believe there is a role for everyone. Education is a key way to support. Educate yourself, your colleagues, your friends. Make conscious, intentional efforts to elevate the movement. Lend your support to organizations who are doing the work (donate, volunteer, attend, promote), and remove your support from organizations and individuals who are opposed to the work."

The power to change leadership and advocate for existence lies in our right to vote. With arguably the most important election on the horizon, now is the time to show up for Black women the way they've always shown up for us all.

"This is not a time to passively observe or wait for others to step up. The time is now. We cannot wait."

To learn more and support the work of the African American Policy Forum, please visit aapf.org.

Featured image by Getty Images

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