What It Means To Hold Space For Yourself And Your Community

It's having the ability to balance showing up for your own goals, and for your progressive monarchy, anyway.

Human Interest

I'm one of those people who's almost over-passionate about the progression of the black community. I am always looking for innovative ways to contribute to, and reach us, wholeheartedly.

It's gotten to the point where I tend to share my room and platform with those who are on the frontline, grinding out on the pavement in ways that so many of us are unsure how to bring to life. This is one of the ways that I do my part; how I hold space for myself and for my community.

But what does that mean? What does it mean to take up room in each space?

If I were to define it, it would mean fulfilling your passion(s), while effectively bettering your community. It's also simultaneously understanding that your mental health must be prioritized when it's time to be, and knowing that sometimes, you just can't bring everyone with you. In today's plight, this type of passion often stands on the shoulders of local community activists, who are notoriously consumed with helping everyone around them.

Immediately, I think of superheros such as Pinky Cole, owner of Slutty Vegan, who has encapsulated her "take-action brand".

She does so through not only providing healthier meals for her entire city on a large scale, but also through her philanthropic underway that surrounds everything that she places her hands on. Cole has paid the rent of various Atlanta businesses who were suffering due to the pandemic. After receiving an onslaught of 1-star reviews and being labeled "anti-police" due to her pro-justice stance to the endless recordings of police brutality, she instead, with the help of the likes of Ludacris, Gabrielle Union, La La Anthony, and Chris Paul, decided to feed the entire city for free for the day. She has committed to picking up the tab of the late Rayshard Brooks' kids' college education to an HBCU. And in just one stroke, she has managed to feed her community, provide education to four children, and promoted historically black colleges.

I think of the king Tamika D. Mallory, who has captivated an entire generation, through her powerful words and unwavered stance on black issues.

She stands firmly, and unapologetically, at the front of whatever line necessary, "demanding justice for every other Breonna Taylor in our society." She speaks with conviction, she is absolutely not new to this, and she impresses paralleled giants like Angela Davis, Louis Farrakhan, and Beyonce. But make no mistake about it, sis cares most about justice. She has spearheaded Until Freedom as co-founder, and she has slowly become the voice of a generation. Her bottom line is clear: her fist will never come down.

I think of Dani Constable, who has managed to build out an entire plan to demand, and create, her 40 acres and a mule.

Dani is leading the revolution of purchasing land and teaching black women and queer women how to farm for themselves in order to eliminate the inevitable food deserts that affect black communities. And sis' business plan is detailed, down to the purchasing of her own livestock. She has single-handedly taken on the task of altering her community's ecosystem, quite literally one dollar at a time.

I think of the warrior, Aleta Clark (Englewood Barbie), in Chicago, who, like many of the people already mentioned, literally cares more about her community than her own well-being.

Englewood Barbie is well-known in Chicago. She stands face-first on the battlegrounds of the city, feeding the "Friends" (or the affectionately named locals who may be down on their luck for the moment) at her nightly outdoor shelter community, Club 51 (51st and Wentworth). She created a Safe House in her community, where she passes out free food and PPE to an impoverished, and ignored, area. She has demanded the attention, and respect, of the city's mayor and police chief, and sis has time-after-time raised money, brought awareness, paid for funerals, and supplied for those who are without. Even during those times where her neighborhood may have caused her pain, she shows up every time.

And I think of Lindsay Peoples Wagner, who has taken her massive platform at Teen Vogue, and has pivoted an entire brand to include the voices of so many that are voiceless.

Lindsay is "bringing people who look like you, with you", personified. She is the youngest editor-in-chief with her company, listed in Forbes' list of "30 under 30", and participated in the recent viral movement of #ShareTheMic with Diane von Furstenberg. She doesn't shy away from adding deeper hues to her room, and being unapologetic about it. At any time, you can find her fighting for black and brown fashion inclusion as founder of the Black in Fashion Council, and sitting in her high-profile corporate office, asking why Breonna Taylor's murderers haven't been arrested.

Community activism means being innovative.

It's standing tall.

It's making the move without applause.

It's sleepless nights; sacrifice.

It's reaching across the aisle, and profoundly supporting those around you.

It's being OK with losing those who don't agree with your message.

And most importantly, it's knowing when to back away, and take care of self.

As a writer for a black female empowerment hub, I've experienced my fair share of online ridicule and harassment from trolls on the world wide web. Or, I've taken on subjects that have intense stories that stick with me and linger in my mind for weeks. I've learned the importance of disconnecting and not allowing too much of one thing, to consume me.

Understand that, for women such as these, it's magnified.

They tend to take on the world and their own problems. So much so, that their genuine concern for mankind can ultimately mean that they lose themselves in the process.

Aleta Clark, who operates solely on the kindness of others—or even sometimes, her own dollars—at times, has to beg the community for support. Many of us only know Tamika Mallory because of Beyonce. Pinky, thanks to her loyal celebrity clientele, has catapulted her brand, even though she has had a failing restaurant in the past. And Dani's GoFundMe has reached only 30% of her Phase ONE goal, or 1% of her entire project's goal. And there are hundreds of other women just like them, at the forefront, doing the same work and making the best of their efforts with what they have. It's not having the notoriety, and working toward fixing what's broken on your front door step, everyday, anyway.

And it's, with or without support, having the ability to balance that self-imposed desire to selflessly continue to show up for your own goals, and for your progressive monarchy, anyway.

Understand what you're asking when you continuously pull from ladies such as the Tamikas, or Lindsays, Aletas, Danis or Pinkys of the world who carry the load. It's imperative that we stress the importance of protecting and prolonging our mental health—for ourselves, and for those who lead the movement as well.

Educate yourselves on their movements, don't ask them how you can support them. I can assure you, they have told you how you can support them. Our communities are all of our responsibilities to maintain. So, find a movement, support that movement, get involved, and stay involved.

Because sometimes, whether on a large platform or a small, leaders and difference-makers need someone to help carry the load for them, too.

Featured illustration by Mary Long/Shutterstock

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.


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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