I come from a long line of extraordinary women – a mother who was a first generation college graduate, a grandmother who raised an entire community of little ones and a great-grandmother who wore only the dresses she sewed. I learned something different from each of them, but all were matriarchs by any measure. The courage, strength and wisdom of black women has been whispered about behind closed doors, caricatured in pop culture media and sometimes belted out in a soulful tune. Yet, many still do not understand how much of our existence is tied to our political lives.
Never ones to accept oppression, black women have been at the forefront of major social and political movements all over the world. Our warrior foremothers like Queen Nzinga Mbande and Yaa Asantewaa fearlessly defended their homelands against European colonial armies. The skillful tactics of Harriet Tubman led hundreds of our people to freedom even as Sojourner Truth looked at audiences of white men and women and boldly asked, “Ain’t I a Woman?” In 1963, Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer was jailed and beaten for organizing sit-ins and registering to vote. Winnie Mandela lost everything in the fight against apartheid – her land, her husband, her freedom. The rights and liberties that we have today were not handed to us by benevolent people or institutions. They were born of struggle and secured with the blood, sweat and tears of our mothers and grandmothers and sisters.
We are complex women, molded from myriad experiences. We’ve suffered and sacrificed, but we have triumphed every time. We’ve made life better for everyone around us through our work and care, our smiles and our sweet potato pies. We are not perfect, but we’re willing. So many of us seek good and do good, not because we owe it to anyone, but because it is who we are.
I would not be who I am without the black women in my life, and I know the same is true for so many in our community. We deserve more than equality; we deserve freedom. We deserve self-determination, the right to define ourselves and our destinies in whatever way we choose. We are the backbone of humanity, and our voices matter. Our thoughts and ideas matter. Our creativity and intellect matter. Our kindness matters. Our sacred energy matters.
I love and honor our traditions and our leadership. As the late, great Poet Laureate Lucille Clifton wrote, “Come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.” Let the circle be unbroken.