Black History Month: the living legacy of Black women’s leadership

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Black History Month: the living legacy of Black women’s leadership

Categories: News, Op-Ed, YWCAllies On A Mission

By: Klarke Griffith (she/hers), 2nd year- 2024, Major: Politics, Philosophy, and Economics with a specialization in Law, Policy, and Governance
Lalitha Pamidigantam, Policy Advisor, YWCA Columbus

Throughout history, Black women have steadily led the way to liberation. From the abolition of slavery to Black Lives Matter, Black women have played pivotal roles in our history as a nation. At YWCA Columbus, we embark on a mission to eliminate racism and empower women– the legacy of Black women pioneers. Black women are crucial in the continuous fight for liberation; however, they are often overlooked and deeply underappreciated. Because Black women face a multitude of intersections, sometimes including even more than just race and gender, their oppression under white supremacy looks unique. And while no group is a monolith, Black women have historically been excellent, paving paths in leadership roles, becoming the most highly educated group in the US, organizing and winning federal elections, and more. Despite the evidence of Black women’s excellence throughout history, they are relegated to lower positions, dimmed, and attacked. Black women have often been the unsung heroes of social movements– without the labor and leadership of Black women most social movements would cease to exist or be effective. We all must affirm Black women, by valuing and protecting their bodies, voices, identities, life, spirit, and rights.

Black women’s history must be accounted for in order to tell a comprehensive history of the world. The most visible, told, and replicated Black history stories are derived from trauma, but Black women are not limited to the lens of victimization. The horror and atrocities of the Middle Passage to the system of slavery in the Americas did not stop Black women’s initial and everlasting fight for resistance. Since the time of enslavement, Black women were pioneers, initiating ways of sustaining their culture and livelihoods by the intricate work of braiding rice into their hair, to using their “double jeopardy” status as a strength to overthrow and revolt against slave ships. Black women dedicated themselves to the fight; they did not allow their culture, identity, and existence to go voiceless without a fight. As Black people championed the abolition of slavery by 1865, Black women’s multitude of intersections fueled them to find their liberation in the gender equality and feminist movement. As Feminism rose to popularity in response to industrialization and multiple wars, Black women remained excluded from the “old white women club.” They criticized the white women’s movement, which did not critically engage the multidimensional oppression of Black women. As Feminism went through its multiple waves, Black women were still left out; even the more “radical” second wave of feminism was exclusionary to all Black women. Pioneers and trans activists like Marsha P Johnson were both the inspiration and folly the feminist movement was said to support, often neglecting such identities in favor of the hegemonic white Feminist perspective. For example, when we consider women’s suffrage as a Feminist achievement in the 1920s, Black women were materially excluded from the vote until the Civil Rights Act of 1965. The betrayal of the Feminist movement(s) led Black women to create their own space, and coin the term “Womanism” that reflected the love, acceptance, and equality of ALL people. Womanism serves as the basis of current-day intersectional Feminism. The phenomenon of rendering Black women second-tier citizens steals their voices and impact, and the continuous work they do to make a better world.

Our history is one created by Black women. Through struggle, hope, love, and joy, Black women have constantly committed to the liberation of their own people, and for everyone else. As the great Black woman, Maya Angelou wrote “you may write me down in history with your bitter twisted lies…I’ll rise.” Black women are multidimensional pioneers whose history tells the story of their passion for liberation and for the radical love they have for this world and its sentient beings. Black women are a constant reminder that leadership is not always a visible view of progress, but one of courage and perseverance in an everyday battle, and a lifelong war! At YWCA Columbus, we have had the distinct pleasure of being led by a Black woman for the last five years. Now, in her last year of leadership, Christie Angel is still as dedicated as ever to her people. Throughout her years here, Christie has accomplished great victories. She fought for affordable housing and equitable funding of our homeless system, advocated for appropriate mental health intervention in the homeless system, and gracefully guided those under her care through unprecedented times. Christie takes her innovation and passion with her wherever she goes and carries in the center of her heart the history, survival, and excellence of Black women. At YWCA Columbus, we know Christie is a living legacy and a testament to the brilliance of Black women leaders. Our own experience confirms that when Black women lead, we all win!