[Have a powerful Trans Day of Resilience! Savage Minds is pleased to present the fourth essay in the series “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement.” Erin M. Stephens, the author, is a doctoral student in sociology at George Mason University and a graduate research assistant at the Institute for Immigration Research (IIR). At the IIR, she provides statistical analysis on immigrant economic participation and experiences as it relates to gender. Her dissertation uses qualitative research and social media analysis to explore emotional labor and intersectionality in the Black Lives Matter movement. She also works with The Beautiful Project to engage Black women and girls in critical discourse around the representation of Blackness in the media and broader society.]
I ride the elevator down to the MLK library basement with four other young Black adults, who (based on their conversation) I assume are going to the same event. Following them down the hall, I enter a long room with about 25 chairs set up in a large oval. More chairs line the perimeter of the room. There are only twenty or so of us here so far but the room fills quickly with bodies and light chatter over the next fifteen minutes.
All around the country people are gathering today in rallies, marches, or discussion-based events for the National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls. My dissertation research on the Black Lives Matter Movement draws me to this space – but so does my own identity as a Black woman and my personal concern for the invisibility of violence against Black women and girls. This particular event is organized by Black Youth Project (BYP) 100, a national black queer feminist/womanist organization that formed in the wake of the not-guilty verdict of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. The organization is limited in membership to Black activists between the ages of 18 to 35, and the majority of the people in the room fit that profile. The facilitators are women, as are most of the people in the room.
A young light skinned woman with short natural hair calls the room to attention. She is wearing a black t-shirt with white bold script “Unapologetically Black.” She explains that the purpose of this space is to lift up the experiences of black trans and cis women, femmes, and girls. After the warm welcome and introduction, she poses a question to the group to start us off: “What are examples of state violence against cis and trans Black women and girls?” The immediate answers extend beyond police violence: the prison industrial complex, the foster care to prison pipeline, disparities in access to education, sexual violence…The speakers use language and tones that convey deep concern and conviction. After about 10 minutes of discussion we transition into the next part of the agenda. Another facilitator, a slender brown skinned female, speaks on the importance of Black women ancestors who have been freedom fighters in the forefront of social movements. She leads us in an energetic song to bring their spirits into our space. It is a song I will hear many times in the months to come. Continue reading