I am one of the core organizers for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Washington D.C chapter. Though I had always been around Black Lives Matter because my brother was entrenched in the movement, one particular event propelled me to the frontlines - Mayor Muriel Bowser’s press conference on tackling crime, which took place in the summer of 2015. The measures she put forward were so draconian. I mean to believe that she could create safety for black folks by locking up black folks, by increasing interactions with the police. And the ease, with which people bought into this- the continued dehumanization of black people-was absolutely unsettling. That was the first event I disrupted. We gave her a minute to see what she would say and when she started spewing these counterproductive measures, we had to let her know we would not stand for them - this was against everything we had been talking about in the movement.
I'm currently involved in three different cases on my own surveillance as well as other BLM organizers in the country. Shocking, right? For a long time I thought that the police harassment and surveillance that I encountered was all in my head and that I was just paranoid. I did not say anything to anyone for a while, which actually I feel caused some PTSD. It was only until people with me would notice how the cops would call me by my full name or sit outside my house with their lights on in the middle of the night that I understood that this was real. This was happening, I was not making this up. And that has been really difficult. It definitely changes the way that I show up in the world. It doesn't necessarily stop me from showing up but I am very conscious about how I am, especially outside of the house, but even inside the house. I am always living like somebody is watching. It's one of many things I can't control and I don't want it to control me so I cope by telling myself that yes somebody is probably watching and listening but I try not to get overwhelmed or scared that I can't do what I need to do. Although knowing always, yes, that the price of this may sometimes be death or incarceration (involuntarily) and that I am asking my family to go through this as well.
This work entails a lot of emotional labour. It can feel so lonely doing this especially when we receive so many critiques, particularly from other black folks. Still, once you know where it comes from, it's much easier to deal with. These are all reactions to white supremacy - it makes us question each other. I am a human being and I need to be able to say that it is tiring and it hurts. I'm just trying to live in the midst of trying not to die out here. But when I see cute little black kids playing, my heart completely melts and it reminds me why I am doing this. I believe in collective power. For example we have had exchanges in America with mothers from Colombia and Brazil whose children were killed by the police. We build a consistent strategy, consistent healing and consistent black joy through our events. One advice I do have for other black women activists out there is to value what you do and to remember to take care of yourself. We are always thinking that we are not doing enough but you have to be realistic about what you can do. You do have a family to take care of. If the one thing you can do now is only stuff envelopes than that is good enough. My three words: Receptive, Resilient, and Realistic.
I joined the Black Liberation Movement in 2014, when Michael Brown was killed. I was still a student and living in Rochester. I didn’t have an organization I was connected to at the time but still mobilized students and people from the community to take a stand against police brutality. In 2015, I moved to D.C and started going to the healing circles organized by Black Lives Matter D.C. I started helping out with the organization of activities such as Emotional and Emancipation Circles where people can process racial stress, trauma and carefully identify internalized oppression; and “BlackJoy Sunday” where we can just disconnect from the world, do an activity that brings us joy and be unapologetically black. With BLM D.C, I felt like I was part of a tribe. People supported me regardless of what organization I was in. It was not just political organizing and protesting, it was also about healing and joy, it provided a space where I could be my whole person. That helped me make the decision to join the D.C chapter and become a core organizer.
There's this idea that to be an organizer, you have to be perfect. History portrays organizing as hiding behind one charismatic leader who is often a straight man. But the movement is not like that anymore. I try to help others change their outlook on this idea but it is hard to push against. In addition to this, I also have my own personal shortcomings. I am also willingly putting myself in situations that we are trying to protect people from. I do get afraid and anxious. I get afraid when I think of what will happen if we end up facing federal charges. I also get afraid of the surveillance that the administration inflicts on activists. I also have to stay plugged in to the violence that happens in community and that's just hard to endure. So I have to be aware of my own feelings regularly and do my own healing so I don't transfer that pain to the members of my tribe; and I guess to the rest of the world.
There are lies that you are told about being a woman and being black: “we are here to serve other people”, “there's no time for rest”, “just give up your whole self”. Those are untruths that I want other women to unlearn or resist when they join a movement. You are still valuable and your time is valuable. Don't lose your humanity in fighting for other people's humanity. Additionally, in a time when big businesses are constantly co-opting movements and co-opting everything we create, it's really important to stay true to yourself and to remember that the work that you're doing is getting people to a freer life. My five words (sorry I can’t give just three)-Black, Fat, Loving, Powerful and Queer
I am a D.C. native. My parents and family always did activist work. From probably like eight years old, I was one of the kids going around putting up the flyers when my mum was otherwise occupied with her activism. So I guess it was just in my blood from being around their individual activism. When Tamir Rice was killed it was a turning point for me. He was the same age as my son and so I needed to get involved with the movement - the Black Lives Matter movement. Today I am a co-coordinator for direct action for the BLM D.C chapter.
When we do a call for a protest, I am responsible for everybody that is out there. And that's when my professionalism comes in and I have to be perfect so that no one is harmed. I have to protect them. We can’t control everything but I make sure we prepare for everything. For instance, when we do go out, we have medics, we have legal observers with us and we have bail for jail. All of that has to be in place for anybody who is with us. We may not know you but because you came to our protests, we have your back. We also let people know ahead of time what to expect. If we know we are going to a code red, we let them know there's a possibility that you will get locked up. How do I handle fear during protests? Well as I have said before, I am responsible for everyone out there. So if something is getting really intense instead of backing away I get more aggressive and it's because I have a duty to protect the people. I demand the space. I cannot stand down. I have to take control of this because this is getting intense.
I call myself the new age Harriet Tubman. I'm not free until all my people are free. I may have a nice job, a nice home that I own, but I'm not free until all my people are free because the same way that I'm going home to my house, there are black people right here in the streets where our mayor won't give them a shelter, but instead can build a sports center. We have gentrification causing the taxes on homes to go up – making housing unaffordable for many people of colour who are already struggling to make ends meet. Senior citizens are having their houses taken away because they cannot afford the taxes. These things irritate me and ignites my fire to fight. My love for liberating my people makes me fight. My three words: Strong, Black, and Woman.