Activists, artists and educators from several Black social justice movements held a panel discussion at Mills College to discuss a range of topics concerning state-sanctioned violence affecting Black women.
The Feb. 11 discussion is part of a growing movement to recognize the impact of police violence on Black women and to highlight their contributions to social justice movements. The panelists discussed a range of issues including state violence against Black women, the importance of including transgender women, reclaiming power, gentrification and alternatives to policing within Black communities.
The panel is part of a series of more than a dozen events taking place at Mills throughout February and early March to celebrate Black History Month.
Panelists included curator and co-founder of the Impact Hub, Ashara Ekundayo; activist and healer from the Say Her Name and Black Lives Matter movements, Asantewaa Boykin; and activist Tanea Lunsford of the group Last 3% of Black San Francisco, a group that fights against displacement of Black communities in San Francisco.
The discussion began by showing video clips that introduced their activism. The videos showed footage from the recent “96 Hours of Direct Action,” a series of protests that took place over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in order to honor the ideas of King and to call attention to injustices facing Black communities.
The actions over the MLK weekend involved a shut down of the Bay Bridge and waking up San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr at 4 a.m. to protest displacement of Black communities in the city, as well as Suhr’s alleged mishandling of Mario Woods’s death — a black man who was killed by San Francisco officers in December.
Boykin participated in a protest last May in which a group of Black women stood topless in the middle of a downtown San Francisco intersection with messages of affirmation written across their chests, and erected altars to pay tribute to Black women lost to police violence. The Say Her Name movement started in May 2015 in response to a report released by the African American Policy Forum that detailed the accounts of Black women affected by police violence.
“This report reflects the countless voices of Black women and girls who say ‘we are here,’ that this narrative about Black men being the only one’s experiencing violence is incorrect,” moderator and Mills senior Nakita Mitchell said. “We’re here, so it’s important to show how race and sex can operate together to inform views of Black women.”
Ekundayo, who has worked with young people in Oakland schools said that in some cases, violence against young black girls becomes normalized in the education system.
“We have to look at the daily assault that happens every day at school and look at these issues with an intersectional lens because we cannot unpack it until we look at the larger system,” Ekundayo said.
Boykin said she believes an important component is for Black women to know their worth.
“There is this internal struggle where we don’t feel like we’re being heard, even if I speak up, even if I scream, nobody wants to hear what I have to say, so there has to be this internal shift that we’re worth our own words,” Boykin said.
The panelist also talked about the Learn Her Name movement, a subsequent movement to Say Her Name, which arose in order to call attention to transgender Black women and the violence perpetuated against that community.
“Something that I learned at a rally is that the average life expectancy for Black trans women is 35-years-old, and so that says a lot about the level of violence and not just from police and vigilantes, and the belief that trans black bodies don’t deserve to be here,” Lunsford said. “If we do not center the work of trans people and of trans leaders then our work is not really revolutionary at all. Everybody gets free when trans Black women get free.”
The panelists then opened up the floor for questions from the audience. The small, but attentive audience consisted of Mills students, as well as some members of the larger community.
“It was powerful to hear the panelists share their lived experiences and inspiring to hear their strategies for changing the systems that disproportionally commit violence on Black people,” senior Evelyn Carmack said in an email. “I was disappointed that so few Mills students showed up for the event because movements like Say Her Name, Learn Her Name, and Black Lives Matter are relevant to the well-being of everyone.”