Zora Neale Hurston once lamented that Black women were the mules of the earth. In an attempt to shift that narrative, the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls recentlylaunched at The Library of Congress Members Room. Hosted by U.S. Representatives Bonnie Watson-Coleman (D-N.J.), Robin L. Kelly (D-Ill.), and Yvette D. Clark (D-N.Y.), a standing-room only crowd moved to usher in legislation, community supports, and aggressive policy-making to address the disparities Black women face.
Tulane University Professor Melissa Harris-Perry led the charge, invoking the late poet Laurette Maya Angelou as an example of living beyond the trauma young Black females can face to more readily embrace their goals. “The brutality and unresolved trauma resulting from [Angelou’s] early sexual violence stole her voice and shaped her young adulthood. Eventually she became an unwed teen mother. More than three generations after Maya’s childhood, poverty, familial disruption, sexual violence, interrupted education, and teen pregnancy remain key barriers facing Black girls in America’s cities, towns, and rural communities,” Harris-Perry said.
According to the Black Women’s Blueprint, approximately 60 percent of Black girls will experience sexual assault before they are 18. A leading cause of death for Black women 15 to 34 is homicide by an intimate partner. Further, data from The Sentencing Project, found that the rate of incarceration is almost twice as high for Black women versus White women, 113 per 100,000 compared 51 per 100,000.
Because roughly 60 percent of these women are mothers who were caring for minor children before their sentencing, incarcerating Black women has a devastating effect on Black children and communities. “Girlhood has never been a shield against the brutality of White supremacy,” Harris-Perry said. “We cannot forget the vulnerabilities of Black girls. Yes, we must keep our brothers, but what about our daughters? We must also say their names: Rekia Boyd, Renisha McBride, Mya Hall, Natasha McKenna, Sandra Bland – a 28-year-old Black woman who died in a Texas jail cell last summer.”
“I’m here representing the mothers who are not heard,” Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal told the audience. “I am here representing the mothers who have lost children as we go on about our daily lives. When the cameras and lights are gone, our babies are dead. So I’m going to ask you here today to wake up. Wake up.”
She is convinced her daughter did not commit suicide and said the media has neglected to cover the other six Black women who died while in the custody at the same police station the month Bland was believed to be murdered.
“Kindra Chapman allegedly stole a cell phone — 20 hours later she hung herself; Alexis McGovern downstairs in the infirmary dead, her family upstairs paying the bond . . . Nobody has spoken these names,” Reed-Veal said. “I’m not angry enough to create a riot where I burn things down, but I will create a riot, I will set [it] off so that people will understand that this is real. Movements move. Activists activate. We have got to stop talking and move. It is time to wake up, get up, step up, or shut up.”