By Lenore T. Adkins, Special to the AFRO
The inaugural AFRO High Tea in D.C. on June 24 celebrated and supported women while giving women a platform to rip the covers off domestic violence in their families that goes back several generations.
In doing so, they brought the #MeToo campaign back to its original audience — as a campaign focused on centering African-American women’s stories about pain and violence.
At the same time, the 125-year-old newspaper honored three local leaders with its “Women in Excellence Reaching Higher” award for their contributions in the community.
The honorees were: Virginia Ali, co-founder, owner and operator of Ben’s Chili Bowl, which turns 60 this year; Dr. Kimberly L. Jeffries Leonard, national vice president of The Links and The Links Foundation and Andrea Roane, a news anchor and Emmy award-winning journalist at WUSA Channel 9 since 1981.
“It’s a pleasure to be here and I’m deeply honored to be recognized by our Washington AFRO,” Ali told the crowd, pointing out that the newspaper, along with the Industrial Bank and Lee’s Flower Shop, are three Black-owned businesses that have stood the test of time in D.C. “The AFRO has been amazing in recording our news and our history for all these years. And I salute you and thank you.”
The sold-out event, held at the Thurgood Marshall Center, attracted 200 guests dressed in their Sunday best and fancy hats to sip tea, eat delicate sandwiches and empower each other.
Its theme was: We Too Support #MeToo. The term has its origins with African-American activist Tamara Burke, who coined “Me Too” in 2006, long before hashtags were a thing, to recognize women, especially women of color, who have survived sexual violence.
Actress Alyssa Milano took the term and made it into a viral hashtag on Twitter last year, following media reports that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein spent decades using his position of power to sexually assault and harass young actresses.
Milano’s action and the ensuing firestorm from the Weinstein exposés encouraged other women to reveal their own stories of abuse on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms about the abuse they suffered.
#MeToo has evolved into an international movement against sexual harassment and assault, but its African-American origins and focus often get lost in the conversation. In April, the Baltimore office of the AFRO held its own We Too Support #MeToo high tea.
“How many of us know that there’s more about ‘Me Too’ than just the sexual harassment that we all stand against?” AFRO Chief Executive Officer and Publisher Frances M. Draper said. “Because I want to say — you know this already and I can say it in this room– Black girls rock.”
Motivational speaker Regina Robinson took it a step further.
“I believe it is a movement that wants for us as women to connect, to collaborate and most importantly, to strengthen each other so we can stand on one another’s shoulders,” she said, noting that Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama, Harriet Tubman and Oprah Winfrey are role models for Black women. “Will you share your story? Because it’s not for you.”
Reading from her book “Driven To Succeed,” author and educator Hattie Washington cried when she recounted the abuse her grandfather inflicted on his wife and children — a story her great aunt did not reveal until she turned 90.
He not only used to beat his children with branches, cords and anything he could get his hands on, but he also punched, kicked and slapped Washington’s grandmother, sometimes chasing her around the house with a loaded gun, Washington said.
She noted that her great aunt, who recently died at the age of 94, still had nightmares about the abuse and never told a soul about what she endured until Washington interviewed her for the book.
“That made me start thinking: how many people have been abused, even in this room, and they haven’t talked about it?” she said. “They have these issues and I am sure they have nightmares and dreams as if it were yesterday and then it passes onto another generation because you know the saying hurt people, hurt people.”
L.Y. Marlow, founder and chief executive officer of Saving Promise, a nonprofit that has partnered with the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health to study domestic violence, named the organization after her grandchild.
The domestic abuse in Marlow’s family goes back more than 60 years and affected her grandmother, her mother and her daughter. She’s adamant on making sure the abuse doesn’t continue with her granddaughter, who was six months old when her mother’s boyfriend tried to kill her mother and threatened to end the little girl’s life.
“I thought, ‘No. Not again. Not Promise,’” Marlow said.
The AFRO donated a portion of the proceeds to Final Salute, a D.C. nonprofit that supports homeless women veterans and offers domestic violence counseling.