Women in the Black Lives Matter Movement: Stories From Our Current Moment

 

Women in the Black Lives Matter Movement: Stories From Our Current Moment

From October 2019-October 2020, we will be featuring a special guest blogger once a month to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

For the month of July we are featuring two stories, written by two women currently engaged in Black Lives Matter protests happening in Columbus, Ohio. They have each reflected on their experiences the past few months and their own places in the movement. You can learn more about the blog series here.

Content Warning: This post contains discussions of racial violence, police violence, and some explicit language.

The Angry Black Woman
Kiara Yakita, artist, activist and HR Professional

Angry Black Woman. That is far worse than the N-word to me. When you are the ABW, no one has to listen, you don’t matter, you are dismissed no matter what anyone does to you. My entire life I have minimized, silenced, and suppressed myself. Myself, my voice, my opinions, my passions, my pain. When I heard of George Floyd’s murder, I became indescribably angry. When I learned of Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Abery, Elijah McClain, I became the Angry Black Woman. I broke out of the eggshell of comforting prejudiced white people by minimizing myself. I ripped off the friendly-black-person image that I drain myself by wearing, to make white people not terrified of me for breathing. It feels like an itchy, wool sweater in desert heat.

I am tired of my people getting publicly lynched while internet racists flock to jeer, laugh and justify why the person deserved that fate. We have reached a point in time when the public is A-Okay with murdering a suspect who by law, is innocent until proven guilty. We have hundreds of Black people who are executed before ever getting a trial, and most before ever having their rights read to them. This is because people like me do not have the same rights. We do not have the same freedom. These are the reasons I decided to take a stand.

A stand against racism, which is the longest lasting pandemic within humanity. Covid is scary but try being black everyday in America. Try walking slowly towards the exit of a store when you do not buy anything because you know people will assume you stole. Try walking your dog with your head forward and eyes down so none of your suburban neighbors will think you’re scoping their homes to rob them. Try listening to your co-workers proudly make racist jokes about Black people and reporting it to HR just to be ignored and mistreated. Try forcing a smile and overly friendly personality at work daily, because if you stop smiling, people will call you out for being negative, sad, or intimidating. Try barely breathing because you know that white people are eager to find a reason to pretend to fear you so that they can try to help facilitate your death. These are not things that I saw on TV; these are things that I do everyday while avoiding the Angry Black Woman dismissal and treatment.

Racism is the sickness with humanity and it presents itself through various symptoms: microaggressions, discrimination, violence, murder, hate, denying opportunities, patient neglect in the medical field, abuse followed by gaslighting, continuing the school-to-prison pipeline, destroying dreams, ending futures, and genocide. Need I say more, or do you get the picture? I am fed up with all of it so I took a stand. The first weekend of worldwide protests, I showed up and showed out. I made my signs, I wore my comfortable clothes, followed chants, and let the world know I was in pain. I mourned George Floyd and everyone who died at the hands of the violent slave catchers. Yes, I said slave catchers, as that is and always has been the purpose of police.

The protests were flooded with people and the energy was strong. I fell into somewhat of a leadership role, having given many speeches, led marches, educated allies, and organized a big event for protesters. I did these things because I was guided by my heart, passion and determination. I still do these things because every time I leave my apartment, I pass by my ancestor altar. When I look at that altar, it has pictures and personal effects of my ancestors. From my great-great grandfather who was born into slavery, to my grandmother who used to pick cotton and work as a nanny for very little money and sometimes, just a dilapidated shed to house my mother and uncle. When I attend these events, I carry their pain, anger, strength and diligence. I can feel their energy with me when I attend these events and continue the fight that they battled in during their lifetimes.

Thanks to my ancestors and my rage, I fully embraced being the angry black woman. Protest male “leaders” tried to silence me, rob me of the mic, but they could not mute my voice. I fought against the misogyny and made sure that my voice was heard. I stood up, and still stand for my Black people, who can’t attend protests because they are at high risk. My most profound experience was during a 4th of July rally and march that I created. I was in the back of a pickup truck, waving the Black Liberation flag. I saw 3 middle-aged Black men standing on their porch recording us. I took my flag, pointed at them, and had the crowd of mostly allies tell them that “These men matter!”. I saw their emotion and one teared up. It was at that moment that I knew I could no longer silence my voice. I was given excellent public speaking skills and I am going to utilize them to uplift my Black people and let the world know that we will not submit.

LP_06012020C.jpgA view from a protest in June 2020 in downtown Columbus, Ohio.

Enemy of Injustice; Mom of 3
Kaitlin

I felt it in my bones. Later I would learn that it was a flashbang, a “less-lethal” explosive device used to temporarily disorient an enemy’s senses. It is designed to produce a blinding flash of light and an intensely loud “bang” of greater than 170 decibels. And apparently I was the enemy. I am a 37-year-old mom of three kids 10 and under. When it’s not a pandemic, I teach piano and voice lessons for a living. How did I become the enemy of the Columbus Police Department? 

It knocked me to my knees. My body involuntarily went down. People were running all around me. I was disoriented. It was Thursday, May 28, 2020. What started as a peaceful march had turned into a full-blown cop riot. As I got my neurodivergent brain back online, I saw two little sets of eyes staring at me in absolute terror. Two kids, probably 2 and 3 years old were right in front of me. 

I stood up to look for their parent. I spotted a woman in the crowd struggling to keep up. It was their mom. I was still getting myself reoriented when I felt a sting on my side. “What the f**k was that?!” I yelled out loud. “WOODEN BULLETS!” I heard somebody in the crowd yell. The running around me intensified. 

I looked back towards their mom and she was still struggling with the running crowd. “I’ve got them!” I yelled to her. I saw her nod. I scooped up those two children. In that moment, they were as precious to me as my own. I ran. First I carried them behind a column, one of the big marble types. The crowd was still running and the police were moving in. I knew we weren’t safe enough. 

I picked them up again and ran around a corner and found a little recessed area. We were surrounded by walls on three sides. I tried to calm the kids. I turned my back to the crowd and faced them, mostly to block their bodies with my own. “Hi, I’m Kaitlin! I teach piano lessons. Everything’s gonna be okay. I’m gonna take care of you until your mom gets here.” I smiled. They were scared. Two months later I’m still haunted by how tightly they held onto me. 

It took their mom several minutes to catch up. It felt like an eternity. When she finally caught up, she explained that she and her kids tried to leave the protest area but were blocked by police from doing so. Having experienced the same, I knew they told her to exit east. Going east required going through the protest, including clouds of pepper spray. It wasn’t a safe egress, especially for a woman with young children. 

“I’ll get you out,” I said definitively, as though I knew what I was doing. We started moving. A young woman saw us and joined up. Together, we got that mom and her kids out of there. It was a very traumatic experience. I didn’t even get anyone’s name. I took a breath. I turned around. I went back in. 

Throughout these protests, I have been defined in many ways by my role as a woman and a mother. I knew what to do that Thursday night because I knew what I would want someone to do for my children if we were in that position. 

When George Floyd cried out for his mother, it activated women everywhere. Before it happened, I was already one of the people in Columbus making noise about police brutality against Black folx. When Breonna Taylor was murdered in her home, it made people want to stand up and do something. We’ve had so much police violence in our own community. Tyre King, Henry Green, Kareem Jones, and so many more have lost their lives at the hands of the Columbus Police Department, with zero consequences for murderous officers. This is why we continue to protest. 

The trauma from that Thursday night was still resting heavy when a large protest was planned for Saturday, May 30. The day before, I spent much of that  Friday trying to reason with organizers and telling them that I had learned a lot from Thursday. It wasn’t random that I had been there- I was involved in the planning of the May 28 protest at Internal Affairs in Columbus, Ohio. We didn’t plan enough, though. We didn’t expect people to march downtown. We were not ready for a full-on police assault. We couldn’t have been ready for that. 

The organizers assured me that their May 30 protest would be peaceful. I remember telling them that it didn’t matter. The police are not peaceful. The police will hurt your protesters. My warnings were not heeded. Nobody seemed to want to listen to what I was saying. I had to do something. 

Being a single mom, though, I had my kids that weekend. I couldn’t leave my house. How on Earth could I help with the impending doom when I couldn’t even leave my house? I am not the kind of person who can sit and go on with my day when I know there are people who are going to need my help. 

I don’t even know how it started; I was just driven. I asked a few friends if they’d be willing to go downtown and pick people up when things got bad. Two of them said they would. Soon, people I didn’t even know started reaching out. Next thing I knew, I had started an extraction operation. It went from being two of my friends to being a network of over 70 friends, friends of friends, and strangers at one point. Numbers have waned since the protests have slowed, but what we built was beautiful. 

The first week was full of trauma. The drivers witnessed terrible things. Some were towed or ticketed. They successfully extracted dozens of people. They kept going, even when things were really hard. We learned some difficult lessons and improved our methods over time. We have continued communicating information and needs on social media and through underground networks to keep protesters safe. 

A majority of people on the teams are non-men, and many of us are disabled in some way or another. So many people have reached out because they feel like they want to do something, but they don’t know how to help. I’m good at helping people find ways to contribute. 

The extraction team is just one thing I do for the protests. Women have a way of being so many things, and protesting is no exception to that rule. In addition to the extraction team, I have helped with remote info, supply drops, event planning, and networking between protest groups. I also get out on foot every chance I get. All the while, I’ve continued loving and taking care of my children, loving my partner, and keeping up my household. 

When I think about women in activism, I certainly don’t think of someone like myself. I think of Angela Davis or Afeni Shakur. I was so uncomfortable with this writing assignment centering on my white woman experiences that I asked to reach out to others who could add their voices to the mix, because mine should not be centered. As hard as I’ve been working, there are Black women and non-men who work every bit as hard as I do, with much more increased risk. That’s why I’m doing any of this at all- to make sure Black voices are heard, respected, celebrated, and loved. Black Lives Matter.

If you also have a story to tell from the recent civil rights protests occuring across Ohio, you can learn more about how we can help you preserve that story by clicking here.

Posted July 31, 2020

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