Black Women Leaders Celebrated at Discussion

Photo by Steve Fallon

There are thousands of women who play key leadership roles in social issue movements. However, because of their gender, they are often ignored by mainstream media in favor of men who have secured a larger role in historical accounts.

That was the point of a discussion forum, "Black Women Leaders," held Tuesday by Sister Connections about the underrepresentation of women in society. 

As African Ancestry Month moves past its halfway point, the forum provided a valuable counterpoint to many of the largely male-oriented depictions of black history, events that include great adversity and great triumph. But the role of women in that history has often been relegated to the shadows, said representatives of Sister Connections. 

At the forum, to engage the audience in the discussion, people were asked to pull pieces of paper from a bag.

On the small sheets of paper were stated women’s names, accomplishments and their call to action. These names were of women who were civil rights leaders, activists, feminists and political figures. But recognizable names were few and far between, even though their accomplishments were not only noteworthy, but important contributions to society.

For example, women such as activist Angela Davis were discussed. Due to Davis’ comradery with the U.S. communist party, as well as her involvement with the Black Panther Party, she has gotten little-to-no credit for her part in the Civil Rights Movement, like many women of her time.

As the drawing of names continued, audience members, seated in a circle, seemed to be shocked and disappointed at how little they knew.

The facilitator, Tanadjza Robinson-McCray, coordinator for equity and diversity programs, encouraged attendees to seize the day and use this event, as well as other platforms, to self-educate.

Digging deeper into the vault of seemingly unknown women, names such as Mary McLeod Bethune, Fannie Lou Hamer, Diane Nash and Marian Wright Edelman were a few of the women that stumped the crowd. This exercise took the judgment away from not recognizing historical figures–they were not expected to be known.

Bethune was known as the "first lady of the struggle." She devoted her career to improving black lives through education. Hamer was an influential civil rights leader who worked to register African Americans to vote. Nash served jail time in 1961 in solidarity with the "Rock Hill Nine," nine students who were arrested and imprisoned after a sit-in at a lunch counter. Edelman established the Children's Defense Fund in 1973 to give a voice to poor and minority children.

 “I feel as though we rely way too much on professors to teach us,” said Chantelle Johnson, who attended the event. “We get so caught up in course work that we forget to teach ourselves things.”

There will be a follow up to this discussion at “Past and Present: Black Leadership in America” on Thursday at 5 p.m. in the Alumni Lounges.