Black Solidarity Week ends with recognizing Black women’s achievements

As Black Solidarity Week came to a close, the Ebony Women for Social Change hosted Black Women Throughout History to celebrate and expand people’s knowledge about influential Black women of the past few centuries and honor Black women killed due to police brutality.

Ty’Yanna Johnson, Maxi Best and Zyeira McMillian– the club’s president, secretary and treasurer respectively– led the event, jumping right into the presentation.

They started by discussing Black women from the 1800s and 1900s that have impacted politics, medicine, journalism and the arts. From Elizabeth Jennings, who advocated for the desegregation of New York streetcars in 1855, to Daisy Bates, who brought national attention to the Little Rock Nine in 1957 through the newspaper she started with her husband, to Barbara Jordan, the first Southern African American woman elected to the House of Representatives, all of these women have shaped the world that we live in today.

Johnson especially highlighted Henrietta Lacks, whose contributions have ended up affecting every single person on the planet. A doctor discovered in 1951 that a sample of Lacks’ cells from a malignant tumor on her cervix continued replicating, even though most cells die within hours after a biopsy. Her cells have been used in scientific research for years to discover breakthroughs in radiation, poisoning and COVID-19 vaccines.

The unfortunate part of Lacks’ story is that for a long time, she and her family had no idea that her cells were used in this way.

“To this day… her family is still fighting for financial compensation for her cells being used,” Johnson said.

They then moved on to highlighting modern Black women. Misty Copeland gained attention for being the first Black principal ballerina at the American School of Ballet, one of the most prestigious ballet schools in the country. Ava Duvernay has won an Emmy and been nominated for Academy Awards and Golden Globes for her acclaimed film and TV direction for projects such as “Selma,” “13th” and “When They See Us.”

The presentation ended by displaying names of Black women who have been killed by police. The attendees were encouraged to honor the women with a moment of silence.

Johnson and Best also took a moment to highlight why it’s so important to recognize and talk about impactful Black women.

“Society puts so many stereotypes and expectations on us, but we really have to keep writing about those things and keep shaping our identities outside of all these stereotypes,” Johnson said. “It is also recognizing our power, that we can overcome everything, that we’re beautiful and that we’re all going to be successful…recognizing that the women who came before us have provided this path for us so that nothing can stop us.”

“We can definitely put ourselves out there more and force people to have these conversations the same way that people force us to have conversations about their communities and their awareness,” Best said.

Attendees were then able to ask questions. One person asked the room to weigh in on their perception of Ramapo College when they first arrived, which led to an open discussion about the experience of Black people, specifically Black women, at Ramapo.

“I feel like Ramapo sold me a dream in a way, and they did not meet up to the dream,” Johnson said. “I feel like the only reason why I’ve been okay with my college experience and I accepted it is because of [the Black Student Union (BSU)].”

Multiple students, including McMillian, expressed a similar sentiment that BSU is the anchor for the Black community on campus and is the reason why so many Black students, including themselves, feel connected and immersed with others at Ramapo.

Best said that Ramapo still has a lot of structural issues that need improvement regarding race and diversity. She said she feels Ramapo is simply part of a bigger system that doesn’t listen to people of color when they try to speak out about experiences, whether it be when reporting incidents of racism they experience on campus or when hosting events, such as this one, that few white people attend.

“We’re only talking to ourselves,” she said, “but we’re not the ones who need to be talked to.”

Another attendee said she believes that Black students holding positions within campus offices and organizations help set a strong example for incoming Black students to see someone who looks like them being present in spaces on campus and that it opens up future opportunities for them.

“If you make an impact on one person, you did a job because that next person is gonna make an impact on that next person,” the attendee said. “Never think that you’re not doing enough.”

Photo by Rebecca Gathercole.