OPRAH WINFREY: I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed, and bills to pay, and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know.
EZE JACKSON: The #MeToo movement against sexual assault and violence has put the media spotlight on women, but some feel that the movement, like other feminist movements before it, has failed to amplify the voices of black women, specifically. A recent report done by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that while black women were the most educated group in the US, they still only made up about 8% of private sector jobs and 2% of leadership roles. Still, black women make serious impacts on our society. In Alabama, the heated special election Senate race between Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore was ultimately decided by black women: 98% of black women voted for Jones, while only 34% of white women did. In Baltimore, one particular group of women has been gathering and planning to take action on many fronts that they say require their voices be heard.
BRITTANY OLIVER: The feedback that I’ve been getting from black women is that they have never had an opportunity before to really express themselves about issues affecting them in Baltimore. Normally, it’s because of a societal culture of not being used to black women taking ownership of their voices, their bodies and their freedoms.
EZE JACKSON: Not Without Black Women is a community organization in Baltimore founded by activist Brittany Oliver. The women meet up regularly at black owned restaurants, cafés and other businesses. We caught up with them on a Sunday afternoon at Dovecote Café, a black-owned café in Reservoir Hill, a predominantly black neighborhood in west Baltimore.
SPEAKER: Not Without Black Women is a movement of everyday black women that seeks to uplift the voices of black women through self-expression, dialogue and sisterhood.
EZE JACKSON: The group is intergenerational and diverse in career backgrounds. Students, lawyers, business owners, artists and health professionals network to find ways they can work together in improving their lives and the lives of those in their community.
APRIL MICHELLE TRASK: Younger and younger, we’re dropping dead from not taking care of our health. Not Without Black Women is definitely representing that. It’s a health aspect.
BRITTANY MARTIN: I’m big on trying to build or break that stereotype of black women not being able to get together and be in positivity. I’m big on bringing sisterhood together as far as coming together and then promoting each other because there are so many of us that are doing a lot of things.
SHAMOYIA GARDINER: Just being a part of this organization has given me a lot of friendships, a lot of bonds, and the opportunity to do for others what I know I would want done for myself.
SHERILL DINGLE: I feel like a lot of times, black women’s voices are pushed to the side, so we have opinions and stuff like that, but then they always want to use our stuff. I think a lot of black women, we don’t get the credit that’s due.
EZE JACKSON: Not Without Black Women has recently been getting involved in politics. Initially, that was not at the top of their agenda.
OLIVER: In any space that we show up in, our being inherently becomes political, even when we don’t want it to be. And so, I would like Not Without Black Women to be a platform for black women, specifically in Baltimore, of various identities, careers, backgrounds, to feel that their voices matter.
SPEAKER: For far too long, black women have been left out of the conversation of many issues. Our ideas are often left out or we’re not given the credit where credit is due. Not anymore. Not in 2018.
EZE JACKSON: Consequently, they’ve begun to attract the attention of some experienced elected officials, like state delegate Mary Washington, who represents Maryland’s 43rd district.
MARY WASHINGTON: It’s just a great opportunity to just not have to really explain yourself, but to listen to all of our diverse concerns that we share this fact of being black women in not only this city but in this country. So, there’s an experience there that we don’t often share with each other. They always talk about political base and it’s often in the context of who are your voters, who are your donors. But I think you also have to have a spiritual, emotional and ideological base. I think groups like this, and there are other groups like this that can ground me. And I can hear what people are doing on a day to day basis. They can hear what’s the impact of what I’m doing in Annapolis, hear what’s the impact of what’s happening nationally. How is it working on the ground? So, then that means that the work I do, the advocacy I do in Annapolis for 90 days, I’m bolstered by the fact that I’m representing home.
EZE JACKSON: Though the group was formed by younger women, they lean on their elders for guidance, wisdom and inclusion. The group uplifts the images of black women who have gone before them, incorporating their quotes, legacies and missions into events, social media posts and discussions, women such as Nina Simone, Zora Neale Hurston, Shirley Chisholm, and even living women like Congresswoman Maxine Waters.
OLIVER: Not Without Black Women is a platform for women in Baltimore to feel that they have a place where their voices can be uplifted. The feedback that I’ve been getting since we started is that they never had an opportunity like this before to take up space in the narratives around how to change Baltimore. So, Not Without Black Women is here to stay, and I would like for it to serve as a resource, as a platform, as a tool for women to feel, black women to feel more comfortable about talking about issues that affect them every day.
EZE JACKSON: For The Real News Network with Will Arenas, I’m Eze Jackson.