I Am Dee Barnes: The Importance Of Sisterhood & Holding Famous Black Men Accountable

Posted on Friday, August, 21st, 2015 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

Two Women Hearing Each Other

I Am Dee Barnes: The Importance Of Sisterhood And Holding Famous Black Men Accountable

By: Ashley J. Hobbs

I was only about 5 years old when N.W.A. ruled the airwaves. I vaguely remember hearing their records on the bus rides to and from school in later years. So, I didn’t know the Dr. Dre that made headlines for assaulting women. I didn’t know the Ice Cube who made excuses for calling women “b-tches.” The Dr. Dre I am familiar with is the Dre who produced hits for R&B heavyweights like Mary J. Blige (“Family Affair”) and rappers like Eve (“Satisfaction”), Eminem (“My Name Is”), and 50 Cent (“In Da Club”). The Ice Cube I know made a rather smooth transition into mainstream Hollywood, becoming one of America’s favorite straight-faced actors.

I was too young in 1991 to understand the meaning of some of the rap I heard frequently and later, as a teenager it wasn’t a concern to look at some of my favorite music artists’ histories and personal lives. I had blinders on – as many young people do – and I only cared about their music and style. As an adult, however, the blinders had no choice but to come off.

With the release of the incredibly successful film, Straight Outta Compton this past weekend, Dr. Dre’s history of physical abuse against Black women resurfaced most notably in the reexamining of his brutal assault of DJ Dee Barnes. Activist writer, dream hampton, was the first to call out Dr. Dre for his vicious, unrepentant behavior and while all her points were spot on, the larger hip hop community  and Black community barely backed her righteous call for accountability.

Sadly, after reading many of the comments under DJ Dee Barnes’s Gawker.com piece, I realize now, at 29 years old, that not much has changed. On Facebook, Black Girls Rock!, Inc. posted the link to Barnes’s piece and the comments flooded in. I stared in disbelief at the trail of comments that berated and denigrated Barnes for retelling her traumatic experience. My shock was largely due to the internal knowing that many, if not all of us as Black women, have been touched by some form of physical abuse – whether directly or indirectly. We have all either experienced or witnessed the trauma of someone who has survived abuse whether we were aware of it or not.

We all are Dee Barnes whether we choose to walk in that conviction or not.

The most popular comments I read were, “She’s just looking for another 15 minutes,” or “How long has it been? She needs to get over it!” or “How long are we supposed to hold people’s past mistakes over their heads?”

This is problematic for a number of reasons.

First, it is important to validate the fact that women survivors – in general – are consistently and systematically silenced and the trauma of physical abuse is real and lasting. When you drill down to how this specifically affects Black women and girls, the numbers are higher and the silencing is deafening. Trauma does not have an expiration date. It does not simply disintegrate as the years roll by. Dee Barnes’s life was marred by this attack while Dr. Dre went on to live a commercially successful life. Aside from the lasting physical trauma, Barnes could not work in Hollywood after the attack. This points directly to the fact that violence against Black women affects not only our physical well-being but our ability to survive economically. The correlation between violence and economic injustice among Black women is direct and it is worth revisiting again and again until we understand and pull out the very specific roots that enable this system of oppression. What she experienced was real and that reality has not changed statistically for Black women in the 24 years since Barnes was attacked. So how, pray tell, is she is supposed to “get over it”? How are any of us supposed to get over it?

Secondly, Black women have consistently been targets of hip hop culture. While it is an uncomfortable and unfortunate reality, it is a reality nonetheless. It just is what it is. We have to face it. Some of our favorite rappers are impenitent physical abusers and have won awards for songs that glorify such behavior. Even with all of the evidence right before our eyes, pumping out through the airwaves, we turn a blind eye, afraid to call out what is killing us.

It is disappointing to see Sisters tell another Sister to just “get over it.” “Getting over it” is a constant theme in our community, to push past pain and wrongdoing instead of confronting it, unpacking it, and doing the work to change the culture that allows, nay, encourages barbaric treatment of women. Dre needs to be held accountable. Cosby needs to be held accountable. R. Kelly needs to be held accountable. It doesn’t take away from their creative genius,  but it does begin a movement of responsibility within our community and it changes the mindsets that encourage the normalized abuse of Black women and girls. Our capacity to empathize with one another, to facilitate healing space for one another, to do the work to not only heal the wounds but to examine and correct the source of the injury in the first place is what makes us who we are as a people. It is time to truly get back to that not just in word, but in spirit and in deed.

Ashley is an advocate, educator, organizer and writer. She currently serves as Communications & Campus Programs Coordinator at Black Women’s Blueprint. Connect with her on Twitter: @ashleylatruly.

When a Black Male Politician Acknowledges State Violence Against Black Women

Posted on Tuesday, August, 11th, 2015 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

Black Girl MTM2015

When a Black Male Politician Acknowledges State Violence Against Black Women

Ahmad Greene-Hayes

On July 27, 2015, Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia’s 4th Congressional District made a statement that departed from our society’s conception of police brutality as a starkly masculinist enterprise. Rep. Johnson observed how the “manhandling of a 15-year-old girl in a bathing suit” in Texas, the “arrest and death of Sandra Bland”, and the arrest of Oklahoma City police officer and serial rapist Daniel Holtzclaw, are indicative of the very real ways that Black women and girls are victimized by the state through gendered, racial, and sexualized assaults.

Rep. Johnson’s observation, that “Black women are the fastest growing prison population,” is a smaller piece of a larger reality. In addition to incarceration, Black women in the United States experience sexual violence at alarming rates, and many of these assaults take place in the custody of police, security personnel, prison guards and state officials (DOJ, 2006). The rape of Black women by police is as old as the lynching of Black men during the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. It is as old as the brutalization of Black women through lynching and torture. Mary Turner’s body hanging from a Georgia tree in 1918 is not dissimilar to Sandra Bland’s body hanging from a Texas jail cell in 2015. In this context, rape, lynching and torture manifest as white supremacy’s sexual obsession with and dehumanization of Black bodies.

Today, Black women are being funneled into cages to be sedated, abused, tormented, and separated from their families. Some of these incidences lead to death, as was the case with the five Black women found dead in jail cells last month. Black women, men, gender non-conforming individuals, poor, working class, immigrant, differently abled and other experiences, are witnessing state sanctioned violence in ways that are not new, but are devastatingly old. How will our elected officials respond to their needs in the midst of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, given that many Black people, and Black women especially, admit to not being able to trust the police, state officials, or other governing bodies?

We at Black Women’s Blueprint  believe that it is this nation’s duty to allow Black Americans to live, breathe, exist and simply be without the threat of racial, gendered and sexualized violence. It is time to act on behalf of Black women and girls, and all Black Americans. We  commend Rep. Johnson  for going on record to call attention to the violence experienced by Black women and girls at the hands of the US criminal justice system. We urge all members of Congress to heed the Representative’s call, “it is time for us to come together and reform our justice system to build trust.” We believe that it’s time for those we have elected to serve the people, all the people. It is time to reform our criminal justice system to protect Black lives.  It matters.

Ahmad Greene-Hayes is the Human Rights and Emerging Sons Campaign Manager.

Where Angels Fear To Tread: Black Women Navigating Unsafe Spaces

Posted on Tuesday, August, 4th, 2015 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

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Where Angels Fear to Tread: Black Women Navigating Unsafe Spaces.

By: Ashley J. Hobbs

The threat of violence and actual violence is an affront to Black women and girls, and the rate of this violence is experienced in sickening numbers. This is not breaking news, based on a Black Women’s Blueprint fact sheet on sexual violence. Similar to a 1990s video game, we navigate life avoiding – oftentimes narrowly – this wall or that ball of fire, just trying to live. This in itself is a radical act. Our location, intentions, and plans matter little as we are disproportionately targeted violently and daily, often with our quick thinking and sheer will to survive as our only saving grace and solace. Sometimes our own tactics fall short to protect us. Sandra Bland’s despicable arrest and subsequent death are proof.

I don’t feel unsafe very often but I did the night I traveled to Cleveland, Ohio for the Movement for Black Lives Conference. There I was, in town to be part of a movement of uplift, to gain insight and helpful tools to inform my work and I had to circumvent a fairly unsettling barrier before I could even set foot on Cleveland State University’s campus.

There is room here to acknowledge the fear and threat of violence against Black women. It does not matter where we are or what we are trying to do, the threat is real and the fear with which we live because of that threat is real. We have to navigate unsafe spaces just to make it to the safe ones.

I felt this fear even if only in its smallest measure as I arrived in Cleveland at midnight two Fridays ago. I was excited, ready to delve into this amazing convening – but first, unknown to me, I had to navigate a decidedly unsafe space.

I entered a particular hotel immediately confronted with an uneasy gut feeling. As hectic searching revealed a few days before, this was the only place close to the conference with an available room. The two front desk attendants – an older white man and an older Black man – immediately struck me as shady.

A man who looked about my age stepped up to the desk next to me asking the attendants for singles. The Black attendant asked how many he needed to which he replied with a smirk, “Two hundred.” They bantered about “making it rain” and strippers as if I were invisible.

I was tired. I was aggravated. I was slightly fearful. I was alone. But I was in Cleveland for a reason.

Key card in hand I stepped into an elevator. Three sweaty, drunk White men stepped in. The slight fear grew inwardly but outwardly I refused to betray my emotions. I kept my head down, half looking at my luggage, half watching them through the dirty elevator mirror, praying silently that they weren’t headed to the same floor. I exited the elevator without incident – an obstacle successfully circumvented. I breathed a sigh of relief, only to stare down the incredibly dark hallway in the direction of my hotel room. It was late and I just needed to make it until morning.

Upon opening my room, a carelessly thrown paint tarp covered the floor, half-empty paint cans were strewn here and there, a ladder erected right in the center of the room. I stood there in disbelief, unable to move for what was only a few seconds but felt like forever. There was a hole in the ceiling. I backed out of the dark, dank room and went back to the front desk, trying to decide what to do. Another obstacle charged with fear and threat. I have not traveled very much in my life and here I was alone in a city I had never visited before. Should I call my boss and ask her to change my reservation to someplace else? It was 1 am in New York. A couple of men of varying ages loitered in the lobby, looking my way. I absolutely had to leave.

My boss answered on the first call and began searching for another hotel. I did not wait for a confirmation, I called an Uber and headed to the nearest chain hotel I could get to.

What if I had never made it to the conference because of that experience whether by choice, or – God forbid – by unfortunate circumstance? Sandra Bland was on her way to a safe space. She was on her way to catalyze real and lasting change at Prairie View and she never made it. Charnice Milton, a 27-year-old journalist, was busy “writing stories that mattered in the community where she grew up,” and was killed by a bullet meant for someone else.

The threat is palpable. The fear of the threat is a norm for Black women. Often we don’t even identify it as fear. It is simply a list of precautions we take or an inner resolve we bolster, to survive come hell or high water – whether it is standing up to a nation overrun with lynch mobs; getting past the band of boys at the house party, exercising legal rights during an unlawful traffic stop; or just trying to get home in a bad neighborhood after a long day of work. We invoke our sheer will for survival more than any human being should ever have to and that is problematic as it is indicative of how intricately racism, misogyny, sexism, and economic injustice are woven together – a cloak of invisibility tailored hatefully and specifically for the denigration and erasure of Black women and girls.

Yet we continue to move through unsafe spaces rife with danger to arrive at our several destinations of refuge – not because we love the thrill but because we have no other choice. It is the marrow in our bones. It is the very beat of our hearts. We lift up ancestors like Ida B. Wells, who fast became a target of white men and women when she galvanized African Americans in Memphis to boycott white businesses and transportation after innocent Black men were lynched. We look to our youth like Jada, a 16-year-old high school student, who fought back against a pervasive culture of silence and her harm doers who drugged and raped her and posted photos to the internet. For decades, Black women and girls have had to cope with the fact that to create change, to pursue justice or even just to live our lives we must possess the agility to maneuver through unsafe spaces.

I offer up the stories of these women – Sandra Bland, Charnice Milton, Ida B. Wells, Jada  - as testimonies of the plight of Black women and girls in this country; as testimonies of triumph over unsafe spaces of varying sorts; as testimonies of lives that were snuffed out by the deeply embedded roots of oppression; as testimonies of lives that offer perspective and a resounding rallying cry from beyond the grave.

There is a stark contrast worthy of exploration between my experience at that first hotel and what I encountered at the Movement For Black Lives.

In being able to move through that unsafe space, I was able to make it to the safe one. Setting foot on Cleveland State’s campus for the Movement For Black Lives Convening was equivalent to coming up for air. To be where  the celebration of Black lives was the norm, the baseline, moved me. Everything about Blackness was represented and encouraged on that campus, putting to flight the very real triggers and aftermath of traumas the African-American community has been striving against for an eternity. I engaged in workshops, assemblies, and one-on-one conversations with a freedom and openness I had not felt in so long.

As I listened to members of SNCC and The Black Panther Party offer accounts of history, as I listened to Rekia Boyd’s older brother affirm his allegiance to the fight for justice through tears; as I watched with pride Fannie Lou Hamer’s niece speak, the negative effects of the hotel debacle seemed to fade and a renewed resolve took their place.

If we could create this space where the safety of all in attendance was not only a top priority but was an enthusiastic agreement made and upheld by all, then surely the plight of Black women and girls in this country could be destroyed, a new normal to rise from its ashes. Clearly, nothing happens overnight and nothing is as simple as naming and claiming it. However, pushing for the acknowledgement of the extensive history of brutality specifically performed on Black women and girls as Black Women’s Blueprint’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission is working to do; facilitating open and honest conversations about the effects; and a strategic and community-powered push for education, restorative justice, and reformed, survivor-informed policies and procedures is a courageous and vital step along this path of revolution.

We are no fools; angels may have the luxury of allowing fear to keep their feet from treading through wastelands of peril, but we do not. We understand the risks in walking where we walk. Yet, we are determined, still, to walk leaving an oasis in our wake.

Ashley is an advocate, educator, organizer and writer. She currently serves as Communications & Campus Programs Coordinator at Black Women’s Blueprint where she is enjoying the best time in her career. Her goal is  to create safe spaces for thought, discussion, empowerment and positive change for and among Black women. Connect with her via Twitter: @ashleylatruly or her website: www.ashleyjh.com

Justice for Eric Garner – Saturday, July 18th at 12 PM – Downtown Brooklyn

Posted on Friday, July, 17th, 2015 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)


Garner Rally July 18-2

Playing Dead: Thoughts On The Implications Of The Charleston Shooting

Posted on Friday, June, 19th, 2015 by admin in Blog | Events - (Comments Off)
photo by Travis Dove for The New York Times

photo by Travis Dove for The New York Times

Wednesday afternoon I was in bed, fighting flu symptoms, watching the 1990 film “A Long Walk Home” about the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott – a call to action that commenced what would become the boldest, bloodiest, and most embattled civil rights movement that America had ever seen. I watched equally angry and melancholy because a film reenacting racist oppression of fifty years ago was still relevant to the hate on parade in our daily news in 2015. I was struggling to process the unfathomable racist verbal abuse a black Girl Scout troop was subjected to and the violent rape of one young woman and murder of another within a week of one another that warranted little to no press coverage. Surely, I thought, if those who are screaming “All lives matter!” over the very necessary cry of “Black lives matter!” truly believed what they were saying, those girls’ deaths would take preeminence over a white woman’s lifelong pursuit of being black. Surely? Hardly.

I went to bed early, tired and frustrated. I awoke Thursday morning to the haunting news that 9 innocent people had been slaughtered at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina while I slept. Among the slain were Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywana Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., and Myra Thompson – mothers, grandmothers, recent college graduates, fathers, and revered pastors and politicians. Twitter kept me abreast of new developments every minute on the minute leaving me little time to process, only time to gasp and sigh in heartbroken yet angered rhythm. Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man entered the church, sat with church members for about an hour, then stood, spouting racist rhetoric and opened fire killing 6 women and 3 men. Of the 3 who survived the shooting was a 5-year-old girl who, heeding her grandmother’s direction, lay down and played dead.

That’s what snapped my heart in two. Opossums play dead to avoid threat of harm. It was necessary for a little girl attending a prayer meeting with her grandmother lay still, pretending to be dead similarly to an animal. That picture calls forth visions of slaves who, from the oldest to the youngest, had to wade through swamps to avoid their owners’ dogs tracking their scent. It draws a vivid picture of civil rights workers choosing to send their families away during the height of The Movement to avoid bombs being thrown into their children’s bedroom windows or crosses being burned on their front lawns.

Even in narrowly avoiding the sting of death, our children are suffering traumas that are so reprehensible yet have become so commonplace. Little girls and boys are being taught in classrooms across the country how to save their lives in case of an active shooter. Black children have to employ these tactics in chain discount stores, in public parks, streets, pools, and now in their houses of worship. We are taught from childhood that we must constantly be on guard simply because of the color of our skin. But when we examine the implications of this now normal lifestyle, we must be careful not to misdirect our gaze when we look for the problem.

Dylann Roof is not the problem though he repeatedly pulled the trigger on Wednesday evening. The root of unchecked bitterness and hatred that has grown deep into the soil of American history, doing its best to choke out any chance of peace and solidarity across race and ethnicity – that is the problem. The passive, nervous laughs at racist jokes are the problem. The fetishizing of Black women’s bodies is the problem. The allowance of complete disregard for the Black experience in America is the problem.

When a 5-year-old Black girl’s life hinges on how still she can lay, how dead she can play in our 2015 “post-racial America” we must shine a light on all our efforts for justice and equality to this point. We must examine our approaches, our best outcomes. What agonies, what shock, what hurts will that little girl nurse throughout the course of her life because she lives in a country that handles young Black girls with an extraordinarily lesser degree of care than a white, racist domestic terrorist? What notions, predispositions, and cautions do we hold now, passed down as words of wisdom to prevent reoccurrences of our ancestors’ traumas? And what can we, as a country, say that we actively did to end such systemic suffering?

A friend of Roof’s said that he had “wanted to start a civil war.” While he failed at that, he succeeded in reinvigorating a revolution. A revolution that carries the spirit of Harriet Tubman who squared her shoulders against just the thought of anything less than absolute freedom; Fanie Lou Hamer who indeed “questioned America” to its bigoted face; the #BlackLivesMatter movement that has pushed back against racist norms and pulled young activists to their feet in the midst of a country that had grown lax in its fight against oppression; and hosts of forerunners and frontrunners for the cause of equality and justice.

We cannot allow “playing dead” to become a norm for our daughters or the fear of being shot dead for playing with toys to become a norm for our sons as the expectation of police brutality or intrinsic fear of being raped or murdered given the perfect storm of circumstances has become our everyday lives. I write these words for encouragement to myself as much as to anyone else whose eyes fall upon this page. This is not the time to have emotions policed more than the harm-doers who have inflicted pain. This is the time to continue to fight the good fight, to use our emotions to fuel our resolve. To remember that what we do today will be read about years from now. To remember that the future our children will face is a direct result of our resilience in holding the line of staunch resistance now.

Ashley J. Hobbs is passionate member of the Black Women’s Blueprint team serving as Communications and Campus Programs Coordinator.

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A Letter To My Younger Self: To The Victim, From The Survivor

Posted on Tuesday, June, 16th, 2015 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

W

Dear 19-year-old Me,

What you know now, is that there is an element of fear that slowly seeps into the lives of Black women from childhood. It lies just below the surface and masquerades as good sense and intelligence but it’s the small space between just breathing deeply and hyperventilating. It’s the slightest difference between jogging at a steady pace and running for your life.

And while our lives can seem completely normal and functional on the surface there is a terror lurking just beneath. We are taught to embrace it as a normalcy no different than eating three meals a day or going to work. It’s just how things are. You have pretty much always subconsciously lived with the fear of what men could do to you. And during your freshman year of college, what was once just hypothetical became a reality.

You’re not thinking of what Jose did to you as anything but what couples do. They sleep with each other. It’s how you “keep a man” and everyone knows that. You know that even though you aren’t ready.  Does that even really matter? He’s your boyfriend. Everyone knows you can’t get naked and then call a time out. Men have needs. They want what they want. To deny them is to bid a cruel sort of beast to come forward out of the darkness and ravage you. A fate you called down upon yourself. You think, “I owe him this, don’t I?”

In a hotel room an hour and a half north of your college, with his linebacker frame crushing all 110 pounds of you, you scream, “No, wait!” and you beat on his back. He whispers, “No, come on babe. You can take it.” You scream back, “No I can’t! You’re hurting me!”

All the terror you were taught about from childhood into adulthood is becoming real and you have nowhere to go. Your bony fists beating into his back finally make him get up. You are too overwhelmed or in shock to cry. All you can do is assess your surroundings when he trips into the bathroom.

Should you gather your things and just leave? You have no license or car. You don’t know your way back to school or home. Did he know that? Is that why he picked this place? You can’t go home. How can you tell your mother what has happened? You just lie there in disbelief that this has happened to you. You have become a statistic. All of the safety tips from childhood onward have gone out of the window. Or is it even that serious? You are boyfriend and girlfriend. This is what is supposed to happen. You’re supposed to have sex with your boyfriend or he’ll find someone else.

Still, you feel an incredible loss and you can’t help but to blame yourself.

You choose not to tell anyone what really happened that night except Donny. And just the tone of his voice. Just the long pause. And then the words, “Ashley… That was rape.” You compartmentalize it, though. You don’t want the shame that comes with being someone’s victim. So, you tell your girlfriends you are fine and you cry in private, praying you aren’t pregnant and swearing you’ll never find yourself in the same position again.

What you don’t know was that it isn’t your fault.

It’s not your fault. It will take a few years but that truth will reveal itself.  Your eyes will become much more open to the culture in which we have lived for so long without question or change. A culture where “encouraging” a woman or girl to engage in a sexual act is the norm and those who have been violently assaulted are thrown to the wolves as the harm-doers go free. And though you suffered in silence for quite a while, what will become clear as you get older and relationships with men become less trusting, is that you don’t have to be silent. You don’t have to allow that situation to shove you into the tiniest corner of your existence to waste away. Not when there were so many other women like you who felt the same way you felt and had experienced what you experienced or much worse.

Fear was a driving force in your life, from childhood. Fear of getting in trouble. Fear of being perceived as any number of horrible tropes associated with Black women and girls. Fear of being hurt. Fear of being raped. Fear of never succeeding. Fear of not being believed. It is a pathology that is instilled in us. One that takes a lot of shaking from which to loose ourselves. A burden to carry instead of a blessing to cover.

But instead of accepting it, you will choose a different path. A path that will allow you to find the power of your voice. A path that will include finding ways through writing, discussion, teaching, to tell the masses that some norms are not acceptable and that silence is not our only option. One moment in time does not define or devalue you and you will learn one of the greatest lessons of all: You have just as much a right as any to live fully and wholly. You survived.

Ashley J. Hobbs is passionate member of the Black Women’s Blueprint team serving as Communications and Campus Programs Coordinator.

 

Brave Black Girls and The Implications Of McKinney, Texas

Posted on Wednesday, June, 10th, 2015 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)
Still courtesy of Brandon Brooks

Still courtesy of Brandon Brooks

Twelve police officers responded to a 911 call of a disturbance at the Craig Ranch community pool in McKinney, Texas last Friday. What started out as a peaceful, end-of-the-school-year celebration quickly escalated into a heinous case of police brutality when Corporal Eric Casebolt pinned a 15-year-old swimsuit-clad black girl to the ground with his knees pressed into her back. When other teens who were at the pool party tried to help her, Casebolt drew his gun on them, causing them to scatter, afraid for their lives. This series of events is undoubtedly heinous, terrifying, and angering. What causes even more alarm are the offending officer’s history and training.

According to CNN reports, Corporal Eric Casebolt has 10 years of experience as a police officer with in-depth training in armed and unarmed self-defense, is an instructor trainee at a self-defense and fitness club, and is a certified advanced peace officer.

Why did a certified advanced peace officer so extensively trained in unarmed self-defense find a tactical SWAT roll necessary in dispersing a crowd of unarmed teens in swimsuits?  How could he justify his violent handling and kneeling on the back of an unarmed bikini-clad girl less than half his size? What within his training called for pulling his service weapon on unarmed children who clearly were only concerned for their friend’s welfare? Why did he only seem to go after the black teenagers but skip over Brandon Brooks, the young, white ally who caught the entire exchange on his smartphone? Why was Corporal Casebolt the only officer who was behaving so violently and erratically?

These are just a few of the questions that came to mind while I watched the chilling 7-minute video of what happened in the Craig Ranch neighborhood of McKinney, Texas last Friday.

What causes even further outrage is Casebolt’s history. In 2008, Officer Casebolt was sued for allegedly performing an illegal body cavity search. He was accused of excessive force, racial profiling and sexual assault. Though the case was dismissed, we must take a deeper look at the implications. As documented in a 2010 annual report by the CATO Institute, sexual misconduct of police officers is the second most prevalent of police crimes. Yet, officers like Casebolt are free to continue in their line of work, with little more than a slap on the wrist. This is hauntingly reminiscent of so many sexual assault cases that slowly but surely vanish from sight, leaving the victims with no recourse and the harm-doers with free reign to harm others.

Casebolt’s history with sexual assault and racial profiling not unlike many police officers with similar or even far more extensive histories is  not only a cause for concern, it is a cause for alarm and steady, intensive action. Law enforcement’s abuse of power is pervasive and threatens the welfare of women and girls of color daily.

Though the other officers who responded to the 911 call at the Craig Ranch neighborhood community pool all seemed distinctively calmer than Corporal Casebolt in the video, Casebolt proceeded with yanking a female child’s arm and pinning her to the ground as she was walking away from him – which he had previously instructed her to do. What does that mean for us as Black women and girls that even when we comply with police officers we are subject to the same level of violence as if we resisted? The other officers did not stop him. The other grown men civilians did not stop him. They weakly coaxed some of the children across the street while a tiny 15-year-old was being thrown to the ground by a grown man. We do not have to be armed. We do not have to be dangerous. We do not have to be physically resisting. We simply have to be in the right place at the right time for police officers to abuse their authority. And no one will come to our aid. That is the message that was sent loud and clear from the video footage of what happened in McKinney, Texas. It can almost be disheartening when it is considered that we have no one to count on to help us, to save us. I shudder to think about what might have happened if the incident had not been caught on camera.

In a similar incident on May 14, an undercover New York City police officer Gonzalez of the 30th precinct overstepped boundaries and attempted to arrest a 14-year-old girl because a 7-year-old who was with her was believed to have pressed a 911 call button on the street. Unlike the events in McKinney, Texas, however, members of the community intervened and prevented the officer from pulling the young girl into his unmarked car after she asked for his badge number and name. Soon after, the officers got into their car and drove away. The entire encounter was caught on camera by a member of the Cop Watch Patrol Unit. It is important that these incidents be recorded, reported, and the harm-doers prosecuted as the lives of black women and girls truly depend upon the justice we receive.

As Black women and girls, we should not need our camera or phone recorders at the ready whenever approached by police officers. We should not feel the same level of fear and distrust of badges as we do of bandits. And yet, we do.

I salute 14-year-old Jahda Bakari, one of the young women who bravely tried to help her friend and was hit in the face by Corporal Casebolt. A 14-year-old girl showed more bravery than the grown men who stood, watching and allowing this police officer to brutalize a young girl. She was undoubtedly afraid but she attempted to do what was right anyway.

There are so many lessons to be learned from McKinney, Texas but if we draw nothing else from it, let us remember that we are powerful beyond what we are often taught to believe. I take my cue from young Jahda Bakari and from Brandon Brooks who caught the assault on video. We must do what we can do to be a part of the call for justice. It looks differently for each of us but it is necessary. We must call upon our inner reserve of strength and courage to stand up, stand out, and stand strong. Whether we are capturing crimes against the bodies of Black women and girls on camera, or physically attempting to come to the aid of our sisters or brothers, whether we’re lobbying against unjust laws, or marching for new and fair laws, we each have a part in this fight. We must not bow our heads in defeat when these atrocities come to light but brave the battlefield with all of the intensity it takes to bring about change.

 Ashley J. Hobbs, Communications and Campus Programs Coordinator for Black Women’s Blueprint

Composite image of sad woman holding her forehead with her hand

Being an advocate or activist is taxing not just on the body but on the mind and spirit as well. Too often those doing this work experience “burnout” which Psychology Today defines as:

 

“a state of chronic stress that leads to:

  • physical and emotional exhaustion

  • cynicism and detachment

  • feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment” (2013).

Too often, as Black women, we work ourselves into a state of burnout because we put the cause above our own well-being, we fear missing an opportunity to help others, or we try to live up the idea of being strong at all times. We rarely give ourselves permission to need rest, relaxation, or comforting. The good news is that we don’t have to wait until we experience burnout. We do not have to be “the mule of the world” as the late, incomparable author, Zora Neale Hurston once wrote. We can begin practicing good habits of self-care now to be and stay well mentally, emotionally, and physically.

I was able to catch up with mental health professional, Asha Tarry to discuss self-care and the trail-blazing work she is doing.

Asha Tarry is the CEO of Behavioral Health Consulting Services, LMSW, PLLC, a blossoming mental health consulting company that provides life coaching, spiritual life coaching, counseling, mental health consultations, and evaluations. Tarry is also the Founder and Executive Director of The Collective Advocates For Social Change and Development, Inc, a 501c3 nonprofit social advocacy program based in Brooklyn, NY whose goal is to create change in at-risk communities through performing and visual arts and social entrepreneurship.

 

A.H. -What are the keys to a healthy and balanced life for those in social justice fields, namely Black women, because it seems that we have it a bit harder than others?

A.T - There’s a feeling of never checking out of the work. So having a support system is important. A support system which includes the people you work with but ensuring that you have support outside of the work you do. That’s foremost. Doing any type of activism is so all-encompassing sometimes you feel like it never ends. So having people around you who don’t do the work has pros and cons but one of its pros is that they won’t be talking about the work and it gives you time to check out of the work you do.

 

A.H. –  For those who have experienced trauma what advice do have for them on how they can take care of themselves before they enter the field of advocacy or activism?

A.T. - If you have not been in your own personal therapy in some respect, you will spill over into the work that you do. Healing is an ongoing life-long process. If you haven’t begun the process, worked toward a resolution of sorts or even acknowledgement that you’ve been traumatized, honoring your pain and working it through and set limits to the work you do, it will spill over into your work. [And] it can blur the lines. You have to be able to understand what trauma does to people, how it affects them. [You have to be] stable enough to talk about trauma and not be completely caught up in others’ trauma at the same time.

Continue to process your healing. It is a process. Continue to make sure that you give back to yourself. Because it’s going to be a lot to take on.

 

A.H.  - What caused you to enter into the work that you do?

A.T. - They always say that people in mental health professions have their own mental health issues  and I would agree. I came from a family with its own mental health issues. There were unresolved issues like personality disorders, depression, and anxiety which a lot of people don’t hear or talk about. We were functioning, we had family in poverty and middle class but it has an impact on you as a child.

So [becoming a mental health professional] wasn’t a conscious decision per se. It was more “This is something I’m good at” and I really felt compelled to help others.

 

A.H. – What are the values that you want your participants to take away from being a part of The Collective Advocates?

A.T - I want them to take away the importance of giving back to community. [When I was in school] that was a big part of graduating, to do community service. We’re looking to expand over the next 6 years – our Initiative 1.0 Performing Arts for Advocacy program is launching this summer, and then our Initiative 2.0 Visual Arts, and Initiative 3.0 Social Entrepreneurial Program programs will follow. Those who are interested will be able to cultivate their skills into developing a social venture – so it all ties together. We’ll cultivate new community leaders not only to use their creativity as an outlet but also to allow them to turn it into an artistic form that create ventures out of social issues. It informs but also creates work and wealth.

I also want participants to become more aware of social issues in the world. To become critical thinkers, not just accept what they see on the news.

Our Social Entrepreneurial program – Initiative 3.0. will allow people living in poverty to create their own sources of income. To take their skills of visual and performing arts and create their own ventures out of a need for economic development and social development. It creates jobs and gives people the power to create their own sources of wealth, income, and legacy building. Your name is still remembered and you left something that will impact and empower the community .That is important to me.

 

A.H. – How can others get involved with The Collective Advocates?

A.T. - Our website is www.thecollectiveadvocates.org. (Relaunched on June 1st).

If you click “Advocate” at the top of the page, this will take you to an “Advocate” form which can be filled out to work with us. We feel anyone who works with us as a volunteer or comes to us as a member is an advocate because they are raising awareness. They don’t necessarily have to be on the streets rallying but if you take time out of your schedule to just retweet or share facebook messages that’s your belief in what we’re doing and therefore we feel connected to you.

We will be holding an orientation this summer for new Advocates. We need people who are 18 and over because as we grow we will need more people on site to help with our fundraisers and our Saturday programs. We take accountability for the people who work with us and we want to hold them to accountable for representing us as well.

You can check out The Collective Advocates at their website: www.thecollectiveadvocates.com and follow them on all of their social media sites listed below:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheCollectiveAdvocates

Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheCollectiveA

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/thecollectiveadvocates

Join Black Women’s Blueprint for a National Day of Action

Posted on Wednesday, May, 20th, 2015 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

Mother Tongue Monologues: Honoring Black Women and Girls

National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls: Full Schedule 

NDABWG - Full Sched

#SayHerName: A Vigil in Remembrance of Black Women and Girls Killed by the Police

#SayHerName

Memorial for Black Women and Girls

Af. Burial Ground

March for Justice: Kyam Livingston

K. Livingston

No Never Means Yes

Posted on Thursday, April, 30th, 2015 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

Board Shaunee Morgan BWB Address Crowd (2)

Every 2 Minutes

In the 4 minutes it takes to read this post, at least 2 women will have been raped in America. Every 2 minutes someone is raped in this country. This statistic is staggering and yet, we can’t help but still feel that this is only the tip of the iceberg in a culture saturated with violence, where sexual assault and entitlement to another person’s body, access to Black bodies, female bodies and transgender bodies has been the birthright of the privileged.

Black Women’s Blueprint takes sexual assault seriously. It’s serious because Black women continue to be victimized at staggering rates. Only one in 15 Black women report it when they are sexually assaulted. So we can’t really trust the statistics that say 4 out of every 10 Black women in the United States has been a victim of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime (CDC, 2010). Over 14% of Black women enrolled in historically Black colleges and universities reported a completed or attempted rape (National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women, 2013).

What if every Black woman and girl who’ve survived sexual violation decided to speak. What would the statistics say? What would their speaking say about the ever shifting nature of rape culture in this country? Would their speaking, would the sheer number of survivors, would that push all of us to take to the streets in protest? Warranted protest?

There is a constant stream of sexual assault stories in the news. Many are incidences that should have and could have been prevented, especially on college campuses. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice released study that found that 1 in 5 women are targets of attempted or completed rape on college campuses, and 1 in 16 men. The stats on transgender brothers and sisters are too meager and not enough attention is paid to the violations of their bodies and souls. In 2013, Congress reinstated the Violence Against Women Act with provisions for improved campus safety for all regardless of gender, sexuality and gender identity. These provisions require colleges and universities to report the number of stalking, domestic violence, and dating violence incidents. Reporting the number of assaults should not be where college and universities accountability ends. What good is reporting if campus culture of sexual violence with impunity remains the same?

Sexual violence is a community issue. Many stand by and choose not to get involved because they feel no personal responsibility. This further ingrains a culture of inaction and silence. For example, a Hobart and William Smith Colleges 18-year-old freshman’s reported rape and friend’s testimony having witnessed her being raped were all dismissed within a 12-day investigation and hearing. The accused football players were cleared before the rape kit was processed and the victim’s identity was released to the college population. (New York Times, 2014). This is not uncommon as a devastating number of victims opt never to report sexual assault to avoid being so publicly humiliated and devalued and their attackers receive no more than a slap on the wrist.

Legislation to report sexual assault and “punish” harm-doers is only one piece of the puzzle. In order to end sexual assault on college campuses, all must work together to dismantle the culture of violation, privilege, inequality, and impunity that allows sexual violence to occur unchecked. We at Black Women’s Blueprint extend a call to action to college students and survivors. We support you, we believe you, and we want to hear from you. Contact us and learn more about how to become a part of our Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

 

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