Black Women and Girls Center Their Voices at #SayHerName March

by Sharon H. Chang

“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”

—Malcolm X

Speakers call out and loud voices respond, rising behind a sea of black, orange, and white face coverings. “Protect Black women!” “Enough is enough!” “All Black lives matter!” Some of the dark face coverings have white writing that reads Black Lives Matter and Say Their Names. Hands clutch homemade protest signs made of cardboard and paper. It was pouring earlier and the grass is wet with morning rain. But no one seems to care as their shoes and socks slowly soak. Everyone is far too busy listening to unapologetic Black women and youth speak electric truth to power. 

Othello Park was filled Saturday afternoon with protestors who came for the #SayHerName: Protect Black Women March. The rally and march for Black women’s/Black trans women’s lives was organized by 20 local Black women and youth organizers in conjunction with the Washington Poor People’s Campaign. “We have been craving a space where Black women can be lifted up,” said Rev. Bianca Davis-Lovelace who led the organizing along with community youth organizer Sabreen Nuru Tuku.

Davis-Lovelace is the Executive Director of REACH Renton and an ordained United Church of Christ minister. She serves as the Washington State Tri-Chair for the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Black women and girls are enraged by the police killings of George Floyd and Black men like him, said Davis-Lovelace. But they are also frustrated their issues don’t get the same attention Black men’s issues do. “We’re here to say enough is enough and that all Black women’s lives matter,” said Davis-Lovelace. “It’s not just Black men. We matter just as much.”

Attendees hold protest signs at #SayHerName: Protect Black Women March. (Photos: Sharon H. Chang)

Sandra Bland, Charleena Lyles, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor. The list is tragically long and still growing. Black women and girls are disproportionately victimized and killed by racist police violence too, yet often their names and stories go unheard. Which is why, in 2014, the African American Policy Forum and Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies launched the #SayHerName campaign to add a gender-inclusive lens to the Black Lives Matter movement and bring awareness to the ways Black women and girls face police aggression.

For Black women and girls, incorporating a gender-inclusive lens also means acknowledging the many other forms misogynoir (misogyny towards Black women) can take. Black women, girls, and non-binary people are highly vulnerable to abuse and violence. Trans women are 4.3 times more likely to become homicide victims and the majority of victims are Black. African American and Indigenous women experience intimate partner violence at higher rates than any group. An alarming number of Black and Indigenous women and girls go missing as well. An estimated 64,000 Black women and girls are currently missing in the U.S and the majority of child sex trafficking victims are girls and African American.

“There’s so many issues that Black women are dealing with that need to be lifted up,” said Davis-Lovelace, “whether it’s police brutality or the fact that we’re dying during childbirth at alarming rates or when Black women go missing.”

To that end, Seattle’s #SayHerName: Protect Black Women March has six demands which include not only defunding police, reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans, and ending the mass incarceration of Black people, but also justice for Black women and girls. Specifically, the organizers want justice for Black women and girls who have gone missing and/or are victims of sex trafficking. They are also demanding local cases be reopened for Charleena Lyles, the pregnant mother of four shot by Seattle Police in 2017, and Yvonne McDonald, the 56-year-old activist who mysteriously died in 2018 after being found unconscious in Olympia where officials did little to investigate.

Ayan Adem, sister of one of the “Reynolds 6,” talks about the retaliation her family faced after she spoke out against the prison industrial complex. (Photo: Sharon H. Chang)
Eight-year-old Skye-Dior performing her new single “Corona Rock.” Skye sings, writes, and produces her own music alongside her mother Quisha. (Photo: Sharon H. Chang)

Saturday’s events were intense and sometimes painful, but altogether a profound expression of Black resistance and resilience. A group of four Christian men attempted to agitate, but were unable to pass a blockade formed by allies/co-conspirators to protect Black organizers and attendees. Undeterred, strong Black women and youth took turns at the mic sharing their powerful words, performance, and art. 

“The long drawn out history of Black women being oppressed, erased from history, systemically, boldly, is unacceptable,” said activist Alyssa King after singing the Black National Anthem at the opening Othello rally. “I say to my young queens and sisters, never ever bow your head down.”

“The Black Lives Matter movement was started and founded by Black women!” said high school senior Mikayla Weary to loud audience cheers. “And yet we had to have our own protest because we aren’t represented in our own communities.”

Ro Boyce addresses protestors. (Photo: Sharon H. Chang)

“My existence is not an affront to Blackness; my existence is not an affront to womanhood; and my existence is not an affront to our community,” said LGBTQ activist Ro Boyce, who is a Black transgender woman. “I show up and I fight for Blackness … but will you fight for me?”

Attendees also heard from Black disabled scholar Tricia Diamond and Somali activist Ayan Adem, sister of one of the “Reynolds 6.” The program included dance by Northside Step Team, poetry by middle schooler Kailyn Jordan, and moving performances by mother Quisha Wright (who performed a spoken word piece called “Dynamics”) and 8-year-old daughter Skye-Dior (who performed a new single “Corona Rock”).

Bianca Davis-Lovelace leads marchers in a chant. (Photo: Sharon H. Chang)

Protestors arrive at Van Asselt playground and park. The Seattle Bike Brigade safeguards along South Othello Street. No police were present. (Photo: Sharon H. Chang)

After the opening rally, protestors marched through Rainier Beach to Van Asselt Park, across the street from the Seattle Police Department South Precinct, where a closing rally was held. Candis Dover-Andrews, daughter of a sharecropper and granddaughter of a slave, performed her poem “New Hunting.” UW students Chardonnay Beaver and Kiss’Shonna Curtis spoke passionately to attendees about strength and resilience, and final words were then given by intersectional disability and equity activist ChrisTiana ObeySumner. “The revolution will never truly be the revolution if it is not equitable, intersectional, and accessible,” said ObeySumner. “Rise up and shout that all Black lives matter!”

ChrisTiana ObeySumner speaks about intersectional justice / photo: Sharon H. Chang

#SayHerName: Protect Black Women March purposefully ended with a dance party to uplift Black joy with Black womanist music spun by DJ Renee Jarreau (aka Reverend Dollars). “We will never have freedom for Black people — the freedom that we are all here to protest for — unless all Black people are free,” reminded Jarreau, who is a Black Transgender woman, before spinning her set. “We know that we deserve freedom and joy. We know that cannot exist in a world with the police and prisons. We know that cannot exist in a world with transphobia.”

Proceeds of the #SayHerName: Protect Black Women’s GoFundMe from the weekend will be donated to organizations that support Black women including supporting the families of Black women impacted by police violence. Davis-Lovelace is grateful for all the community support and how well everything turned out. “It was great to end this march by centering Black joy through music and dance which is part of the African tradition,” she wrote on Sunday. “I believe we made our ancestors proud yesterday.”

Sharon H. Chang is an activist, photographer, and award-winning writer. She is the author of the acclaimed book Hapa Tales and Other Lies that reflects critically on her Asian American, Mixed Race, and activist identity through the prism of returning to Hawai‘i as a tourist. She lives in the Columbia City neighborhood.

Featured image: #SayHerName: Protect Black Women March (Photo: Sharon H. Chang)