Insight With Beth Ruyak

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Weekend March Centers And Celebrates Black Women

Courtesy of Black Women United

Marchers at a past Black Women's March

Courtesy of Black Women United

This Saturday, the 2019 Black Women’s March will go from Crocker Park in Sacramento to the west steps of the state capitol, where a rally will follow. The day will spotlight black women and girls as leaders—representing the news media, the arts, politics and more. As they continue to build and support environments where young black girls can thrive, the speakers and performers embody this year’s event theme: #SheLeads.

In 2017, three women came together in the wake of the Women’s March, which was a massive global response to the results of the 2016 presidential election. The women noticed an absence of black voices among the pink-hatted protestors, so they created their own space. They founded the nonprofit Black Women United and its flagship event, the Black Women’s March. Each year since, they’ve come together to center and celebrate black women and their achievements. Elika Bernard, executive director and co-founder of Black Women United, says this year reflects the ways black women are leading the way in communities and in their own personal health and wellbeing. She will discuss this weekend’s event and the event’s significance.

Rolanda Wilkins is an educator in Sacramento, who Bernard describes as a “gold mine of healing.” Wilkins is the founder and director of Earth Mama Healing: Nurturing Girls, Empowering Women Institute. The organization offers youth empowerment programs, with a particular focus on strengthening African-American communities. The Quality of Life Road Trip is one such program. For years, Wilkins has taken young black women and teenagers on a cross-country road trip to explore their history and make lasting connections. This annual summer trip takes girls to landmarks like Spelman College, Martin Luther King Memorial and Niagara Falls in Canada.

Takarra Johnson was in seventh grade when she first met Wilkins, and has maintained a strong relationship with her since. Now 22, Johnson is a nationally recognized poet and a musician, who Sacramento may recognize by her stage name, KariJay. She’s also a student at UC Davis, where she’s majoring in African-American studies, American history and minoring in education. She values education through travel, and has attended the Quality of Life Road Trip twice. Today, she is the co-founder of the nonprofit, West2West Movement. Following in Mama Ro’s footsteps, her organization aims to connect descendents of the African diaspora through education and trips to Ghana.

We spoke with Johnson in our studio last week, just before she hopped on a plane to travel to Cuba. She shared her experience as a poet, a traveler and looked back on how Mama Ro influenced her life’s path. Here are some highlights from the conversation:

On the Quality of Life Road Trip

I am still digesting everything that I have learned on that trip. It's something that I hold very near and dear to my heart. That trip, first and foremost, it showed us that a lot of things we feel we experience on very micro levels are happening across the country. A lot of the things that have us riled up and uncomfortable in California are happening on a national, if not global scale, to an extent. … Being able to travel and being able to connect with young women who are our age and just [in] a different part of the country and talk about experiences. … To be able to travel to Chicago and go into the house that Fred Hampton was raised in and also travel to the house where he was assassinated by the Chicago Police Department, and see these people celebrate his life firsthand; not hear about it, not see it poorly depicted in film. It definitely changed our idea of accessibility and our idea of capability as a black woman and what we could accomplish was endless when we seen all that our people had done on a national scale.

On the relationships formed on the trip

Absolutely. I feel that those relationships are so so so necessary. We were forced to talk in a world where everyone just wants to scroll and swipe and double tap and send emojis. We had to have conversations and we had to think and pick each other's brain. … Going back to how Mama Ro just made it a norm for us to require more of ourselves and the world around us. She would always have more questions. ... Mama Ro is the best conversation starter and you'll see that when she comes on. But she definitely has a way of picking your brain that allows for you to mean what you say and think before you speak.

On the importance of these kinds of events

First and foremost, there is not enough time in a day to celebrate the contributions of black women. Because, this country's history has shown that it is easy to be forgotten and marginalized, when you are at the bottom of the bottom. So not only are black women fighting a racial fight but we are also fighting a gendered and socioeconomic fight sometimes. Not that all black women are socio-economically challenged. …  We got a lot going on and it's very rare that we get a breath of fresh air let alone a hand clap, applause … love, a hug, or just a ear to listen. I feel that these experiences, these events are making up for this long and widened gap of disparity, and this long and widened gap of overlooking black women—which we do so well in this country.

Listen to our full conversation with Johnson below.

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