How Black Women Have Shaped Justice For All

by Emily Grzesiowski and Emma Porter

This February is Black History Month. At Day One, we want to acknowledge some of the Black voices that have truly changed history over the past few years with their activism, resilience, and prerogative for change through the lens of social media. These contemporaries continue to inspire us with their hard work and efforts to cultivate an anti-racist world. 

Tarana Burke, founder of the #metoo movement

Though #metoo went viral in 2017 due to a number of celebrities, many of them white, coming out and speaking on their stories of assault or harassment, many people are unaware that the movement was started more than ten years earlier by a Black woman, Tarana Burke. Throughout her entire adult life, Burke has been a catalyst for racial equity and survivor justice. When Burke started working on the #MeToo movement, her goal was to provide a space for “empowerment through empathy”. Her work was focused on uplifting and supporting young women of color in a world that too often did not. Over the years, the movement grew to reach some of the most influential people in the entertainment business, from where it reached mainstream attention. Tarana’s work has had an immense and lasting impact, and has been credited with shifting conversations in Hollywood and the country as a whole. The movement has sparked discussions of abuse of power and has allowed women and survivors of assault to share their stories and be welcomed into a community of support, rather than shunned in their spheres. Before #MeToo gained relevance, it was very easy to push sexual abuse and harassment under the rug. 

Today, the lasting impacts of Tarana’s work continue to be seen as survivors come forward and the #MeToo regains awareness on social media. Recently, a number of survivors including actress Evan Rachel Wood came forward detailing their experiences of abuse and assualt by Brian Warner, stage name Marilyn Manson, and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has come forward naming herself as a survivor of sexual assault. The hashtag has created a safe space so that at any time, survivors can reach out and tell their stories. 

Burke’s work on the #MeToo movement has also inspired other marginalized communities to come forward with their truths as well. The #metoogay movement on Twitter has recently come into prominence, with a focus on LGBTQ+ survivor’s stories. “It’s always been very difficult to broach and address the question of sexual violence within the LGBT+ community because there has been this fear of speaking out and [thereby] fuelling homophobia,” says Flora Bolter, a leader of the French LGBTQ+ rights group, ’Observatoire LGBT+ de la Fondation Jean Jaurés. Thanks to the momentum of #metoo, people of all identities now have the chance to share their stories. 

In all three of these recent cases, there has been an outcry of public support, and true to Tarana’s original goal, the theme of “empowerment through empathy” lives on. Today, Burke’s work continues through spearheading the #metoo movement by focusing on uplifting survivors of ever-diversifying backgrounds. In 2017, she won TIME’s Person of the Year award and the 2019 Sydney Peace Prize.

Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, Organizers of Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter founders: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi

In 2013, Garza, Cullors, and Tometi started what would become one of the largest civil rights movements in the world (and history), Black Lives Matter. The Black Lives Matter movement initially started as a response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man who murdered Trayvon Martin, and has continued to grow and gain nation and worldwide momentum. The movement not only became a powerful platform for people of the Black community, but also as an effective means of organizing like-minded activists. 

Through the years, Garza, Cullors, and Opal found ways to better adhere to the issues of their community, by supporting women, queer, and trans people as well. “Black liberation movements in this country have created room, space, and leadership mostly for Black heterosexual, cisgender men — leaving women, queer and transgender people, and others either out of the movement or in the background to move the work forward with little or no recognition,” the BLM website writes. “As a network, we have always recognized the need to center the leadership of women and queer and trans people.” Black Lives Matter continues to use their platform to keep people informed on the actions and demands being taken by the organization, and provides vital educational resources for all who want to get involved in the fight against racism and white supremacy.

Oronike Odeleye, creator of the #MuteRKelly Hashtag

Orinike Odeleye found local activism in her own hometown of Atlanta, where she found out about the abuse hip hop mogul R. Kelly forced onto young women and girls. Many supporters and lovers of his music, however, came to Kelly’s defense, claiming to separate the music from the artist. Kelly’s listeners’ nostalgia of his music, disbelief, and denial of the allegations against him kept R. Kelly on the radio, despite the countless survivors coming forward with their stories.

Odeleye found that this denial of Kelly’s abuse meant that justice was withheld from Kelly’s survivors, almost all of whom are Black women and girls. Odeleye discusses in a MadameNoire interview the importance of holding R Kelly and ourselves responsible, conferring, “We have to be able to say ‘I can understand your artistic talent, but the money that you receive from that – the money I give you – then you turn around and use to brutalize other Black women or to escape the consequences of your crimes, and I don’t want to be a part of that.’”  

Odeleye also found a lot of backlash was within the Black community itself. “After decades of blatantly abusing Black women and girls, R. Kelly was going on with his life with our community-sanctioned support. Honestly, none of us can deny that we always had the receipts and heard the stories; we didn’t want to believe them and deal with the truth. So we turned our backs on Black women,” Odeleye wrote for Huffpost.

With the partnership of Kenyette Burns, a social justice activist, Odeleye was able to better organize the movement to get R. Kelly off of the radio. The two led events to protest local music venues to bar the star’s upcoming performance, and have now expanded their reach to streaming platforms as well. Odeleye and Burns are now working to take R. Kelly off of sites such as Tidal and Pandora, citing the increased reach that streaming has over modern audiences. 

Odeleye has taught people that no matter how rich, famous, or successful an abuser is, they still must be held accountable. The lives of survivors must be supported more than the celebrity success of the abuser. 

Day One is always here to support survivors of dating violence and abuse. If you or a friend needs help, or you think you may be being abused, please reach out.

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