By Candice Iloh
You don’t have to search far to find Black women who are out in the world doing incredible work. In all fields and industries Black women create, build, and thrive in professions and crafts across the board. Markedly, many of us can easily close our eyes and run down the list of Black women from decades passed who have changed the world in a myriad of ways — Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, and the list goes on. We know those names and none of us would be here had they not laid the first bricks. But now, as we continue to make steady strides down the path into 2015, it is essential that we recognize the young and active self-identified Black feminists who have been passed the baton and are continuing the work of ancestors before them, utilizing tools and creative ingenuity of this time. These women embody the sentiment that #blackgirlsarefromthefuture, a term coined by writer and academic Renina Jarmon. Armed with more than just hashtags and online presence, this list of Black feminists is comprised of street artists, writers, community organizers, activists, filmmakers, poets, and more. From the front lines of the #BlackLivesMatter movement on the ground to the flicker of your television and computer screens, the woman-powered prowess is laid thick and the action to back it up flows through these sixteen Black women.
Organizing and activism may be something fresh and new for several of the young and active but not for Cherrell Brown. Brown has been on the front lines of resistance on behalf of black and brown bodies for 10 years. By day she works as the National Organizer for Equal Justice USA and by night she volunteers as a leading force of Justice League NYC. Heralding the hashtag #SHUTITDOWN and the #BlackLivesMatter chant with her team, she has stormed the Barclay’s Center on game night, gaining the attention of players on the court, pounded the New York City & Ferguson streets with the support of several well-known artists and entertainers marching face-to-face with police officers, and continues the complex work of meeting with elected officials to directly influence policy and demand justice for the families and victims of police brutality. (Photo: Courtesy of Cherrell Brown)
Mikki Kendall is a transparent writer and pop culture analyst unafraid to acknowledge that #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen. Kendall coined this hashtag under which she discusses the erasure of black women in the national feminist conversation, thus dismissing the oppressive experiences of black women and protecting the safety and consolation of white women. Kendell’s work can be found in The Guardian, xoJane, and several other publications where she boldly incites dialogue centered on feminism, race, and religion. (Photo: Courtesy of Mikki Kendall)
Known for her quick-witted and merciless social media commentary, Jamilah Lemieux is an activist, writer, mother, and the Senior Digital Editor for Ebony Magazine. Her work has been featured in several major publications such as Essence Magazine, Jet Magazine, and on HelloBeautiful.com. She covered the protests on the ground from Ferguson, MO and was recently featured in the OWN documentary “Light Girls.” Lemieux publicly expresses her desire to always represent black women with integrity and truth and speaks candidly on black identity, rape culture and the significance of challenging white comfort. (Photo: Courtesy of Jamilah Lemieux)
Alicia Garza is a co-creator of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Birthed as a call to action after the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin, Garza, and co-creators Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, created #BlackLivesMatter as a means of affirmation of the contributions and resilience of black life. Garza is explicitly vocal about the labor of queer black women being recognized and all conversations being expanded to ensure the thorough representation of black life. She is an award-winning organizer and the Special Projects Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. (Photo: Courtesy of Alicia Garza)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
It is possible that it was amid the bridge of Beyonce’s single “Flawless” that you met Nigerian author & international orator, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. Although it was an integral soundbite so perfectly fused into the track, the words you heard gloriously cutting through it defining the word feminist were actually an excerpt of Adiche’s speech We Should All Be Feminists. She is responsible for Americanah, Half of a Yellow Sun, The Thing Around Your Neck, and Purple Hibiscus, novels that feature dynamic female protagonists through which she explores the dynamics of race, gender, and culture. (Photo: Courtesy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche)
Wagatwe Wanjuki is a sexual assault survivor and Title IX advocate who was kicked out of school after being raped on campus. Following the horrific experience, she began speaking out against the trivialization of rape and other forms of sexual assault. Disgusted by the insinuation of a coveted “privilege” afforded rape victims suggested in a Washington Post column, Wanjuki responded via Twitter with the hashtag #SurvivorPrivilege, where she began to voice the disturbing truths of how she was treated post-assault and the unfortunate reality of the lack of safety in coming forward as a sexual assault victim. (Photo: Courtesy of Wagatwe Wanjuki)
Professor, scholar, and author, Brittney Cooper is a co-creator of the Crunk Feminist Collective, a group of feminist of color scholar-activists who conduct workshops, speaking tours, and activism initiatives. Her forthcoming project, Race Women, explores black feminist thought and history in which she writes about public black women of the 1890s-1970s. Cooper has been named among The Root 100’s annual list of black influencers and her cultural commentary can be found on several major media outlets such as the Huffington Post and Al Jazeera America. (Photo: Courtesy of Brittney Cooper)
Camonghne Felix is a poet, essayist, and leader of POC4Solvency, a new and growing initiative created by artists, writers, and educators seeking to respond to racial oppression through a direct influence on public policy, legislation, and strategic action. Felix is well known for her pursuit of a continued dialogue surrounding both the policing of black bodies and the dismantling of rape culture. Felix’s poems and prose can be found in an array of publications such as Union Station Magazine and ForHarriet.com. One of her most recent pieces, Meat: a Reflection on Street Harrassment, a poem that features the intersection of being black and being a woman, received over 5,000 views on Youtube and is only one of several that tackle intersectionality in the complex world of blackness. (Photo: Kolin Mendez)
Kim Katrin Milan
Kim Katrin Milan’s magic is in creating and taking up space. She is a self-proclaimed daughter of the diaspora who operates as a multi-disciplinary artist, facilitator, and a co-founder of The People Project, a movement of queer and trans people of color working for individual and community empowerment. She is also the coordinator of Brave New Girls, a healing retreat and traveling skillshare for femme-identified women of color and is one of the owners of the Glad Day Bookstore, the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookstore.
Poet, host of the legendary Nuyorican Poets Cafe slam, and creator of #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, Mahogany L. Browne is the embodiment of a black womanist fighting daily for the liberation of black and brown people with intersections at the start of the conversation. Browne’s extraordinary mastery of the written word and refreshing approach to creatively using voice within the black community as direct action has been instrumental in invoking a nationwide response. Through several #BlackPoetsSpeakOut readings and the #BlackPoetsSpeakOut Blog, black poets across the country share and submit original and published poems that respond to an unjust society’s genocide of black people, declaring I am a black poet who will not remain silent while this nation murders black people. I have a right to be angry. (Photo: Courtesy of Mahogany Browne)
Brooklyn-based visual artist and illustrator Tatyana Fazlalizadeh wants men to stop telling women to smile. In-fact, she is determined to use her collection of hand-drawn illustrations of straight-faced women of color to send an intentional message to the world that women are not here for anyone’s gaze, probing, or consumption. Fazlalizadeh’s snarky Stop Telling Women to Smile series is a project aimed at challenging gender-based street harassment, a prevalent issue nationwide. The series features large images of women’s faces accompanied by captions that directly address offenders and are pasted along sidewalks where women are so often made to feel void of safety and the ability to comfortably reach their destinations in peace. (Photo: Courtesy of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh)
Writer Janet Mock redefines realness. The title of her debut book, Refining Realness, is one of Mock’s many fetes as a tenacious voice in the LGBTQ community. A dispeller of transgender myth and ignorance through her presence and work, Mock has been featured on several news media outlets, publications, vlogs, and television broadcasts sharing her story as one of many transgender women who often go unheard throughout the nation. (Photo: Courtesy of Janet Mock)
Amie Breeze Harper
Author, speaker, and diversity consultant Amie Breeze Harper advocates for the lives of black women by addressing their relationship with food and wellness and how they are related to race, gender and sexuality. Her books Scars, Doing Nutrition Differently, and Sistah Vegan each excavate different components of acceptance, self love, self care, and identify. Breeze’s ongoing project, Sistah Vegan, is a space in which she writes openly and honestly about how personal issues she experiences are connected to her identity as a black woman and vegan. The first conference she organized through this project included workshops and dialogue on social justice, sexualization, and non-white vegan perspectives. (Photo: Courtesy of Amie Breeze Harper)
A self-proclaimed fat black femme, Samantha Master is an example and vessel within the millennial LGBTQ community. She is a cast member of the “The New Black,” a film that addresses gay rights perspectives within the black community, and an active member of the Trans People of Color Coalition. Master is widely known for her leadership of several on-campus LGBTQ groups at Morgan State University as well as her open letter on homophobia and gender binary that was featured by both GLAAD and The Root. (Photo: Courtesy of Samantha Master)
Filmmaker and Curator, Shola Lynch, supports the preservation and visibility of black women and the black community through documentation and exhibition. Described as ‘one of the most exciting black female filmmakers’ by The Root, Lynch’s documentaries feature the historical depths of black women such as Shirley Chisholm and Angela Davis. She was recently named the Curator of Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York. (Photo: Courtesy of Shola Lynch)
Lourdes Ashley Hunter
Lourdes Ashley Hunter is a transgender rights activist, community organizer, and co-founder of the Trans Women of Color Collective. Her work is centered on speaking out against gender-based violence and, more specifically, the police brutality and profiling targeted at transgender people. Hunter works consistently to arm all transgender individuals with knowledge of their rights and their power, speaking at rallies, marches, and various events throughout the country. (Photo: Courtesy of Lourdes Ashley Hunter)
Candice Iloh is a poet, creative writer, and educator residing in Brooklyn NY whose work has appeared in Insight Magazine, Blackberry Magazine, and Fjords Review. She is a Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation Alum and the Managing Editor of Quiet Lunch Magazine. She can be contacted at www.becomher.com.