'State of Black Women' explores more prominent roles in Baltimore

Overworked. Underappreciated. Underestimated. But not for long.

That was the collective answer Saturday to the question: What is the state of black women in Baltimore?

The question was asked at a gathering and discussion panel held by Not Without Black Women, a new group focused on issues important to black women in the city that aims to raise those women’s voices.

“The state of black women in Baltimore is very mixed,” said Kimberly R. Humphrey, an ACLU lawyer who specializes in education issues.

Black women, she said, are undervalued by the community, and they are not a priority of politicians. But she looked out over the Mobtown Ballroom in Pigtown, filled with 200 people — mostly black women — and took heart.

“I look around this room, and we are showing our strength,” she said. “But we have a lot of work to do.”

Not Without Black Women formed last summer. Founder Brittany Oliver said she started with a meeting of black women at Teavolve in Harbor East. She hoped 10 women would show up; instead, the meeting drew 40.

The group started as a social outlet, a chance for black women to meet and talk.

“I was starting to feel like I wasn’t in community enough with black women,” Oliver said in an interview.

The women who came to the gatherings had a thirst for activism, spurred on by issues such as the election of President Donald J. Trump and frustration with events like the Women’s March, which many felt left out the concerns of women of color.

“Black women were feeling like their issues were not being taken seriously, especially on a political level,” Oliver said.

So Not Without Black Women branched out to become active in community and political issues. Members led a Walk for Peace as part of the last citywide Ceasefire weekend event in November. This week, they’ll start lobbying in Annapolis for issues such as ensuring paid sick leave for workers, requiring stored rape kits to be tested, increasing the minimum wage and funding repairs to city schools.

And on Tuesday, the group is encouraging people to attend a Baltimore Board of School Commissioners meeting to demand answers about heating problems in city schools.

Oliver said the goal of Saturday’s meeting was to expose the concerns of black women. Her group had more than a dozen black women from different ages and areas of expertise — educators, lawyers, community organizers — participating in the panel discussion.

Several of the panelists spoke of the need for black women to demand power that has been denied them for generations. They said women need to stop waiting their turn.

While Baltimore has had three black women mayors in a row, the panelists said that doesn’t mean that black women’s issues are being addressed by political leaders.

Adar Ayira of Associated Black Charities said black women need to use their own power to change the dynamics in society.

That won’t happen, she said, “as long as we remain committed to using the master’s tools to try to impact transformational change.”

Ateira Griffin, founder of a mentoring organization called Building Our Nation’s Daughters, said she feels Baltimore’s black women are in “a state of awakening.” She said black women focus on others and are just learning to focus on their own needs.

“If you ever want to experience unconditional love, just talk to a black woman,” she said. “Because you can do anything upways, sideways, all around to us, and at the end of the day we’ll look at you and see a valued person. But what’s missing in society today is them not seeing the value in us.”

Helena Hicks, a veteran of Baltimore’s civil rights movement who is in her 80s, told the largely younger audience that they need to focus on making a difference that will last.

“Be remembered for something that is worthwhile in this world,” she said.

Maricka Oglesby, an event producer from Towson, said she was inspired by joining with like-minded women to air their concerns.

“Black women in this space, sharing their truth — you won’t hear this anywhere else,” she said.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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