A Letter to my Young Daughter about Living as a Woman of Color & Radical Faith in America 

Emelda De Coteau
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Emelda De Coteau

Mother, wife, sister, friend, writer / blogger / creative organizer, budding photographer... These are just a few of the many hats I juggle each day. I believe creativity is oxygen for the soul. I created Live In Color blog to celebrate the beauty in every moment, from faith to inspiration and motherhood.And it is soon becoming Pray with Our Feet blog which will focus on the intersection of faith and activism. Follow the inspiration on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/praywithourfeetblog/
Emelda De Coteau
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Photo Credit: Devin Allen

Dear Nai,

One week ago, while you slept, Mommy stood in the kitchen, surrounded by plates and cups and cried. I nearly collapsed, knees aching, my stomach somersaulting with uneasiness and lingering pain.

I cried because when I looked at Philando Castile’s fiancée, her eyes, worn from grief and shock, mirrored my own in ways you will one day, sadly, know as a black woman, unless the conscious of America profoundly shifts. Your Mama is an optimist, and a Christian so I stand on the anchor of hope (Hebrews 6:19), praying we will begin seeing each other not as Americans but people, people whose individual truths are valid and real.

Frankly, I don’t know if this will happen in your lifetime, but I want you to extend the love your Daddy and I give you always. Allow it to take up residence in your heart, and fill it often as you come before God in thoughtful prayer and communion.

Kes, Nai and me Photo Credit: Wayne De Coteau

You will need this love to live in a country and world which insists on rendering you, your perspective and intellect, your unique truth, invisible. Mama wants so desperately to protect you from the pernicious sting of rejection, but I cannot. And when I am forced to acknowledge this grimness, the weight of it nearly crushes me.  But then I think of women of color like Dr. Maya Angelou whose sentence from the poem, “Our Grandmothers” rests within Mama’s spirit, eviscerating this looming mist of defeat which attempts to choke out hope: “I come as one, I stand as ten thousand.”

Say this to yourself, my love, often, especially when you think you cannot overcome an obstacle. “I come as one, I stand as ten thousand.”

You are the descendent of a people rooted in resistance and resilience, dear heart; they refused to allow the ideology of white supremacy to define their destiny. Madam C.J. Walker became the first woman millionaire in America because a divine vision, superseded manmade barriers of skin color and gender.

Your Great Grandmother started working at age 5, and did not stop until her 60s; her retirement from being a domestic worker came because her daughter, your Nana, held a fierce determination within her heart, shutting out the high school counselor’s prediction that she should sweep floors, instead, she graduated with honors from Morgan State University.

Nana became an educator, touching the lives of thousands of children in Baltimore city, opening their minds to a more expansive history of the U.S. And then she came home, every day, and poured these revelations of our past into her children so our futures would not become marred by defeat, but instead, armed with this biblical truth: “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” Psalm 139:14

Each time you hear the lies of “not enough” (smart, beautiful or talented) echoed from American culture refute  these destructive words and live. Live because your life is a testament to triumph over fear and hatred.

Lucille Clifton, renowned poet, proudly declares, “come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.” These are your foremamas, Nai! Their struggle shall be your strength.

When you experience discrimination and meet others who do, waste no time bemoaning it, put your energy (all of the sadness, anger and frustration) into action. Allow these verses of scripture to dwell within your soul:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.

Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Proverbs 31: 8-9

You matter. Your ancestors built this country, not as slaves, but as survivors whose sheer will birthed an unrivaled ingenuity spanning every field and occupation. Listen. You will hear it couched in the melody of the blues, rising in the triumphant praise of gospel music, and through the eloquent work of writers such as James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis and many others.

You are always enough. God created you not to conform to this world, but to transform it.

And so, I leave you, my darling, with the words of Howard Thurman, a great African-American theologian, author and thinker (Jesus and the Disinherited) who inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other seekers of justice:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

My Love For You Is Eternal,

Your Mama

Why the #SayHerName Movement Matters

Emelda De Coteau
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Emelda De Coteau

Mother, wife, sister, friend, writer / blogger / creative organizer, budding photographer... These are just a few of the many hats I juggle each day. I believe creativity is oxygen for the soul. I created Live In Color blog to celebrate the beauty in every moment, from faith to inspiration and motherhood.And it is soon becoming Pray with Our Feet blog which will focus on the intersection of faith and activism. Follow the inspiration on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/praywithourfeetblog/
Emelda De Coteau
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Why the #SayHerName Movement Matters
Cover of the #SayHerName report, African American Policy Forum

“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.”

― Audre Lorde

Aiyana Stanley-Jones, a beautiful 7-year-old girl with a soft smile and skin the color of copper,  loved Hannah Montana and Disney princesses. Yet we will never know the woman she would become. Five years ago, police entered her home searching for a murder suspect. In a matter of seconds, officer Joseph Weekly fired his gun, shooting the youngster as she lay sleeping underneath a blanket. Later Weekly insisted he did not realize his gun went off. Although indicted, he was later acquitted.

Did you know her story before reading this column? I certainly did not in 2010.  The cases of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and other black men make front page news (as they should), and ignite protests nationwide, but we hear little about police brutality and its impact on black women and girls.

While the now infamous image of officer Eric Casebolt with his knee lodged into 15-year-old Dajerria Becton’s back in McKinney, Texas is beginning to widen the conversation around police brutality, many people are ignorant about how this violence decimates the bodies and spirits of black women and girls.  You see, wearing skirts, lipstick or high heels does not protect us from structural racism.

Black Women and Girls Pushing For Change, a Long History

“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” – Zora Neale Hurston

Since the first Africans were brought to these shores and enslaved, black women and girls have stood up to systems of oppression, fighting behind the scenes for progress. From Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth to Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Angela Davis, and more recently Alicia Garza (one of the founders of #blacklivesmatter movement), there is a long history of black women actively resisting.

When Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and others were murdered by police, again, black women and girls stood on the front lines, holding signs, organizing marches for days on end; the academics, writers and artists among us spoke to the palpable pain reverberating around this country in myriad ways. Three black women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, started the #blacklivesmatter hashtag on social media following George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the murder of Trayvon Martin. As we all know, it’s since emerged as a rallying cry for changes in policing.

Yet when a sister dies, is injured or sexually assaulted at the hands of police, there is often deafening silence., If black lives matter, where is the collective outcry – the mass marches, vigils and viral posts on social media for women and girls who look like me? This apathy signifies the reality of living in a society which is resigned to view us through the narrow lens of nefarious stereotypes – super women incapable of feeling pain, angry, hyper-sexualized or unfeminine. Yet perhaps even more saddening (because, frankly, I expect this from mainstream America) is the unwillingness, by some within our own culture, to examine and call out sexism; this hesitancy seeks to erase the suffering of black women and girls, dishonoring the fullness of our humanity.

The Report – #SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women

Two months ago, the African-American Policy Forum, the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia University and Andrea Ritchie, Soros Justice Fellow and expert on policing of women and LGBT people of color released #SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women. According to the African-American Policy Forum’s website, this document focuses on the stories of Black women who have been killed by police, specifically calling out “the forms of police brutality often experienced by women such as sexual assault.”

“Although Black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality,” said Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, Director of the African American Policy Forum and co-author of the brief. “Yet, inclusion of Black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combating racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities of color.”

Why We Must #SayHerName – Honoring Humanity

Hundreds of  years ago freedom fighter Sojourner Truth asked “Ain’t I a woman?” In 2015, I say,  are we not human beings whose perspectives matter? We must name black women and girls across the spectrum of identities (heterosexual, LGBTQ, along with those who struggle with mental health issues and intellectual disabilities) within every sphere – public, private and online. Without proclaiming these authentic truths the struggle remains one dimensional, ultimately stifling a part of the community it seeks to liberate.

Calling the names of black women and girls, while actively listening to their stories, does not  divide our community along lines of gender, or dismiss the toxic racism black men confront daily. Instead, it’s an opportunity for our brothers to understand the unique ways we are affected by police brutality and various forms of assault. This is essential if we are to begin candid conversations which lead to collective healing. All of us wrestle with trauma in some capacity.

Black women are the backbones of our community, often heading households, juggling childcare with work and school. According to a recent documentary, 72% of homes are led by single mothers. Ignoring us, or pushing aside the validity of our experiences teaches black boys to disregard the voices of women and girls they see each day – their mothers, sisters, aunties, classmates, girlfriends and wives.

Each life is precious, our worth is immeasurable. Let’s not stifle the conversation through exclusion. Join me today in embracing an expansive truth that affirms the suffering of each individual, while seeing possibilities for deep empathy and radical love. We are here. We matter. And when you see us fully, you see yourselves.

I leave you all with a quote from the great thinker J. Krishnamurti about the power of connection: “Listening completely, without resistance, without any barrier is the miracle of explosion, shattering the known, and to listen to that explosion, without motive, without direction is to enter where thought and time cannot pursue. The seeing is not only with the brain, but also beyond it.”

Photo source: techonfleek.com
Note: This was originally published in July  for Beautifully Said magazine.