The words of Black activists throughout time serve as strong reminders of the resilience and strength of Black people. By revisiting them, we remember the struggles of the past and use it to uplift our future.
Black History Month presents a particularly poignant time for true reflection, celebration, and work to ensure that the efforts of those gone were not in vain, and to celebrate those who continue to stand tall and proud in their Black identities.
Here we’ll look at Black icons from all generations and all walks of life to both recognize and celebrate how they’ve uplifted the Black voices of America then, now, and tomorrow.
“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” -Fannie Lou Hamer
These words appear still on Fannie Lou Hamer’s tombstone, where she was laid to rest after a life of activism. Born in Mississippi, Hamer spoke up for civil rights, women’s voting rights, and spent her free time helping the poor people of her home state.
She’s also credited with saying “no one is free until everyone is free,” a line that’s still printed on today’s protest signs. She used this belief to drive her work for equality. She was successful in establishing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which was active during the latter part of the 60s Civil Rights Movement.
Get like Fannie Lou and make voting equality and accessibility prominent in New York. Donate to Let NY Vote, a coalition who focuses on creating fair, free, and secure voting in New York. Even if it’s not a presidential election year, and the more knowledge we can spread on the cause, the better it will be for representation of the Black people in democracy.
“Each and every one of us has multiple identities, and this is a fact that should be celebrated.” – Patrisse Cullors
Co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Patrisse Cullors has made it her mission to uplift Black people and to champion all people who are marginalized. As a queer black woman herself, this is especially significant for all of those who identify as anything other than cis-gendered.
In New York, Ceyenne Doroshow has emerged as a leading activist for these groups. Through her organization G.L.I.T.S. (Gays and Lesbians Living In a Transgender Society), she is working to support the needs of transgenders in New York and across the country. This work manifests as everything from crisis support to health and wellness, and your contributions go to making New York a safer space for all.
“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” – Dr. Angela Y. Davis
Doctor, author, activist; Dr. Angela Y Davis has an impressive career dedicated to civil rights. One of her main pillars is prison reform.
While it seems that over-policing and Black imprisonment remain a veil for true socio-economic and political problems, Critical Resistance is one organization working to change that.
For $10 a month, you can become a monthly sustainer. Check out other ways you can get involved with the New York Chapter.
Other organizations have been working to follow suit in the reformation of the prison system. Ways you can join the cause:
– Donate to RAPP to Release Aging People in Prison.
– Donate to the Urban Youth Collaborative, helping to transform the lives of kids and ending the school-to-prison pipeline.
“I often tell people I don’t care whether they join the NAACP or some other group, but you better join something.” – Benjamin Todd Jealous
If you’re looking to take BTJ’s advice but don’t know where to start, start at home. Gentrification is a serious danger to the culture of our diverse community and causes urban displacement for far too many Blacks.
Benjamin Todd Jealous became an advocate for this sort of protection during his time at Columbia. At the time, he protested to protect the historical site of Malcolm X’s assassination in Harlem.
Harlem continues to face the threat of gentrification. The black-led organization Community Voices Heard is doing the work in Harlem and throughout New York State to support Black, brown and low-income communities across the State. You can find out more, become a member, or donate on their website.
In Brooklyn, similar struggles are being waged for the protection of the community. The Brooklyn Movement Center and Equality for Flatbush are two organizations devoted to creating and sustaining a thriving community–and are accepting of those who offer help or are looking to join.
“Whatever we believe about ourselves and our ability comes true for us.”–Susan L. Taylor, journalist
A Harlem native, the words of “the most influential black woman in journalism” continue to relate to today’s civil rights movement, especially as so many of our Black community members endure life on the streets.
An estimated 40% of the homeless population in the United States is Black. This is incredibly disproportionate considering only 13% of the entire country’s population is Black. This leaves an incredible slice of work to be done for affording the homeless the basic right of having somewhere to live.
As always, if you know where to look, you can help. Picture the Homeless is one such organization founded by two black men who, at the time, were homeless themselves. This incredibly grass-roots organization works to champion civil rights, especially for the homeless, who are so often faced with so-called “crimes” caused by their circumstances. In turn, the organization educates homeless people on their rights, and hopes to open the door to public education and amass strong allies.
“Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew.” -Cicely Tyson
Born and bred in Harlem, Cicely Tyson was a Hollywood actress known to portray strong black lead roles and who opened the door for plenty more rising black stars. She passed just ahead of Black History Month, but not without leaving a legacy of strength, integrity, and representation of the Black community.
While the Black community continues to struggle for full life and liberty in America, each empowering moment in our history stands to prove that Black Power can prevail. This Black History Month, we celebrate the voices of all those who raise them in favor of a brighter tomorrow, bursting with the unique and vibrant culture of Black Americans.