There are celebrities, politicians, and artists that society often uplifts for frivolous things and then there are the iconic women who step up and take the lead in times of confusion, pain, and despair. These women provide us with comfort, knowledge of self, and inspiration through their words.
The recent deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling (and let us not forget the countless others who’ve died at the hands of police officers) has the nation once again focused on how far we still have left to go when it comes to recognizing the value of Black lives in America. So, we took a moment to look to the women who are not necessarily activists but who use their platforms to speak up.
Below we highlight a combination of recent and past statements that we resurfaced from exemplary women who setting the stage for political critique and reform, and driving calls to action.
This year Beyoncé has fully embraced her power as a Black woman, mother, wife, and all around boss. After dropping “Formation” and turning the game upside down, she has helped fuel the #BlackLivesMatter movement through her music, live performances, videos, and most recently her political statements. Released on her website, Beyoncé reflected on the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile along with the many other Black lives lost and what this means for our country. “This is a human fight. No matter your race, gender or sexual orientation. This a fight for anyone who feels marginalized, who is struggling for freedom and human rights,” she shares. “This is not a plea to all police officers but toward any human being who fails to value life. The war of people of color and all minorities needs to be over.”
Lena Horne, a legendary singer, dancer, actress, and civil rights activist shared her frank disappointment in the lack of progress made in racial equality during a 1996 interview on “In Their Own Words: The American Masters Digital Archive.” After her deep involvement in The Civil Rights Movement Horne expected much better progress for her children, and grandchildren. “Maybe it’s because I’m a Black woman, but maybe because I’m a woman, I don’t see as much as I wanted. I don’t see it happening as much as it happened to us 10 years ago. I think it’s worsened and it’s like the French say, ‘the more we change, the more it stays the same.’ I’m hearing the same old stories and seeing the same old incidents I saw before 1960. And when Paul Robeson told me, ‘that’s alright, your grandchildren will see it better’ he didn’t know I’d still have to wait. Now I’ve got a great grandson and wonder how long he’s going to have to wait.”
Michelle Obama will be deeply missed after she leaves The White House. Through the grace, honesty, and power she exudes – Michelle is both a memorable and iconic figure, especially when she gives a speech. It’s with no surprise she never has shied far from the truth as we saw during her commencement speech at City College of New York. While addressing her own roots and personal story, Michelle sends a powerful message in her speech sharing, “It’s the story I witness every day when I wake up in a house built by slaves.”
Sometimes though, as Shonda Rhimes points out for us in her Tweet above, it’s helpful to feel the figures we love commiserate in our frustration. A television powerhouse, Rhimes stays active participating in speaking events, writing inspiring books, and staying vocal on social media platforms like Twitter. There Rhimes frequently speaks up on social injustice of all kinds and shares great resources and content on social issues.
Can we got a scholarship fund going 4 #AltonSterling‘s son/kids? Some of us feel helpless when these things happen, but that’s a small step.
— Issa Rae (@IssaRae) July 6, 2016
Other times, it’s about more than talking. There is power in words to inspire, to raise awareness. It sets the foundation for people to pick up the reigns and take action in their own ways. Issa Rae took action. On July 6th, Issa posted the idea and created the page and in nine hours $200,000 in donations came in. The fund officially closed on July 12th with a total of $714,448 in total funds raised for the family of Alton Sterling.
After the death of Alton Sterling, Luvvie of AwesomelyLuvvie took to Facebook to share her frustration of Black people being killed by cops for “ultimately just existing.” She adds, “it’s another day and another hashtag that shouldn’t be.” Click the image above to watch her video.
As the trials for the officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death continue, I think back to the day I rode in the back of a BPD police van. I was buckled in, purely because Freddie wasn’t & lost his life because of it. I survived because Sandra didn’t. I fight for freedom for those who no longer can & for those who don’t realize that true freedom is worth fighting for. #FreedomFridays #GLOSSRAGS #BlackLivesMatter
A photo posted by Ms. Gloss + Guerilla Gloss (@randigloss) on
In an interview with FADER, Randi Gloss, advocate and creator of social awareness brand GLOSSRAGS, shares how she tackles mourning while taking care of herself during heightened periods of Black trauma. Her guidance is truthful and upfront, yet simultaneously creates a zone of no judgement to help us understand one another in times of sadness.
“I think in some ways it feels like we’re on a sinking ship and that many of us feel like we’re drowning in this sorrow or in so many ways being water boarded. Like our black skin is holding us hostage and America is constantly washing us, suffocating us and throwing buckets of trauma down our throats over and over again to the point where we’re gasping for air. We’re trying to come to the surface – engaging with Alton Sterling’s death is like looking into water, taking a deep breath, diving deep and taking the plunge again.”
Melissa Harris-Perry is a powerhouse. During the run of her show on MSNBC, MHP interviewed her guests fearlessly seeking truth no matter what. Now as Editor at Large of Elle.com she continues to set to the stage for more conversations on justice, power, and society. In an interview with Elle.com, MHP reflects on how she has balanced raising a Black daughter while staying committed to a movement of racial equality.
“I realized that she had now identified that there are places in the world that are associated with whiteness that are a certain way and then places that are associated with blackness that are like this. And I saw that she was beginning to see how they rank and order and the internal psychic violence that it was causing her. And [I decided] we cannot do that. We have to get to a place where blackness does not equal lack of safety, where blackness can just be normal. Leaving New Orleans was incredibly difficult for my husband, whose family has been there for generations. But we did it. And that’s a lot of why we live in North Carolina. That said, there is no bubble. We know as black parents to tell our kids, ‘Put your hands at 10 and two.’ But we know that “10 and two” does not keep you safe.”
Taraji P Henson
Actress Taraji P. Henson has never shied away from conversations about biases before and is focused on more than just individual success. After learning of the death of Alton Sterling followed shortly by the death of Philando Castile she shared a series of videos and statements on Instagram of Black people who have lost their lives at the hands of police. She also shared statements from Malcolm X and Marvin Gaye and in one video captioned, ‘Keep posting until those who are silent are moved to do something.’
Nina Simone is an incredible icon who has an incredible story. She was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and activist born into the world in 1933. Both through her music and interviews, Nina exuded power – power of self, power of emotion, and the power to never back down. “I know it existed but it didn’t touch me,” Nina shared speaking on racism.
“It touched me the first time when I gave a concert at age 12 and they wanted to put my Mom and Dad in the back row. I remember standing up quite brave and saying, ‘Oh no, my Mom and Dad sit in the front row.’” The second time she recounts racism was when she realized she had not received a scholarship simply due to the fact that she was Black. “I didn’t understand why I didn’t get that scholarship for anything – and they said, ‘Nina, it’s because you are Black.’ And that shocked me.”
Both a veteran actress and a long time advocate for social issues, Viola Davis has always used opportunities to speak up about injustices like during her Emmy Award speech this past year. “We are in crisis mode as Black actresses,” Davis says matter of factly during a 2013 roundtable on Black women in Hollywood. “Not in the sheer number of roles that are out there, but in the pure quality of those roles. When you only have two or three categories for Black actresses – what point do we get at to not step on each other?”