Protesting racial injustice, hundreds join Florida March for Black Women

Brandy Durham still remembers the first time someone pointed out the color of her skin. Then-7-year-old Brandy, growing up in South Carolina, was in a ballet class when a white girl loudly complained she “didn’t want to sit next to the black girl,” she recalled. Her mother had to explain to her how she might sometimes be judged for her race, even if it wasn’t right — and that she shouldn’t accept it, either.

On Saturday, Durham, 29, made the drive from Orlando to Miami to teach her 4-year-old son, Donovan, the same lesson. She was one of several hundred — many of them parents with children — who traveled from all over the state to join the Florida March for Black Women starting at Booker T. Washington Senior High School. The group was protesting racial injustice and the socioeconomic disadvantages that black women face.

Durham, who has been active in protests and marches since high school, said she had been bringing her son to demonstrations “since he was in a stroller.”

But since President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, “it’s been a lot more significant,” she said, pointing to increased racial tension in the country. Marches like these, she said, show her son how people can resist racism and sexism together.

“He needs to know and see what’s going on in the world, and what his mother is doing to fight it,” she added.

Carrying signs, drums and bullhorns, the crowd of more than 400 marchers eventually walked for more than an hour through Overtown north to Wynwood, chanting slogans against racism and blocking traffic, though some cars honked approvingly as the peaceful crowd walked by.

The march was one of several demonstrations across the country Saturday, organized alongside a national March for Black Women that morning in Washington, D.C., said Jasmen Rogers, 28, an organizer of the Florida march.

“We are in a political climate where white supremacy is being upheld,” said Rogers, a gender justice coordinator for the Miami Workers’ Center, which helped set up the event. Black women, she added, disproportionately struggle with poverty and gaining access to resources like health care. “We have to fight for the safety, stability and sanctity of black women on all fronts,” she said.

The March for Black Women follows months of similar protests, including the nationwide Women’s March the day after the presidential inauguration. But the March for Black Women centers marginalized voices in a way that demonstration did not, said Marcia Olivo, executive director of the Miami Workers’ Center.

“If we are not intentional about lifting black women, they will be left behind,” she said.

Several parents, including Durham, brought their children to participate in the march. In contrast, it was Laurel Suarez’s two daughters, ages 14 and 21, who encouraged her to attend Saturday — her first political demonstration, she said. The three traveled from Fort Lauderdale with multiple signs, including one that said “I Stand with Black Women.”

“It’s a good opportunity to share with my daughters,” Suarez said. “There’s a lot more for us to do.”

During the march, several speakers decried the structural disparities facing black women, though Trump and the national political climate also took center stage. Yonasda Lonewolf, a black and Native American activist, labeled him an “Agent Orange president” and a “necessary evil, because he has forced us to stand together.”

She called black women the unheralded backbone of the civil rights movement and urged attendees to continue protesting for racial justice, to cheers.

As the crowd marched from from the Overtown high school through the predominantly African-American neighborhood, several people emerged from their homes or stores to watch the procession.

Emmett Gainey, 50, nodded approvingly as they walked past his home on NW 15th Street.

“That’s a good thing,” he said, pointing at the marchers. “We need unity like that, and we don’t have it.”

The march eventually stopped in Wynwood on NW 2nd Ave, where attendees stopped before marching back to the high school. Durham, with her son, stood on the corner as the marchers gathered into a circle to hear organizers speak.

“It was great” for her and for Donovan, she reflected, as the 4-year-old boy ran around. People, smiling and chanting, watched as he ran up to the front of the crowd where two people were holding one of the march’s banners. He tried to join in and lift it up, but he could barely see over the top.

Durham said that one day, she knows her son will have real-life experiences with racism, counter to the kinds of marches and protests he has seen combating it. But by the time he’s old enough to understand, she hopes, “it’ll be double the movement” it is now.

“He’ll see that we’re touching people,” she said. “He’ll be able to see that other people care.”

Published by: The Miami Herald

Mariama Gregory