‘She can lead. She can live.’ Black Women’s March draws hundreds to state Capitol

See hundreds celebrate ‘black girl magic’ at women’s march to the Capitol

See dance performance by Hundreds Unit during the Black Women's March Saturday at the State Capitol in Sacramento, June 22, 2019.
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See dance performance by Hundreds Unit during the Black Women's March Saturday at the State Capitol in Sacramento, June 22, 2019.

On Saturday, hundreds rallied in a march to the west steps of the state Capitol in celebration of African American women and in a call to action for their empowerment.

About 800 people participated in the third annual Black Women’s March from Crocker Park to the Capitol, placards displaying the faces of Sojourner Truth, Marsha P. Johnson and Mae Jemison hoisted high. Plenty stuck around for performances, live music and speeches from prominent community members, all organized by the Sacramento chapter of Black Women United.

Host Courtney Dempsey, a reporter for “Good Day Sacramento” station CW31, opened the morning events with a rallying call. “Fifty-seven years ago, Malcolm X said the most disrespected person in America is who?”

“The black woman!” the crowd responded.

“The most unprotected person in America is who?”

“The black woman!”

“The most neglected person in America is who?”

“The black woman!”

Dempsey said, “It’s 2019. Can we say much has changed?” The crowd responded in the negative.

As other speakers would do, Dempsey cited the resilience of black women in the face of centuries of oppression and the continued need for equity and representation. “She (the black woman) can lead. She can live.”

The steps grew festive as Beyoncé blasted over the speakers and women’s dance group The Hundreds Unit – arrayed in Black Panther-inspired leather, berets and fishnets with a healthy dose of glitter – took center stage for a high-octane dance medley.

Hundreds Unit member Doneeka Cooper, who dances alongside her mother Tylesa Cooper, spoke to The Sacramento Bee on the importance of black women-centered events. “We are so underrated and we are so not supported and shown a lot. So to see people that look like us out here doing what we’re doing – that’s inspirational. It’s very important for black girls and black women to be together like this.”

“Black women are the backbone of our party and our country, and today I stand in solidarity with you and all black women,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential hopeful, said to the crowd in a recorded video message. “I’m in this fight all the way.”

As the crowd dispersed onto the lawn to survey the community organizations tabled along its perimeter – the NAACP, ACLU, Sacramento LGBT Community Center and various health organizations were among the represented, alongside event sponsors Planned Parenthood and Equality California – eminent black women stepped up to the podium to speak on this year’s theme of “She Leads.”

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, spoke of high incarceration and low college admission rates, emphasized the need for reparations and urged listeners to hold politicians vying for black voters accountable. She also credited her fellow black female politicians – Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Marina del Rey, Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove, D-Los Angeles, and Democratic state senator Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles – with progress in climate justice, housing reform and criminal justice reform.

“There’s no group of people more organized than black women. ... We are the rock and foundation of all our communities,” she said.

Ashlee Marie Preston, a journalist and activist told the audience she was marching for marginalized black women like Frances Thompson, a formerly enslaved transgender black woman in the 19th century.

Preston, the first transgender woman to become editor-in-chief of a nationally-circulated publication, Wear Your Voice Magazine, criticized the omission of Thompson from modern history narratives. Thompson, who was sexually assaulted by a mob of white men, subsequently became the first black woman in America to testify to a congressional committee about the prevalence of crimes against African Americans.

“But why don’t we say her name? Because once they found out that Frances Thompson was a black trans woman, they set out to do a smear campaign. ... They said she was a fraud. They arrested her for cross-dressing and being a man wearing women’s clothing. They shaved her head, abused her, and assigned her to a chain gang.”

Thompson’s alleged fraudulence was mobilized to dismiss her testimony, Preston said.

“When I marched today, I didn’t just march for Frances Thompson. I didn’t just march for myself. I didn’t just march for Black Women United. I marched for the black women who couldn’t be here today”: “dead-beat mothers,” incarcerated black women, sex workers, transgender women of color, whose average life expectancy is 35 years, she said.

“Today, we marched a very short distance compared to the distance that we have to march to full liberation. But when you’re on that march, I ask you to look over your shoulders, look behind you and look to see who’s missing.”

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Chalay Chalermkraivuth, from Yale University, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee. She reports on arts and entertainment, the LGBTQ community and social justice. She grew up in Bangkok, Thailand.