Panelists Urge Focus on Role of Women in Black Lives Matter Movement

The Black Lives Matter movement often excludes women and girls, according to the #BlackLivesMatter panel at the second annual BRAVE Summit in Lohrfink Auditorium on Saturday.

The panel featured Erika Totten, leader in the Black Lives Matter movement in the D.C. area, Johnetta Elzie, activist and creator of Campaign Zero, a campaign to end police violence, and Michelle Jawando, vice president for legal progress at the progressive think-tank Center for American Progress. History professor Marcia Chatelain moderated the panel.

The Black Lives Matter movement developed in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in 2012, and concerns over police brutality against African Americans. Elzie said she joined the Black Lives Matter movement to correct the growing stereotypes around victims of police violence.

“In February of 2014, St. Louis City Police killed one my best friends, Stefan,” Elzie said. “I remember reading online comments from all of these faceless, fake-named random, racist white people calling my friend a thug, and a felon — just slandering him. And that’s not the Stefan I knew.”

Elzie said as a black woman she has struggled to have her voice heard and to be taken seriously by others in the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Since before I knew what my power was, or who it was that I was in this movement, there were honest tries to discredit me,” Elzie said.

Jawando said women are often not included in legal decision-making within the movement.

“In the midst of Trayvon Martin, I was the only chief counsel who was a black woman, for all 100 Senators,” Jawando said. “If you took me out of the conversation you have every single member of Congress discussing Ferguson, Mo., on the Senate side who were making decisions without my voice.”

According to Jawando, black women have been at the core of the movement since its start but have received minimal recognition for their contributions.

“Our visibility is still not there, but our work has been the center of the movement,” Jawando said.

News of violence or other stories concerning black women and girls often go unreported by mainstream media, according to Totten.

“Black women and girls are not reported when we go missing,” Totten said. “The media and the D.C. Police Department have been trying to paint them as runaways, and that is code for dismissing them.”

Jawando said black women and girls must be prepared to fight for their rights and recognition for their work.

“The reason these women are here on this panel today pouring ourselves into you is because we want you to know who you are,” Jawando said. “There are so many systems that are set up to attack and degrade who you are, and you have to be ready for the fight.”

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