The fourth annual BRAVE Summit, a day-long conference dedicated to black female empowerment, highlighted the role of activism in daily life March 16.

The keynote address was delivered by Yandy Smith, criminal justice reform activist and reality star from VH1’s “Love & Hip Hop: New York,” who said activism and media coverage complement each other well.

The activism of black women should be celebrated and not stereotyped, Smith said.

“More of us need to celebrate the way we talk, the way we walk, the way we are super passionate about the things we believe in because our passion runs deep,” Smith said.  “It comes from a generation of things that we care about, and sometimes it hits the surface and it explodes, and they think that’s just an angry black woman thing. No, it’s a passionate black woman thing.”

AMBER GILLETTE/THE HOYA | Yandy Smith, criminal justice reform activist and reality TV star, gave the keynote address at the 2019 BRAVE Summit on March 16.

This year’s theme, “Vigilant: Maintaining the Movement,” was derived from the fourth letter in the acronym of BRAVE — black, resilient, artistic, vigilant and enough — and examined how activism shapes the lives and experiences of black women, according to Deirdre Jonese Austin (SFS ’19), marketing director for BRAVE.

“When we considered what it means to be vigilant for a black woman, activism came to our minds,” Austin wrote in an email to The Hoya.

Approximately 275 people attended the summit, which marks a slight decrease from the figures in 2017. The event included opening remarks from the BRAVE directors, or #MelaninMilitia as they refer to themselves, three mainstage panels and eight breakout sessions. Breakout sessions centered on topics such as activism in politics, entrepreneurship, student leadership and the LGBTQ community.

A panel called “A Cultural Transformation: #MeToo as a Contemporary Social Movement,” focused on the culture of silence and disbelief surrounding black sexual assault survivors, empowering black women to reclaim their bodies.

Black female survivors face distinct, intersectional difficulties when they speak out about assault, according to panelist Chandra Robinson, deputy director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center.

“The majority of women who are sexually assaulted are sexually assaulted by men of color, but we don’t want to say that and I understand,” Robinson said.  “We are already a marginalized group and so we are sometimes forced to sit in this chair of ‘Do I protect myself?’ or ‘Do I protect my race?’ and that is a very hard choice.”

Epigenetics plays a role in the physiological consequences of silence, according to panelist Wendi Cherry, host of “The Sanctuary,” a radio show about the commodification of indigenous, holistic methods of healing from the black community.

“If you are silent, you are pretty much re-traumatizing yourself, and then you’re setting it up for your babies, and then your babies’ babies,” Cherry said. “Because if they are sitting in a womb, and they’re sitting in that space, and you’re feeling all this sadness and anxiety and guilt and shame, that’s in their DNA.”

Black women must support each other in their activism to achieve justice, according to Cherry.

“Now it’s up to us to save ourselves,” Cherry said. “Black women have been saving black women since the beginning of time.”

Black woman survivors need greater representation in campus resources to feel comfortable seeking help about experiences with sexual assault, according to Rosemary Kilkenny, vice president for institutional diversity and equity at Georgetown.

“We need to have more black women in our counseling center, we need more black women in Health Education Services,” Kilkenny said at the panel.  “We really need to have that safe space so that we can reveal what is happening to us and see that what we are experiencing can be addressed in a really specific way.”

Robinson echoed Kilkenny, calling for structural changes that can combat systematic sexual violence towards black women.

“There is healing and empowerment in telling your story, I will never take that away from a survivor,” Robinson said.  “But that’s not enough.” 

The summit also featured panelists Makia Green, Black Lives Matter D.C. organizer; Sadarie Holston, attorney litigation specialist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and LaToya Stubbs, a member of the board of directors for Rainbow Families, an organization that seeks to empower LGBTQ families.

BRAVE was founded by Alexis Oni-Eseleh (COL ’16), Bserat Ghebremicael (MSB ’17) and Candice Milner (MSB ’16) in 2016 with the mission to uplift black women who are often overlooked on campus and in the United States, according to Austin. At the time, the organizers sent out an email to approximately 20 students, highlighting the need to have a summit that offers a space for black women on campus.

This year’s summit aimed to provide attendees with practical tools for activism, according to Austin.

“We hope that attendees left ready to implement and practice activism within their own lives and with skills on how to advocate for themselves and their needs in the workplace, in the classroom, and in other areas,” Austin wrote.

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