You’re welcome, America.
There, I said it. What every black woman activist and organizer has been wanting to say in response to our recent December election. You are welcome. But wait, why is America so surprised that we, black women, would turn out to the polls? Why was it a surprise that we would canvas neighborhoods, educate friends, phone bank, and contribute financially? Why was it a surprise that we would let our voices be heard?
It’s sadly, not a surprise that with all of the work that black women do on a regular basis, we are still not seeing black women advance professionally and personally at the rate of our white counterparts.
Growing up, A Different World was my favorite show. Like many other black women in my generation, class was in session every Thursday night at eight o’clock. We learned about AIDS, apartheid, date rape, racism, voting, and war. We were empowered to sisterhood and learned the importance of being a good friend. We became educated and grew up to become the real-life versions of Whitley, Freddie, Kim and Jalessa. We cared about our families, faith, health, careers, and our communities. We also cared about the direction of our nation and who represented us in office.
It’s sadly not a surprise that with all of the work that black women do on a regular basis, we are still not seeing black women advance professionally and personally at the rate of our white counterparts.
Our enlightenment didn’t start with A Different World but with our own mothers, aunts, grandmothers, sisters and women within our communities. We watched them, up close, personal, raw and unfiltered as they were not paid their worth and adjusted to living in a system that was set up against them. They trained us to be better than the next, to keep God first and that things would get better by and by. We grew up wanting to be just like them and vowing to do our part to change the world that they grew up and lived in. We were willing to take up the fight and we did. I did.
Too many times in my life I have worked hard to just make second string. I’ve been the token on staff. I have trained my replacement without knowing it at the time. I’ve held the most degrees at the table but my opinion was not wanted. My ideas have been stolen and co-workers have attempted to sabotage my career because someone felt intimidated by me. Mama didn’t work this hard for me to have to work this hard too. This is not just my story -- it’s the shared narrative of my sisters. We work hard, barely get the credit, and people are still surprised that we continue to show up.
It’s my hope that we continue the fight of Diane Nash and Shirley Chisolm to create a better tomorrow. It is my prayer that we continue to encourage the Opal Tometis, and Staceyann Chins of today so that they don’t have to walk out change alone. It’s past time for black women to thrive professionally and personally. My dream is that if a black woman doesn’t walk into a room the question should be, "What room is she in?"
My dream is that if a black woman doesn’t walk into a room the question should be, "What room is she in?"
To all my Freddies, Whitleys, Kims, and Jaleesas I say thank you. Thank you for showing up in our communities, churches, organizations, families and for each other. For one day, there will be a young black woman that will thank you for paving the way because all she had to do was show up. Then, and only then, with tear filled eyes, a heart full of gratitude and lungs filled with more dreams then you have years to live you can say you’re welcome.
- T. Marie King, Activist