Black female leaders from throughout the country convened to discuss the state of their gender and race on a day that has been marked with a specialized focus. July 31 is known as “Black Women’s Equal Pay Day” throughout the U.S. and its purpose is to highlight the pay gap between Black women and Whites of both genders. That pay gap and other issues pertaining to African-American females were discussed at the Center for American Progress in Northwest D.C. during a symposium, titled “Leveraging the Power of Black Women.”

As part of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, many women, including tennis legend Serena Williams, posted images of themselves wearing shirts that said Phenomenal Woman.

Tennis star Serena Williams was one of many women to post an image of themselves wearing shirts that said Phenomenal Woman on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. (Twitter)

“Black women earn 16 percent less than White females and 37 percent less than White males,” Carmel Martin, executive vice president of the center, said. “‘Black Women’s Equal Pay Day’ is about demanding equality.”

While Black women, as a group, earn less than Whites, when it comes to voter turnout, it is a different story. Research by political scientists shows that Black women voted in higher numbers in regards to percentages that any demographic group in 2008 and 2012.

It is interesting to note that in 2016, Black female voter turnout pummeled to 64 percent, from 70 percent in 2012. Despite the decline, Black female voters continue to lead other demographics in terms of percentages.

In the July 12 edition of the AFRO, there was a story that stated in 2015 more Black women earned master’s degrees than Black men, 3,869 to 1,545, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

The event honed in on the theme of Black women leveraging their power and featured speakers who talked about that. The first part of the program featured Susan Taylor, the former editor-in-chief for Essence magazine. Taylor said Black women have for too long “looked good while feeling bad” and that must change. “No one else will speak for us but us,” she said.

Taylor said she understands the racial dynamics of the country well and that “she never met a White man I am afraid of.”

She remembers participating at a conference with her former publisher Edward Lewis and Black Enterprise founder and CEO Earl Graves Sr. “Earl Graves is 6-5 and jovial but when he was addressing the high-powered White men at the conference he seemed to cower,” Taylor said. “I know it is dangerous for a Black man to assert themselves.”

Taylor talked about the history of slavery when Black men stood helplessly while White male masters raped and beat their female family members without a response. “If the Black man stood up, the response from the White man would have been death,” she said.

Taylor’s remarks included saying that “Black women aren’t a monolith” and that there are differences between Black women based on skin color, economic, and educational status. She also said that Black people in general must get over the inter-generational trauma that causes Blacks “to disregard and be disrespectful toward each other despite the heinous acts of violence that were committed against us during slavery.”

Taylor urged Black women to take care of themselves and be wiser in their spending habits. “We are buying things we can’t afford and don’t need,” she said.

Taylor’s comments were followed by a panel discussion led by CAR vice president for legal progress Michele Jawando and consisted of Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition of Black Civic Participation; Alencia Johnson, director of constituency communications of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund; Tracey Sturdivant, co-founder and co-executive director of Make It Work; and Janae Ingram of Airbnb.

Sturdivant noted that 50 percent of eligible voters in 2016 didn’t go to the polls on Election Day. She said political leaders must do a better job of reaching out to people. “We have to shift on how we talk about issues,” she said. “We have to make those issues mean something to their daily lives.”

Campbell said that Black women must step up their presence in the Democratic and Republican Party governing bodies. “We have to challenge the party apparatuses,” she said. “When we look at both parties to see who is making the decisions, it is mainly White men.”