By Renee Foose, Special to the AFRO

Historically black women have been the backbone of their communities.  Black women like Maya Angelo, Phyllis Wheatley, Angela Davis and Misty Copeland inspired us with their creativity and artistic talents.  Harriette Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Gayle King are lauded for their bravery, while Johnnie Colemon and Shirley Chisholm are role models for spiritual and civic leadership.

Echoing, the words of Shirley Chisholm, “we must reject not only the stereotypes that others hold of us, but also the stereotypes that we hold of ourselves,” a group of distinguished black women gathered on Tuesday for a community discussion on empowerment.  The event titled Unbought & Unbossed focused on lifting up women of color and was held at the Nyumburu Cultural Center in College Park as part of the University of Maryland African American Studies Department celebration of Women’s History Month.

Alana Hackshaw, a lecturer at University of Maryland, moderated the discussion to an audience of roughly seventy students and community residents.  Panelist members included Menna Demessie, of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation; Tiffany Howard, associate professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas; Demetria Lucas, journalist and author; and Pysche Williams-Forson, a professor at Maryland.

The Unbought and Unbossed panel disussion focused on uplifting women of color and called attention to the fractured relationships between Black men and women. (Photo by Renee Foose)

The panel emphasized the need for women of color to support each other and to advocate for black men to join in that effort.  “One of the biggest conflicts facing black women who are fighting for their empowerment, who are enjoying the gains that have been made, and who are uncomfortable talking about this in public spaces, is the conflict that exists between black men and black women,” said Lucas.

“In my chats around MSNBC or CNN or Good Morning America where I talk about dating and relationships or the state of black women, my biggest adversaries are very often black men.  The ally’s black women need most are black men,” she said.

“The other allies we need are other black women,” said Williams-Forson.  “We as black women need to support each other, and there are challenges in that space,” said Howard.  Panel members discussed the challenges of racism and gender stereotyping and encouraged women in the audience not to let either limit what they are capable of doing.  “A mistake we make as black women, is only expecting help from other black women,” Lucas said.  Asking for help, guidance, or mentorship is essential if you are going to succeed, she said.

Demessie, who has worked with the Congressional Black Caucus for over a decade, said black women are now in a great position to make positive gains for equality as a result of the record number of black and minority women elected in the 2018 mid-terms.  “Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams have paved the way for other women to follow,” she said.

According to Jonathan England, Director of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Maryland, black women, “are asserting their presence into a public domain so desperately in need of wisdom, compassion and competency.”