Cora Masters Barry and Dr. Natalie Hopkinson are being blocked from reappointment on the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities. (Courtesy Photo)

By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. and Digital Content Editor

(Updated 11/02/2012) – While the hashtag #ProtectBlackWomen has become trendy, it is rooted from the very real disrespect African American women experience in the United States daily, particularly in traditionally White, male spaces.  Local activists and leaders alike are calling attention to the injustices Black women face as former D.C. First Lady Cora Masters Barry and Howard University’s Dr. Natalie Hopkinson were blocked from fair consideration of their reappointment on the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (CAH)- because they haven’t been afraid to use their strong voices to fight for justice. 

“I’m just going to say this for a lot of women who’ve been in rooms with men that say a lot of horrible things and say that they’re difficult or they’re pushy because they want change- I’m grateful to Cora Barry and Natalie Hopkinson and I’m going to stand with them, and I demand that the Council give them an up or down vote,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said emphatically.

Mayor Bowser sent Council Chairman Phil Mendelson nominations for spots and reappointments on the CAH and it is the duty of the D.C. Council to consider the nominees at a hearing that was scheduled for Nov. 2.  Chairman Mendelson tried to block the full Council’s ability to consider and reappoint Barry and Hopkinson to the CAH after he said he received complaints that the two women are “controversial and disruptive,” according to a {Washington Post} article.

The CAH has been criticized in the past for its seemingly unjust allocation of funds to Black artists and communities East of the River.  Hopkinson, of Howard University, and Dr. Suzanne Goodney Lea of the University of the District of Columbia produced a map and graph outlining the allocation of arts funding in the District, which showed more than 73 percent of funds are awarded to Wards with majority White populations, including Wards 1, 2, 3 and 6.  Hopkinson and Barry have both regularly voiced concerns regarding unfair distribution of funding within D.C.’s Black communities and use their place on the CAH to ensure the arts are properly supported among all eight Wards and yet they were the same two who were being blocked from reappointment.

Bowser is one of many prominent leaders who spoke on, what some call, an injustice in not reappointing Barry and Hopkins.

“Well I think the whole Council has got to speak to it. There’s not just one member on the Council,” Bowser said at a press conference on Nov. 1.  “I think it’s a very sad state of affairs when a former First Lady of the District of Columbia, the Founder of the Recreation Wish List and the Southeast Tennis and Learning Recreation Center can’t get a hearing at the D.C. Council.  Are you kidding me?  Can’t get a hearing.  So one person is going to block instead of having all the Council members vote for it? And the reason? She’s pushy,” the Mayor said before boldly taking a stance to empower women and firmly stand with Barry and Hopkinson.

While the Mayor had a stake in the fight as the person who nominated Barry and Hopkinson, she is not the only local leader who stood up for the women.

At-Large District of Columbia Council member Robert White (D) introduced emergency legislation to save Hopkinson’s and Barry’s spots on the CAH before their terms expired on Nov. 3. 

NAACP DC Branch President Akosua Ali also expressed her support for Barry and Hopkins by urging all members of the Council to consider their reappointment and writing a letter to Chairman Mendelson admonishing his decision.

“Targeting Cora Masters Barry and Dr. Natalie Hopkinson for removal from the Commission by only moving the re-appointments of two out of the four nominations is retaliatory and establishes a detrimental precedent of silencing those that are strong, outspoken advocates for the community.  Both women have proven to be strong advocates for resource and racial equity for the D.C. arts community,” Ali wrote in her letter to Chairman Mendelson.

Thirty prestigious Black women leaders, business owners, District residents and allies also wrote a letter to the Council encouraging them to pass emergency legislation to reconsider and reappoint Hopkinson and Barry to the CAH.  They also admonished Mendelson’s rhetoric, which for some alludes to the ugly, American stereotype of Angry Black Women.

“As Black women we know that code words like ‘controversial and disruptive,’ are painful and harsh reminders of the way Black women’s leadership has historically been stereotyped and marginalized, especially by those in seats of power,” the group wrote, before further pleading to the Council to fairly consider Barry and Hopkinson’s reappointments.

“The power is in your hands to end this unjust treatment and character assassination being leveled against Mrs. Barry and Dr. Hopkinson, by voting to move their nominations forward.  Both of these women are well respected in their communities, nation and world,” the collective group of powerful leaders, residents, business owners and allies wrote.

In an exclusive interview the day of the hearing, Barry said on {AFRO} Live, “Truth pushed down to the ground will rise again,” and that’s exactly what happened in the justice fight for Hopkinson and the former First Lady.

On Nov. 2, the Council answered the pleas of the people and corrected the unjust wrong.

”I’m supporting the nominations of Cora Masters Barry to the . These qualified Black women should be reappointed. Disagreements some in the arts community have had w/ them is not reason to withhold support. I look forward to continued dialogue on equity in the arts,” tweeted m Council member Brooke Pinto (D- Ward 2).

“We voted to approve the nominations of Dr. Natalie Hopkinson and Cora Masters Barry to the as important voices for equity and inclusiveness in arts funding,” Council member Janeese Lewis- George (D- Ward 4) tweeted.

“I am happy that Dr. Hopkinson and I have been affirmed by the D.C. City Council today,” Barry said in a statement. “Thank-you At-Large City Council member, Robert White, for sponsoring today’s legislation.”    

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Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor