HERstory Event Inspires Activism

by Megan LaCreta, Contributor

On Wednesday, Feb. 24, the Multicultural Center and the Lasallian Women and Gender Resource Center co-sponsored a “Black Women in Activism Panel Discussion,” as part of Intersectionality Week.

Manhattan College welcomed Nadine Crammer who founded the Rohan Levy Foundation, a nonprofit organization combating gun violence, Kimberly Bernard, co-founder of the Black Womxn’s March, Oluwademilade “Olu” Ogunlade, member of Strategy for Black Lives and student at SUNY Old Westbury, and Bryna Jean-Marie, co-producer of the History Channel’s “Tuskegee Airmen: Legacy of Courage.”

Micah Thomas, Residence Life Area Coordinator at Manhattan College, moderated the event.

The panel began with a discussion of how activism has changed over the course of the pandemic. Crammer explained how while online activism has expanded her foundation’s platform, it has also been a struggle to combat the fatigue of online programming.

“It’s difficult now to be a visible activism force online,” said Crammer. “However, you have a greater platform. So you have to balance a lot, like do you want to do another zoom thing? Or do you create a video that you just send out to everyone, so that people can do it on their own time?”

The pandemic has also lent itself to activist movements. Bernard noted that without the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests, which came into full swing following the death of George Floyd in May 2020, may not have been able to achieve the incredible momentum that they did.

“I think the fact that [the BLM movement] happened in a pandemic was a two-edged sword,” Bernard said. “It meant that a lot of people were out because they were home, and they had the free time. But at the same time, it shows the commitment and dedication people had and how outraged they were, because people came out in the midst of a pandemic risking their life, safety, and health.”

The panelists discussed the significance of being women in their respective fields. Jean-Marie noted that, while the production team of her documentary, “Tuskegee Airmen” was all Black, she was the only woman. She was able to use her unique perspective to make sure women’s contributions were highlighted in the documentary.

The panelists also expressed the unique struggles Black women face. Crammer noted that she feels like she has to hold back her emotions in order to avoid stereotyping, even in her advocacy following the loss of her son to gun violence.

“I can’t be too angry because then I get cast as the angry Black woman as opposed to the mourning mother,” Crammer said. “And so, as an activist, I have to often temper how I engage.” 

Bernard also spoke on how the Black Lives Matter protests have encouraged Black men in particular to express their emotions, something that is societally discouraged. She attributes this to the leadership of Black women.

“[The movement] is largely Black women-led, which I think is a breath of fresh air and a beautiful thing, and I have seen Black men more emotional than I’ve ever seen in my life when I think about it,” Bernard said.

The panelists also went on to emphasize the value of youth voices in activism. Ogunlade discussed how it is important to have adults who are willing to listen and uplift young people. She also expressed how she and other young people tend to be more outgoing in their activism.

“One of the ways that I lead is I’m going to tell you what I think,” Ogunlade said. “And I care more about how I convey the message as opposed to how you receive the message. So, I feel like if I’m respectful, if I’m kind, how you get it is how you get it.”

Jean-Marie applauded Ogunlade and the outspoken nature of youth activism. However, she also noted that older generations’ hesitancy to speak out comes from experience.

“I’m not muting myself,” Jean-Marie said. “It’s just that I’ve been around a long time and I see how things work. And in order to get what I want, I’ve learned to play the game correctly.”

Ogunlade also offered up advice to other college students looking to get involved in activism and politics. She said students should try to take advantage of every opportunity they can, and not be discouraged by any number of rejections they may face.

“I had a lot more experience than the average 17 or 18-year-old, and I think a part of it was because I just wanted to be in there,” Ogunlade said. “Just let me see, let me look, let me learn, teach me, and I took every, every opportunity I was presented with.” 

Crammer also emphasized the value of taking on any and all opportunities, no matter how small.

“If you’re looking for opportunities in activism, you don’t have to start with being the face of the movement,” Crammer said. “You can start with volunteering with group activities which takes a lot of the pressure off you.” 

The panelists left off with a call to action. Bernard called on activists to not let up simply because a new administration has taken office. 

“We have to continue to go hard and make our voices heard,” Bernard said. “We can’t get comfortable because that’s one of the things that has derailed movements in the past.”

Crammer left the audience with one final message of hope.

“My parting words,” said Crammer. “The youth will lead the way.”

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