By: Dr. Phyllis Bivins-Hudson
It’s women’s history month and I’m excited to share in this history as a woman.
Women, in general, have always taken a back seat to the men in their lives or around us. As a matter of fact, there was a time in American history when a woman wasn’t allowed to speak publicly without the permission of a man who was either a relative or someone who could vouch for her.
But as women, we always persevere. Take, for instance, Maria W. Stewart (1803-1879), who was one of the first women of any race to speak to a mixed audience in a public forum.
She took to the podium as the first Black American woman to lecture about women’s rights and, more specifically, Black women’s rights.
In many ways, she set the stage for all women to have the right to speak.
The Black woman’s lot has constantly been tested and she has always had to prove herself as she has always done.
Her strength, fortitude, and tenacity were evidenced a long time ago and etched in our history by such powerful women as Maria Stewart, Sojourner Truth, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper,, and many more.
These women were always at the forefront, even when they didn’t necessarily want to be. Yet, they never wavered. They stood their ground on all levels. And they were forces to be reckoned with.
All this was because they had strong convictions, which were rooted in their experiences as well as theory. As women today, we are still being tested from every angle.
But today, we have more allies among us. This we recognize when we see young Black women mounting podiums and speaking wisdom.
It’s recognized when we look in the workplace and see how Black women have changed the landscape.
Though our names have changed, our strength, fortitude, and tenacity have gained new momentum, and women of color, especially Black women, are still holding tight to the reins so as to continue to carry out the convictions of our predecessors.
We continue to develop our spirit of independence and sense of direction.
We know from whence we came and to where we travel. And while we are still strong women and a threat to the establishment, we are not strong to the extent that we don’t feel, or that we don’t hurt, or that we don’t suffer.
In fact, it is that very thinking—that is, that all Black women are strong—that puts even our mental and physical health at risk because our strength to endure has somehow become synonymous with us being “superwomen.”
To that point, Tricia Hersey of Atlanta, behind the movement, Breaking the Mental Health Stigma for Black Women, has stated that “For Black women in particular, the pressure to persevere and at least appear OK while suffering [in silence] can contribute additional stressors to already difficult situations.”
And we all know that the trope of the “strong Black woman” is deeply rooted in racist stereotypes from the antebellum south.
So, during this Women’s History Month celebration, consider your place. What can you contribute to the space carved out for you? Find your mission as Black women did so many years ago and are still doing today.
To illustrate my point, as far back as 1908, the first Black sorority was formed on Howard University’s campus.
And while the establishment of sororities may have appeared to be nothing more than a social club of sorts, they were and are used to perpetuate cultural growth, education, and a fostering of other ideals that better the race, the gender, and the community at large.
I speak to this firsthand as a member of one of the greatest sororities established back in 1913, which was Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
As a large sorority with more than 300,000 members internationally, we continue to grow our community, improve the lives of others, and stand firmly on our five-point Programmatic Thrust: Economic Development, Educational Development, International Awareness and Involvement, Physical and Mental Health, and Political Awareness and Involvement.
If you don’t have a niche, I challenge you to find one and get to work!
Until next time, keep flying on your own wings.