Amid this past year’s magnified, in-your-face partisan politics, two Baltimore-based black women’s movements are garnering interest and growth for their community efforts, which founders hope will ultimately affect the polls in November.
One of the main thrusts of both organizations, Black Girls Vote and Not Without Black Women, is to impart knowledge of the voting process while registering women of color to make their voices heard through the ballot box.
Neither organization is affiliated with any political party. Both, however, seek to empower African-American women to improve the overall quality of their lives in areas such as economic development and health care. Additionally, their goal is to draw undivided attention to such issues as equal pay, child care, gun violence in the community and abusive behavior, both physically and emotionally, toward women.
Nykidra “Nyki” Robinson is the CEO of Black Girls Vote, a group she founded in October 2015.
“We hope to register 10,000 new voters, so we partner with high schools and colleges,” she says. “We were fortunate enough to get our first collegiate chapter [of BGV] at Morgan State University on the first of February.”
Within a month, 20 young women on the campus had enrolled in the chapter. Robinson explains that the movement’s plan has always been to form chapters at universities and colleges throughout the country. Now she is receiving multiple emails from interested black women on the ways to go about it.
“First, we want to get this one right,” she says of Morgan’s chapter. “Then we can educate women on how to run their chapters.”
On the home front, the group’s goal is to get high school students involved, and to that end, BGV members are making sure they are seen out and about in the community. At the end of February, they held a policy meeting at Forum Caterers where more than 150 committed voters came out to hear about issues the organization supports.
“Everything in our lives revolve around policies, and policies are different for different people,” Robinson says. “We want to make sure that women of color are going to the polls knowing that policy can always be changed.”
Robinson contends that black women are more powerful as a group, and change is part of a process they must place their trust in, while at the same time holding their elected officials accountable.
“If we remain positive and optimistic, it will all come together, and the right people will come and support us in time,” she says, adding, “We’re excited.”
Brittany Oliver, a nationally recognized race and gender justice activist based in Baltimore, is the founder of Not Without Black Women (NWBW). While supporting all women, her targeted vision and goal, most especially during this political season, is to see more energized, radical black voters who are not afraid to advocate specifically for black issues.
“We are watching critically who is running because it takes more than representation, more than just a black face running on a particular issue,” she says. “We are not at the moment endorsing any candidate. That could change, but what we’re focused on is paying attention to how they are presenting themselves to communities.”
This summer, the organization’s plan is to empower younger voters, those who feel disengaged because they no longer believe in the system. To achieve that goal, they have established monthly youth mentoring at the Crispus Attucks Recreation Center in West Baltimore. They will conduct training and workshops covering areas such as how to contact your representative when you have a particular issue.
In this election year, another goal is to focus on the voices of black women who are most marginalized and underserved, who have been left out of the conversation on how to change the city and Maryland in general. These are the African-American women who, Oliver points out, “have been impacted by the criminal justice system, women who are in prison, for example, [and also] victims of rape and sexual assault.”
In addition to registering voters at public events, the group meets once a month for “sister gatherings” at various locations and black-owned businesses. Here, women come together to network and discuss matters relevant to their communities. The takeaway message, according to Oliver, is clear:
“We want to encourage black women to be unapologetic about issues affecting them so they can harness their collective economic and voting power to hold public officials accountable [in] ensuring their political interests are being met this election season,” she says. “When you uplift black women, you uplift the entire nation.”