Photo courtesy of Dr. Michelle Robinson, Ph.D

Since 1987, each March we have the opportunity to recognize Women’s History Month in the United States – a recognition of cultural heritage whose earliest roots can be found 115 years ago in the struggle for safe and clean working environments, reasonable work schedules and fair wages led by some 20,000 striking garment workers in New York City. Eighty percent of these striking workers were women, majority immigrants, and mostly teens and young women between the ages of 16 and 20. As such, the very first Women’s Day happened on February 28, 1909, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the New York City garment workers’ strike. The garment worker strikes provide us with a powerful tale of the transformative nature of women’s leadership. This woman-led movement spurred improved wages, working conditions and hours not only for the workers of the shirtwaist industry, but also paved the way for subsequent labor movements that would lead to expanded protections and rights of workers nationally, and globally. We can witness the extraordinary impacts that women’s leadership has made on our world via countless stories spanning throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. 

We can see the strength, power and global impact of women’s leadership, and in particular Black women’s leadership, when we evoke the names of Black women suffragist such as Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, and Mary Burnett Talbert; labor leaders like Nannie Helen Burroughs, Sylvia Woods and Hattie Canty and other women leaders of civil rights movements such as Fannie Lou Hammer and Shirley Chisholm, who responded to the injustices of their times with strength and power, poise and fierceness and an indignant commitment to driving forward change not only for themselves, but for their communities and for a better future for those of us who would succeed them. 

We also see the beauty, power and strength of Black women’s leadership here locally among our more notable community’s stalwarts, women like Lisa Peyton, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, Carola Gaines, Edjuana Ogden, Candace McDowell, Corinda Rainey-Moore, Annette Miller, Andreal Davis and the late Ms. Earlie Green, Mrs. Lori Mann and the founder of this very magazine the late Ms. Milele Chikasa Anana. And amongst the bold, impactful, and at times quiet, leadership of a class of local young Black women leaders, of whom I consider my peers and often my sisters, women such as Dr. Torsheika Maddox, TR Williams, Sabrina Madison, Beverly Hutcherson, Jael Currie, Brandi Grayson, Myra McNair, April Kigeya, Dr. Tiffany Green, Angela Russell, Erin Bailey, Uchenna Jones, Dr. Sagashus Levingston, Dr. Christy Clark-Pujara and Vanessa McDowell. There are so many other names I wish I could evoke in this essay, and many, many more that may be currently unknown to me but whose names are equally deserving of being evoked, but what I hope is clear is that our community has an abundance of Black woman brilliance working hard in front and behind the scenes to move our community forward — often without the resources, recognition, trust and/or protections that may be afforded to others.

As I write this essay in honor of Women’s History Month and reflect on what I hope the reader will take from it, it is this: Black women are powerful, talented, impactful and strong. We birth nations and we transform them as well. Yet, I look forward to the day that the strength and creativity that Black women are so well known for encompassing can be directed towards the work of building the world we all deserve versus surviving and supporting survival of others in the world we currently inhabit. My ask this Women’s History Month is that we each commit to the work of building a more just, more humane society where we can collectively not simply survive, but where we all can thrive. That is the transformative and audacious power of this Black woman’s vision. Happy Women’s History Month. 

Yet, despite our power, talent, impacts and strength, women – and Black women in particular – all too often face considerable obstacles to our leadership.