On Being A Leader And A Black Woman

By: Yasmine Duncan

Think of a leader. Picture one. Picture a leader in excruciating detail, the first image at the forefront of your mind. From their eyes to their energy, imagine. Look deeper into the image and ask yourself a few questions. What qualities do leaders have? What type of obstacles do they have to overcome? How does one even become so powerful?  Unfortunately, you are most likely not picturing yourself. You may be picturing anything but yourself…a black woman.

Most of us were never taught that we are leaders, therefore when we hear the word, we don’t think of ourselves. Well known examples of strong, black, female leaders are limited in comparison to the inverse, white males who are usually seen as leaders. Why is this?

We as a gender and as a race are definitely capable of greatness as seen through great  revolutionaries such as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Madame CJ Walker, and Angela Davis. However, growing up, in many history classes I learned that most of my history was simply working in fields.

I was never really taught that my ancestors created empires and were kings and queens long before being forced to be slaves. I was only handed glimpses of my power and while I tried to cherish those heavenly visions, they began to vanish. My power was stolen. First, by history. Second, by slander. Facing slander as a black woman is as common as facing a new dawn every morning. We grow used to it, and numb to the pain of the sharp words.

Whether the insults come from other races, other black people, or eventually from ourselves, it is always there. It is always something. Our skin is too dark or our hair is too curly. Our skin is too light or our hair is straight, as if we’re trying to be something we’re not. Our bodies are shameful on us, but beautiful on anyone else. We are “angry”, even though we certainly have the right to be. Our voices are always too loud, even when they are speaking of human rights and success.

Then we are silenced. That’s why only a few black female leaders are known in history and almost none are known in the present. Do you know who Beverly Bond is, creator of Black Girls Rock!? Do the names Alicia Garza, Opal Tomet, and Patrisse Cullors sound familiar? Those are the women who created #BlackLivesMatter in 2012.

Those being some of the most prominent and recent examples, do you know who Bessie Coleman is? She was the first black woman to stage a public flight in America. Have you ever read the poetry of Maya Angelou? Do you know the work of Dorothy Height, an activist from the 1900s who fought for opportunities for black women until her death in 2010? Have you ever read the name Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in your history books? She was elected as the first black female president in the Africa in 1938.

A revolutionary. An artist. An activist. A leader. You are all of these women. All of these women surround you with strength. Leaders like these women can be found anywhere. They are seen but not remembered and heard but never listened to by the majority of people. On behalf of these leaders, I would like to share a very poorly hidden secret in our society; people don’t want black women to be successful.

The few times we all get that golden glimpse of victory it is taken. We are always told what we can and cannot do, but has anybody ever told you what you can do? Do you know that the future of civil rights lies in your heads, your hands, on the screen you read these words off of? You cannot say that you are not powerful and capable of changing the world; as a black woman you are inherently strong.

After hundreds of years of abuse thrown upon our ancestors and everyone plotting our fall, here we are. Here you are! You are the woman refusing to give up her seat. You are the woman who marches constantly. You are the woman with arms heavy from holding signs and burdens.

You are the woman inspiring a generation with dark skin and bright eyes. You must simply rise above the criticism and you will become that woman. A powerful leader. And it is vital to take back your power. You must understand it, accept it, and mold it into a better future for our community. Once you reclaim your natural power, you become immortal. Surely a person can die, but your ideas and firm touch upon the world can never vanish.

You are a woman. You are black. And you are the world’s greatest leader.

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