Cartagena was my last stop on a two and a half week Colombia vacation. The laid back Caribbean coast city was the perfect place to end the trip, even though I wished it didn’t have to end at all. Apparently, this city inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ writing and as soon as I set foot in Cartagena I understood why. Magical is not an overly dramatic way to describe it. The architecture, the yellow-lit streets at night, the heat, the breeze off the ocean, seafood, freshly squeezed fruit juice, street vendors selling papaya and mangoes, all contribute to the magic of Cartagena. Not even the packs of tourists could ruin this mood.

I kept most of my days unstructured, knowing the climate would slow me down and force me to relax. I booked a day trip to the Islas del Rosario, tiny islands off the coast of Cartagena where we arrived by motorboat. I waded in blue waters, dipped into the pool, and ate an amazing lunch of fish, rice, yuca fries, and cocadas for dessert.

My other days were full of eating, drinking, and aimless walking around the Centro Histórico taking photos. I took full advantage of the exchange rate and treated myself to a spa trip and a four course meal at an upscale restaurant called Carmen. I was set on seeing Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ home and it didn’t disappoint, even just from the outside.

One night, I met up with Kasia, a German traveler who I met at the Nueva Lengua Spanish school in Bogotá. We went to Cafe Havana and danced to a live salsa band until the place closed. I also went dancing on my own to Quiebracanto, a bar right next to my hotel. Unfortunately, those are the only two salsa nights I had since the heat wiped me out on a daily basis.

On my last night in Cartagena, I was like a kid who didn’t want to go home after playing outside all day. With no particular plans, I wandered the streets until I got tired and found a restaurant that looked like it had good seafood. I had a comforting meal of rice with shrimp and plantains and of course some fresh fruit juice. With only two other people in the restaurant, the waiter and I talked throughout the meal and his friendliness made me even more sad to leave. After dinner, I wandered a bit more then finally gave in and returned to my hotel to prepare for an early flight the next morning.

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Traveling Alone

In Bogotá I was thankful I was traveling alone. Now, being in Medellín and feeling a bit depressed, I realize I wasn’t really alone. I took Spanish classes and went with other students to cafes, lunches, and activities organized by the language school. Although I was only there for a week, I miss the camaraderie of both the students and the school staff. I did plenty of things alone- I went to Monserrate and had a very peaceful and re-energizing experience. I visited the Gold Museum and sat in cafes by myself. But I also had the option of spending time with others and having shared experiences. The day before I left, a group students and staff hiked to the Chorrera Waterfall, an excursion I specifically stayed another day to take. I probably seemed antisocial (story of my life), but in hindsight I would not have preferred the hike alone.

One thing I’ve realized more clearly as I’ve gotten older is that I do crave closeness, sometimes to an unhealthy degree when it comes to relationships with men who don’t really care about my well-being. As a child with social anxiety disorder, I was controlled by fear. As a teenager and young adult, I began to claim my isolation as a choice I was making, though that “choice” was in response to circumstances mostly beyond my control. Now, as I near my third decade, I wonder how far I’ve really come in dealing with these root issues that fuel depression. Even though I spent only one week in Bogotá, it’s normal to grow attached to people as you share new experiences in a new place together. My challenge is to not spiral downwards and let that cloud of sadness stop me from fully enjoying the rest of my time in Colombia.

I’m not the biggest fan of Medellín for a few reasons- the stifling city heat, less friendly people than in Bogotá, the fact that it’s dirtier, and I felt sick for the past couple of days, but mainly I’ve been missing Bogotá and the people I met there. So I’ve been in a less than great mood. I stayed in bed until about 2 pm today (with the exception of getting up briefly to eat the hotel breakfast which is included) and around noon decided to start writing out my feelings while lying in bed. I ended up feeling slightly better. I looked out the window to see that it was a clear, sunny day, and the cute café across the street from my hotel was bustling. So I threw myself together, grabbed my laptop, and here I am writing this blog. As a treat to myself, I made a reservation for one at an upscale restaurant within Medellín’s botanical garden for tonight. Tomorrow afternoon, I head to Cartagena.


7 Days in Bogota

I really didn’t expect to like Bogotá this much. I fell in love with the city and its people, the many handsome men included. Here are the highlights and a photo gallery.

Comedor: This was a volunteering trip organized by Nueva Lengua Spanish School. A group of us went to a Catholic soup kitchen for children in a neighborhood in the hills of Bogotá, which are the poorest areas. For a lot of the kids, this is the only meal they get all day. As in every traditional Colombian meal, they get soup, a main dish which includes meat and rice, and fresh fruit juice. We handed out dishes to the kids, making sure they ate everything and everyone got one serving of each. When the kids were gone, we sat down and ate the same meal for lunch, looked at the view from the rooftop (not safe enough to walk the streets) and went home. I wasn’t planning to participate in this excursion because I didn’t feel like being around swarms of children, but I’m glad I changed my mind last minute.

Monserrate y el Museo de Oro: I rode the cable car to the top of Monserrate, a mountain that is one of Bogota’s main tourist attractions. The view is amazing. It overlooks the entire city and has a church, walking paths, a restaurant, and a cafe. There was a thunderstorm that day so it was very cloudy, but it didn’t hurt the view one bit. I’m glad I came here alone since I was able to take my time and relax. It ended up being a very calming and spiritual experience for me. When I finally decided to leave, I headed to the Gold Museum in the Candelaria neighborhood of Bogotá. This is the biggest collection of pre-Hispanic gold work in the world and I enjoyed it just as much as I expected, given how much I’m interested in the topic. I also got some second tattoo design ideas.

Catedral de Sal, Zipaquirá: The First Wonder of Colombia is an underground Catholic church built inside a salt mine in Zipaquirá, a couple of hours outside of Bogotá. Another student and I took the Transmilenio (city buses that operate like metro with dedicated street lanes) and then a ~40 minute bus ride after our morning classes were over. The salt mine was impressive. I can’t imagine the amount of time, effort, and artistic talent it took to create the carvings, let alone the natural beauty of the mine. My favorite part was definitely the mirror pool.

Cascada la Chorrera: This was officially my first waterfall trip. Located high in the mountains that provide Bogotá’s backdrop in a town called Choachi, the ride up the mountain alone was beautiful. Nothing but farms, cows, chickens, and dogs that, unlike in the city, looked happy to be there. The hike made me feel like my lungs were going to explode, but it was worth the effort. We first came to a small waterfall and stream, then after more sweating and heavy breathing we arrived at the main waterfall, Chorrera. Not for people afraid of heights, we climbed over moss-covered rocks to take pictures, look at the fantastic view, and feel the ridiculously fresh water. (The water was the best I have ever tasted.) With a burst of energy from the fresh water, we hiked some more and then had a typical Colombian lunch of soup and a main meat dish with fresh fruit juice. In this case, the juice was tomate de árbol (tree tomato). After lunch, it turns out there was another waterfall. This one was bigger than the first, but smaller than the second and had a little cave behind the waterfall that you could venture into. I just stuck my feet in because the water was freezing, but this was probably my favorite Colombia experience so far.

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Can Social Media Change the World?

Note: I was selected to be a 2015 Social Good Summit Blogger Fellow for the United Nations Association; I attended the summit during U.N. Week in New York City and wrote on the issues presented. This blog post was originally published on GenUN.

Social media has quickly become a normal part of life for activists and others working for the social good. Still, not everyone is convinced that is a positive phenomenon. Some say social media allows people to feel satisfied with their tweets, posts, and likes while letting them off the hook for not participating in real action. But if you attended Mashable’s 2015 Social Good Summit, you may come away more of a believer in the power of new media and technology to make positive global change.

The purpose of social media is to connect individuals wherever they may be located. This doesn’t just mean looking up your elementary school bully or researching the guy who asked you out on a date. We’ve seen during international crises and natural disasters how social media allowed people to connect for grassroots organizing and safety purposes. During the Arab Spring, global audiences had a direct line to what was really happening on the ground versus what the mainstream media chose to report. Egyptians essentially became citizen journalists and attracted even more international attention than traditional reporting would have. Videos from Egyptians dominated the content shown on traditional media outlets.

The same is happening right now with the refugee crisis in Syria. The tragic photo of a drowned Syrian boy whose body washed onto a Turkish beach highlighted the humanity of the refugees and sparked outrage and concern. Photos and videos of refugees fleeing, being kicked by a Hungarian reporter, and being welcomed by a German crowd have become viral as they are shared among friends online. Whether concern translates into action by world leaders is a different story, but no one can deny the importance of an informed citizenry demanding that its government take action.

The direct communication that social media provides has proven to be vital during natural disasters, as well. As Dr. Pranav Shetty of the International Medical Corps (IMC) said during the summit, “speed saves lives.” Naomi Gleit, Vice President of Product Management for Social Good at Facebook, spoke about the Facebook safety check and donate button as examples of how social media can prompt a wide audience to become involved in social causes. After this year’s earthquake in Nepal, for example, cell phone and landline phones weren’t working so many people used the Facebook safety check to let family and friends know they were okay. Through Facebook donations, $15.5 million was raised for the IMC to provide services on the ground and people who wanted to volunteer to help were connected and therefore able to do so.

At a time when every social movement needs a hashtag (e.g. #BlackLivesMatter), it’s impossible to deny the utility of social media to connect us with strangers who, in the past, would have probably remained strangers. Social media is just that; a tool that we can use in the fight for social change. We will always need activists, experts, entrepreneurs, and leaders as the driving force. The difference is that now they can increase their reach exponentially by using social media to organize, connect, and empower to achieve social progress.

5 Inspirational Women at the 2015 Social Good Summit

Note: I was selected to be a 2015 Social Good Summit Blogger Fellow for the United Nations Association; I attended the summit during U.N. Week in New York City and wrote on the issues presented. This blog post was originally published on GenUN.


The 2015 Social Good Summit had no shortage of intelligent people doing important work related to the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. However, some of the most powerful speakers were women who are trailblazers in their fields and fierce advocates for the communities they serve. Whether you care most about eradicating poverty and hunger, ensuring environmental sustainability, improving maternal health, or any of the other SDGs, there are always strong female leaders making strides in those areas. Though this list only scratches the surface, here are five inspirational women from the Social Good Summit to follow.

  1. Leila Janah

Leila Janah is a prime example of entrepreneurship with a social conscience. She is the Founder and CEO of Samasource, a nonprofit social business that gives digital work to impoverished people globally. Speaking on the “Tech Disruptions for a Sustainable Future” panel, she emphasized the importance of dignified work for the world’s poor and using access to technology to empower and connect people to that dignified work.

Quote: “Technology is amoral, it doesn’t have a view…it’s infrastructure. It is up to us to use it to widen our circle of empathy. It’s about now seeing someone on the other side of the world that we can relate to just like we relate to our neighbor and feeling the same level of moral commitment to that person that we feel to those immediately around us. That’s what the global goals are about and I think technology facilitates that beautifully, but we have to make it so.”

  1. Black Mambas

The Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit has gained wide attention for its dangerous work patrolling the Balule Nature Reserve to protect wildlife from poachers. They are remarkable not only for their bravery, but also for the fact that the majority of the teams are comprised of women. The Black Mambas were named 2015 Champions of the Earth, the top United Nations Environment Program award. Black Mamba Collet Ngobeni spoke on the “Champions of the Earth” panel and another Black Mamba helped to open the summit.

Quote: “Everywhere we look, the degradation of our natural environment is under way. An estimated 18 million hectares of forest are lost each year. Poaching, deforestation, droughts, floods, and more continue to haunt our ecosystem.”

  1. Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd is a longtime advocate for women and girls. She spoke on the “Planning Her Own Path” panel which focused on women’s access to family planning options. She is currently an ambassador for PSI, a global health organization, and a former board member. As well-versed on the facts as she was, her experience as a sexual assault and incest survivor allowed her to bring a unique sense of personal and spiritual purpose to the discussion. Even fellow panelist Babatunde Osotimehin, impressive in his own right, seemed to be inspired.

Quote: “This really has to start with my self-empowerment…I cannot transmit that which I do not have. And when I take radical responsibility for myself and my own growth, that’s then what I’m able to bring to the world. And I find that thing that irks me the most and troubles me the most and that is where my light will shine most brightly because there’s been that alchemy from hurting to healing to helping.”

  1. Lara Logan

The fact that Lara Logan wasn’t actually a panel speaker didn’t stop her from contributing to some of the best discussions of the summit. She moderated two panels: “Refugees: The Route to Resettlement” and “Social Media is the New First Responder.” Logan, an award-winning reporter and Chief Foreign Correspondent for CBS News, engaged the panelists like the seasoned journalist she is and brought her years of international experience to the conversations.

Quote: “We’re focused on Syria right now…I just came back from Iraq and people are pouring out of Iraq for the same reason and there’s no special pass for them. And I have to say don’t forget the Africans because they’ve been struggling for years and nobody wants them.”

  1. Laverne Cox

Orange is the New Black actress Laverne Cox has become one of the most recognizable advocates for transgender rights by bringing trans issues to the mainstream. The panel she moderated addressed the need for all gender identities to be included in data collection. Currently, this is not happening and these gaps prevent the delivery of social services among other adverse effects. Always a passionate speaker, Cox used her voice once again to bring trans issues to the international stage.

Quote: “What message are we sending to young people who are gender nonconforming when we don’t even count them, when we suggest that their identities and their lives don’t matter?”


Editor’s Note: #F contributor Aisha Springer lives and works in Baltimore; below she writes about her experience of life in Baltimore during and since the Uprising. Also see the curation here of the evolution of hashtags used to organize the movement in Baltimore.

Since the cameras have left Baltimore, the national media has instead focused on other parts of the country dealing with racial tension and tragedy – unfortunately, there have been too many just in the past two months from McKinney, Texas to the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina. While we mourn and process the death of the Charleston 9, we continue to see the interconnections of racism, police brutality, and aggression against black lives in different forms throughout the country.

Since the Baltimore uprising, the mood in the city has been tense, apprehensive, expectant, and hopeful all at once. The grassroots are trying to capitalize on the surge of passion and increased attention around the social problems they have long been fighting against. And there was a surge of passion. Big Brothers Big Sisters reported a 3,000% increase in mentorship inquiries within 36 hours. There has been a slew of town halls, panel discussions, and planning meetings to determine next steps for reform. Though the passion has died down to a degree, those who may have previously been (or still are) apathetic residents living in gentrified bubbles have been forced to confront the reality of the city they’ve adopted as their own. In order to sustain increased passion and awareness, it’s important to make sure the issues raised aren’t erased from public discourse. We must all remember what can happen when police brutality, poverty, inadequate public education, lack of fair housing, insufficient job opportunity, and the underlying structural racism is allowed to continue.

On Saturday, April 25 I met friends and co-workers at a rally to support justice for Freddie Gray and police reform. Peaceful protests had been taking place for days, but only after the events of the following Monday night would the country take notice. We met in front of the Western District police station, not far from Gilmor Homes where bystanders had taken cell phone video of 25-year-old Freddie Gray’s arrest on April 12. That encounter led to his spine being 80 percent severed, his larynx crushed, and the public demanding answers and accountability from the Baltimore Police Department.

Around 3:00 pm, we began marching from the police station in Sandtown-Winchester towards City Hall in downtown Baltimore. Men, women, and children marched together carrying posters and shouting chants that protesters now know by heart: “No justice, no peace;” “All night, all day, we will march for Freddie Gray;” “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” When we passed through intersections, blocking traffic, drivers honked and held up their fists in support.

Protesters shared the experience with the hashtags #FreddieGray, #JusticeforFreddieGray,#Baltimore, and #BlackLivesMatter.

However, these were not the images that dominated the media. Saturday evening, a relatively small group of people smashed police and civilian cars and destroyed property, and peaceful protestersclashed with baseball fans outside Camden Yards.

On Monday April 27, rumors circulated of a 3:00 p.m. “purge” at Mondawmin Mall led by high school students. BPD also released a “credible threat” that members of the Bloods, Crips, and BGF gangs would unite to kill police officers- stories that the majority of media outlets ran with without bothering to investigate further. (Watch video of gang members’ response to the rumor.) As a result, many schools, businesses, and government agencies closed early.

Before students were released from school, police shut down buses and the subway system near Mondawmin Mall, a public transportation hub that many students use to get home. Children left school only to be met by officers in riot gear and armored tanks. Those who had never planned to be part of any “purge” were left with no way to escape the situation. According to eyewitnesses, police in riot gear marched towards groups of kids to disperse them, though many had no way to leave the area. Then a few kids threw rocks at the approaching officers. This is the point in the story where the mainstream media would have you think the problem began. The situation escalated from there and spread to other parts of the city, setting off a night of riots resulting in 15 structure fires, 144 vehicle fires, and 200 arrests.

That night, I was at home after a day of peaceful protest. It was surreal to watch the very same streets I had marched through become battle zones in front of the nation’s eyes, knowing many people watching would never know or care to understand the full story of what was happening and why. Visceral reactions to destruction of property outweighed any sadness or anger over the taking of multiple lives by police, which was the reason for the destruction in the first place. While it’s valid to be upset over the destruction of businesses, the prioritization of property over lives speaks to the dehumanization of poor black and brown people that is at the root of this country’s worst social problems.

It was extremely frustrating to witness the way the media portrayed events when I had just seen a very different picture. The narrative on mainstream media was predictably different from what was being reported by on-the-ground activists, journalists and witnesses. It says a lot about the state of media and journalism today that I received a fuller perspective of what was occurring from a select group of Twitter users than from CNN or even some local news stations.

In light of this one-sided account, activists sought to shift the media narrative and reclaim Baltimore’s story. The hashtag #BaltimoreRiots was replaced by #BaltimoreUprising. “Uprising” acknowledges the decades-long history of state violence and inequality of which residents of Baltimore neighborhoods like Gray’s have grown weary, while riots focus on the brief, yet destructive actions of a few, with no context or thoughtful examination. As President Obama said, this is a “slow-rolling crisis…this is not new.” Freddie Gray’s death followed by provocation, rather than answers, from authorities were just the catalysts that tipped Baltimore over the edge.

Protests have been peaceful before and since the unrest on April 27. Though it was difficult to watch Baltimore reach this point, it was inevitable given the reality for so many in Baltimore and in no way worse than the constant violence inflicted on poor black communities. National and international attention turned to the struggle of impoverished city residents and the police brutality epidemic that community members have been working to end. On May 1, Baltimore state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that the six officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death have received criminal charges, but activists are not placated. Charges do not ensure convictions and neither ensure systemic reform. This is just a first step. Fallout from these events and the same long-term challenges remain.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake finally ended the 10:00 p.m. city-wide curfew on May 3 after appeals from activists, community members, business owners, and civil/human rights organizations such as the ACLU and Amnesty International. Complaints of unequal enforcement, lack of necessity, adverse impact on businesses and vulnerable populations, and the denial of due process rights for those arrested were among the arguments for its end. Twitter campaigns run under the hashtags #EndTheCurfew and #BreaktheCurfew worked in tandem with continued protests and advocacy work.

Now that the dramatic footage of fires and looting has run out and the National Guard and police no longer line the streets, national media outlets have left the city to pursue other stories. Here in Baltimore, community members hope some good will come from this experience by creating a sustained focus on improving the lives of the city’s poor and marginalized people. Marches and rallies continue, as well as advocacy work, planning meetings, and town halls to determine next steps.

As a Baltimore resident involved in social justice work, I am aware of the challenges that stem from institutional racism and marginalization of the poor, leading to justified feelings of anger and powerlessness. But what stood out the most for me during the weeks after Freddie Gray’s death was the incredible strength of the Baltimore community. That includes the people who show up each day for marches, community leaders who provided lunches to students when schools were closed, residents who cleaned up the streets after Monday night’s destruction, and others who continue to contribute their time and skills in any way they can. #BMoreUnited encompasses this spirit; we are now even more united in this longstanding struggle and are committed to seeing it through together. This is not only a time to amplify our voices for justice, it is also a time to show love to our Baltimore neighbors. In an environment where poor black and brown lives are devalued, ignored, and taken with ease, the act of showing love and genuine concern is in itself a revolutionary and transformational act.

(Originally published on Hashtag Feminism)

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace [Book review]


The recession may have caused people to question the notion of a college degree as the ticket to success, but another true barrier is often forgotten. In his book, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, Jeff Hobbs shows that the effects of growing up in a poor, violent neighborhood run much deeper than what can be solved by any degree.

Peace was raised in East Orange, New Jersey, by a mother who struggled financially. When Peace was a child, his father was sent to prison. Despite these challenges, Peace excelled in school and attended Yale University. But the drive to provide for those in his life followed him through college and well after graduation. He sold marijuana off and on throughout the years and at age 30, was shot dead.

Hobbs (who was Peace’s friend and college roommate) uses the events of Peace’s life to remind us how the education, housing, and criminal justice systems apply differently to low-income people and how poverty has insidious effects on mental and emotional well-being. As brilliant as Peace was, intellect was not enough to overcome the influences that ultimately contributed to his death.

(Originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of STAND, the ACLU magazine)summer2015

#AddWomen: The Root Cause of the Women in STEM Problem

Last month, the American Association for University Women (AAUW) released a report, Solving the Equation, which outlines the variables that affect women’s success in computing and engineering. It is the latest in a list of studies identifying bias as the root of the lack of women in STEM and leads to the pipeline issues and “personal choices” of women who opt out. Workplaces and academic environments are made unwelcoming to women due to stereotypes and biases, resulting in isolation, loss of opportunities, and other limitations. Simply recruiting more girls into existing educational programs does not solve the problem; the environments where they learn and work need to be reformed so they can achieve a sense of belonging and purpose in their STEM careers.

AAUW held a Twitter chat to coincide with a Solving the Equation panel on the report’s release, using the hashtag #AddWomen to track the conversation. Other hashtags on the subject include#WomeninSTEM and #STEMinism.

“Lean in” feminism encourages women to break the glass ceiling of leadership in business. There is nothing inherently wrong with this; the problem is that the dominant message that each woman can “lean in” to achieve business success minimizes the role bias plays in the workplace and focuses on middle-to-upper-class white women, leaving out the women most lacking rights and representation.

Dialogue about the lack of women in STEM fields particularly suffers from this problem. While research shows that girls begin to lose interest in STEM subjects in middle school, the fact that gender and racial biases influence students through their parents, teachers, media and the culture at large, is sometimes downplayed as if this loss of interest was biological. The insidious nature of bias is that it persists into adulthood and, if left unchecked, guides our behavior, so women working in STEM fields are subject to implicit and explicit biases every day in these predominantly white male fields.

A 2014 UC Hastings study also supports the importance of bias in women’s STEM representation. It identifies five biases that push women out of STEM fields and how they affect women differently depending on race. One of the biases, called the “tightrope,” refers to the thin line women must walk between acting in traditionally masculine or feminine ways. If a woman acts too feminine, she is seen as incompetent. If she acts too masculine, she becomes unlikable. Asian American women in particular reported feeling pressure to play a stereotypically feminine role. Black and Latina women were more likely to be seen as angry when they don’t conform to the role, reinforcing the “angry black woman” stereotype. This puts women in the position of having to defer to male colleagues and hold back to avoid being berated by superiors (an experience reported by women in the study) or suffering other consequences that limit their career growth.

The recent loss of a gender discrimination lawsuit brought by Ellen Pao against her venture capitalist former employer highlights the challenge of combating implicit bias. When it results in discrimination, it’s very difficult to prove. Prevention requires us to be constantly aware of internalized biases as they arise, which takes will and persistence. Hopefully, the publicity surrounding these studies and Ellen Pao’s case creates a groundswell of support for initiatives to make white male-dominated workplaces and educational programs more welcoming to women of every race.

(Originally published on Hashtag Feminism)

#BlackGirlsMatter Too: Ending the Exclusion of Black Girls

Earlier this month, the African American Policy Forum released a report, Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected, written by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a Columbia University law professor. The report provides data from Boston and New York public schools on the ways girls are disciplined depending on race. Not surprisingly, girls of color and especially black girls are exposed to harsher punishment and at a higher frequency. Though more boys are suspended than girls overall, racial and gender disparities are significant. Black males were suspended three times as often as white males, while Black girls were suspended six times more than white female students.

As a result of zero-tolerance policies applied with gender and racial bias, students of color are removed from their learning environments and unnecessarily exposed to the criminal justice system, something referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline. Girls in particular face unique challenges when it comes to zero-tolerance policies that don’t allow for individual discretion by a teacher or counselor. Sexual trauma and harassment, high incidence of interpersonal violence, teen pregnancy, and family responsibilities contribute to emotional, behavioral, and practical challenges that affect a girls’ school life.

Excessive discipline cases have been making the news for years now, bringing the issue to light. Recently, video footage from a Baltimore middle school shows the beating and pepper-spraying of three girls by a school security officer. In 2014, a Detroit honor roll student was suspended during her senior year for accidentally bringing a pocketknife to a football game, and in 2007 a six-year-old Florida girl was arrested for having a tantrum. This report is the first of its kind to bring attention to the fact that girls of color are nowhere near exempt from harsh treatment and it does not make sense to focus policy on boys alone.

News coverage of stories like these helps to inform a wider audience of issues facing Black girls and the AAPF report includes a social media campaign to do the same. The hashtag #BlackGirlsMatter tracks the conversation on Twitter and has produced thoughtful responses regarding Black girls in the school-to-prison pipeline, the gender and race biases that cause this disparity, and the way Black women and girls have long been left out of conversations on addressing racially biased policies and practices.

An important fact raised in the report is that girls are largely excluded from current efforts to break down the school-to-prison pipeline. It’s generally thought that boys suffer worse consequences than their female counterparts, and unfortunately, this myopic thinking influences policy. While the overall number of Black men who are the direct victims of a racially biased criminal justice system is higher than the number of Black women, this often translates to a complete disregard for Black women and girls. Just as it is possible to address the difficulties officers face in policing while at the same time holding them accountable to the public, it is also possible to tackle the needs of Black men and women at the same time. Outside of the Black feminist community, not enough attention is paid to Black women and girls who suffer the same injustices, but are not acknowledged.

Black feminists have increasingly been pushing back on this type of thinking and their outspokenness has spurred real-world action. Women leaders of #BlackLivesMatter protests have made a conscious effort to include the names of Black female victims in protests to make sure their lives and deaths are not ignored in the process. In 2014, when President Obama announced the My Brother’s Keeper program, feminist scholars, organizations, and activists including Alice Walker and Rosario Dawson, signed onto an open letter. The letter made a clear point: leaving out Black girls perpetuates the myth that girls are doing just fine and ends up neglecting them to the detriment of the entire community. Also publicized by the AAPF, the letter and its topic were discussed on Twitter using the hashtag #WhyWeCantWait and has become a full campaign to realign MBK.

Stereotypes of Black women contribute to the erasure of Black girls from the conversation about excessive use of force and discipline. Historically, Black women have endured racial and sexual abuse and fought tirelessly for justice, but despite their many contributions have been relegated to the sidelines in public.

Now, in the age of social media activism, Black women activists have an expanded platform to resist these entrenched biases and insist that Black women and girls be considered and involved in policy decisions. Hopefully, this is a continuing trend and we see a greater understanding and concern for the future of Black girls in this country.

(Originally published on Hashtag Feminism)

#ReclaimMLK: Reclaiming Our History and Future

This year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was different than those in recent memory. The visibility of police and vigilante murders of black Americans changed the way we engaged in MLK Day this year, and possibly for years to come. Using the hashtag #ReclaimMLK, Ferguson Action planned and encouraged protests around the country from January 15-19 as a way to reclaim the true intention of Dr. King’s work. As Danielle Belton wrote in The Root, “Somewhere between his assassination and today began an MLK-neutering campaign meant to turn the famed agitator’s holiday into a national Day of Service, a generic mishmash of good feelings that contorts King’s social-justice legacy into a blissful Hallmark card of post-racial nothingness.”

Protesters around the country staged die-ins, marches, and blocked highways, shopping outlets, and even brunches. A long list of hashtags tracked these actions including #ReclaimMLK, #MLKalsoSaid,#BlackLivesMatter, #ShutItDown, and #ICantBreathe. 

This refocusing of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday has been a long time coming. For years, Dr. King has been presented as an icon for the nebulous feel-good ideas of peace and unity or used as a commercial ploy, ignoring the radical nature of the Civil Rights Movement and what King’s beliefs and actions really meant. Even in his nonviolence, King was so threatening that the FBI zealously monitored him and other civil rights leaders.

Fast forward to today, when media figures and others who oppose many of the things Dr. King stood for- workers’ rights, reproductive justice, criticism of capitalism– praise him as a national hero while co-opting his true message. Each year, we can expect to hear pundits and politicians justify their beliefs by claiming that, if he were alive today, Dr. King would agree.

Rosa Parks is another of the most well-known civil rights leaders and rightly so, although not for the reasons most of us were taught in school. Like King, Parks’ image has been distorted to fit popular culture. As a black woman, Rosa Parks has been put through an additional layer of sanitizing to make her acceptable to racist and sexist power structures. As Danielle McGuire writes in her book At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance – a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, Rosa Parks wasn’t just a quiet old woman who refused to get out of a whites-only seat on the bus because her feet were tired from a long day of work. She was “a militant race woman, a sharp detective, and an anti-rape activist long before she became the patron saint of the bus boycott.”

Her decision to resist segregation wasn’t a result of tired feet, but of a lifelong defiance and ingrained belief in the right to fair treatment. Her story was co-opted not only by white power structures, but also by a patriarchy that requires a civil rights heroine to take on a saintly image to be effective.

As we see in the erasure of Dr. King’s radicalism, Rosa Parks’ fierce lifelong activism, Maya Angelou’s unapologetic past as a sex worker, and so many others, we cannot count on others to tell our stories. This generation is capitalizing on the ubiquity of social media to demand that our history is neither revised nor repeated.

(Originally published on Hashtag Feminism)