Women Who Lead: Activism Through an Intersectional Lens – Panelist Mahreen Ansari

By Mia Lukic

Tune into the “Women Who Lead” Panel Discussion for an invigorating conversation with a panel of diverse group of local women leaders, Thursday November 5, 2020 6:00 – 7:30 pm

Use the link below to register

https://bit.ly/37Q8EMi

As the event gets closer, and even as the event passes we would like to highlight our panelist for their extraoridnary work in our community, and for their extraordinary work in this event! The first panelist we would like to highlight is Mahreen Ansari, a junior at UMKC pursuing her undergraduate degree. Mahreen is studying Political Science and International Studies with a Pre-Law emphasis. Vice President of both the Student Government Association and UMKC’s College Democrats chapter, Mahreen is passionate about climate justice and is a community organizer with Sunrise Movement Kansas City. Through her climate justice work with Sunrise Movement Kansas City, she hopes to create space within environmentalism for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and other traditionally excluded groups. We had a chance to sit down with Mahreen one on one and ask her some more in-depth questions about her work in the community. The following is that interview!

 

What motivates you to keep working towards justice in a time where the country is so divided, and many people choose to reject the realities of social issues and/or scientific fact?

For a long time, I always felt like “well someone has to do the work!” But with a global pandemic and the beginning of the uprisings this summer, I have felt so burnt out because I just have been doing and feeling a lot. So, I have shifted my thought process to “someone has to start it” and I’ve just been rolling with that. I feel like with that thought process it’s easier to recognize that work must be done and it’s important that all of us find ways to contribute to this rather than just taking it all on by ourselves. Being a part of different organizations that are dedicated to different aspects of the fight for social justice as well as having friends who are as committed to this fight as much as I am helps so much because you don’t feel alone. It’s important to recognize the importance in the work you do and having a support system for yourself. I know that, for many of us, we are living in shocking times where it feels like it can’t get any worse, but honestly, the people who came before us have survived this, and worse, and that resilience is something that we have inherited from our predecessors. I always try to think of my support system, my work, and my ancestors to keep myself motivated. I do want to remind everyone though that rest is necessary, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed for taking time for yourself.

How does your intersectional identity as a woman impact your outlook on the world and certain issues?

My femme identity gives me a broader outlook on the world, in the sense that I’m marginalized for it so it pushes me to want to build coalitions with people who are marginalized in the same or similar ways. It reminds me that all of these struggles are interconnected, and that the fight for social justice can only truly be won if we all work together. I also understand the how, where, and why women and femmes are marginalized in the ways we are because of that firsthand marginalization I experience from this identity, which helps me better recognize ways to battle it and advocate on my behalf.

What would you say to young female leaders who are just starting on their path to leadership?

I would encourage young women and femmes who are just starting on their path to leadership to stay true to who they are. We exist in a world where we’re encouraged to dilute our beliefs or practices to be more digestible for people, but that’s not why you exist. You should never have to dress a certain way to be taken seriously, or sound more polite when you speak so that people listen. We need to create and work on the world we want and that doesn’t happen through compromising who we are. Don’t be afraid to take up space in places dominated by men or masculine people because you have just as much, if not more, of a right to exist in those spaces. If you are criticized for how you react or interact within those male or masculine dominated spaces don’t let it phase you because the “criticism” that you’re facing has a large chance of being based off of negative biases.

Are there any programs/projects you are currently working on that you would like to mention?

I have two things I want to shout out. First, in my work as Vice President of Student Government Association at UMKC I have been working with the Office of Student Involvement and the Collegiate Panhellenic Council to bring in an outside organization to put together a workshop based around diversity and inclusion for students. It’ll give students the opportunity to engage in real introspection and critical reflection and explore the fluidity and ubiquity of race in American society. I’m so excited for this and I want to encourage all students to RSVP for it, the event is on RooGroups under “2020 Inclusive Student Leadership Retreat”. Second, I want to shoutout Sunrise Movement Kansas City, the climate justice organization that I organize with, for the amazing work they do. We’ve been working on pushing City Hall to pass a Green New Deal resolution for Kansas City that will not only push Kansas City to be a greener city but also to make sure that in that transition everyone in Kansas City is being accounted for and taken care of in it. I do a lot of the digital graphics for Sunrise Movement Kansas City which has pushed me to start my own series which explores a lot of race-related history and issues of Kansas City.

Where can people go to learn more about the work you do?

If you’re interested in joining or finding out more about Sunrise Movement Kansas City, you can check out our social media, all of our handles are @sunrisemvmtkc. If you’re interested in checking out the graphics I made about race-related history and issues in Kansas City, you can check out my personal Instagram @exotik.queen where I post my content.

 

Be sure to register to see Mahreen in the Women Who Lead Panel and keep checking in to learn about the other panelists!

Seven Masks, Seven Matches

 

By Morgan Clark

It was in 2018 when she made a big upset, beating one the greatest athletes of all the time at the age of 20. Winning the Grand Slam as the first Japanese tennis player for both men and women. Naomi Osaka, a Haitian -Japanese tennis player, has made quite a stir in the tennis community. Many did not expect her to beat Serena Williams in the first place, but absolutely no one expected the controversy that would follow Osaka’s win. During the match Serena was penalized three times, and some believe that the referee robbed her of a win. But those who watched the game know that Naomi earned that win.

Two years later the 22-year old tennis player is in the headlines again, causing another upset. But this time it’s in her activism. Because of COVID, Naomi had time to herself for the first time since her career took off. She decided to fly down to Michigan to partake in the Black Lives matter protests. Along with her boyfriend, Osaka protested police brutality disproportionately effecting people of color. Since then, Naomi has taken her activism to the US Open. During each game she wore a different mask that stated a name of an African-American who has been killed by the police. Their names were: Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice. Seven masks for seven games. Not only did she bring awareness to others about the racial injustice that is going on in America, she won the US Open. And although what she has done is truly brave, there are those who believe she should have kept the “politics out of sports”. In response to that Osaka tweeted “All the people that were telling me to “keep politics out of sports”, (which it wasn’t political at all), really insured me to win. You better believe I’m gonna try to be on your tv for as long as possible.” (Twitter 2020). As a young athlete it was not expected for her to win the US Open. Not only did she win the US Open twice she did this while spreading awareness on a mainly white platform. Fearless is what Naomi is, on and off the court. We can’t wait to see what the future will hold for her.

“Avengers: Infinity War” and Feminism

By Megan Schwindler

Spoilers ahead! Proceed with caution.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe that I grew up with was completely male-dominated. If you look back you’ll see Hulk,  Logan, Deadpool, Spiderman, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the list goes on. There were women in these films yes, but how many could pass the Bechdel test? For those of you who don’t know, the Bechdel test uncovers sexism in fiction by asking two questions:

  1. Do two (named) female characters talk to each other?
  2. Do they talk about something other than a male character?

So how does Marvel hold up? According to an article from 2017, only 56% pass the test. But things are changing in the Marvel Universe. Black Panther introduced us to the badass women of Wakanda, and the new Avengers: Infinity War takes it one step further by bringing all of the female superheroes together. For the first time ever we get Nebula, Gamora, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, Shuri, Okoye, and Mantis all on the same screen. Can you say chills? What’s better is that they all defy the typical role female superheroes lead (the token heroine or the damsel in distress/love interest). All of the female superheroes contribute to the plot in meaningful ways and are way more than side-pieces with witty-comebacks and perfect makeup.

One of my favorite scenes is when Scarlet Witch is knocked down and the villain (also female) tells her she is about to die alone. But then we hear off screen, “She’s not alone” and Black Widow and Okoye come in and fight the alien-like enemy. While the statement was short, it said a lot. Finally, the Marvel Universe is celebrating strong women and giving them a platform to inspire young girls everywhere. Kayleigh Dray puts it best:

“These three little words are a staunch reminder that Marvel’s female superheroes are no longer alone, they are a team of impossible strength and force. And they act as something of a promise, too: Marvel has sworn that these amazing badasses – all every bit as complex, engaging, and necessary to the cinematic universe as their male counterparts – will never again be reduced to the role of ‘token’ woman.”

And to top it all off, in the final scenes, Nick Fury attempts to contact Captain Marvel, arguably the most empowering female character. According to Marvel her powers include, “flight, enhanced strength, durability and the ability to shoot concussive energy bursts from her hands.” She sounds pretty cool right? And since half of our favorite Marvel superheroes are dead (or just momentarily gone) we definitely need a superhero to step in and not only defeat Thanos, but to defy all the gender stereotypes.

While Avengers: Infinity War is far from the perfect feminist film, it’s certainly a step in the right direction and hopefully will inspire viewers young and old to realize that women are just as smart, strong, and powerful as men.

 

Feminist Movie Coming Soon

By Zaquoya Rogers

This weekend I saw previews for a feminist movie on the rise and had to talk about it. On May 11, which is just 2 days before Mother’s Day, a movie named “Breaking In” is scheduled to debut. The story centers around a single mother who takes her children to a high-tech estate for a get-away vacation, but while they’re there four men break in and take her children hostage.

Guess who is the lead character? Gabrielle Union! She is one of Hollywood’s most vocal feminist that speaks up for women’s rights, specifically women of color. She is inspirational and admired greatly. What makes this movie feminist is that Gabrielle’s character is not a “damsel in distress.” Gabrielle challenges and fights the intruders and takes it upon herself to save her and her children. The most iconic moment in the trailer was when one of the men said, “You’re a woman. Alone. at the mercy of strangers.” to try to deem Gabrielle’s character as powerless and weak. But the gag is… They were no match for her. She says later in the trailer, “I’m just a mom. You don’t know what I’m capable of.” Can you say… total feminist bad ass.

Remembering Aretha Franklin 

By Zaquoya Rogers 

Aretha Franklin is a household name and trailblazer of the 60s. In 1987, she became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Born on March 25 in Memphis Tennessee, Franklin lived with her father, who is a well-known pastor and gospel singer, and her sisters. They toured the gospel circuit singing and befriended celebrities such as Sam Cooke, Clara Wade, and even got signed by John Hammond to Columbia. After the tour came a series of hits such as “Today I Sing The Blues”, “Without the one you love” and many more. However, during her stardom and fame she dealt with many issues such as domestic violence and other personal tragedies, but Franklin was still able to make hits and progress as the superstar that she is. Aretha Franklin, created 41 studio albums and 6 live albums in all. Later in her career, Franklin created her own record label named, World Class Records and created it exclusively for gospel music. Aretha is a survivor, superstar, successful black woman, and most of all… a QUEEN.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal

By Tatiahna Turner

Born September 21, 1965, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal is known as an American politician and activist. She currently serves as the U.S. Representative from Washington’s seventh congressional district. She is the first Indian-American woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Jayapal was born in Chennai, India and was raised in Indonesia and Singapore. She immigrated to the United States in 1982, at the age of 16 to attend college. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and her master’s degree from Northwestern University.

After the September 11 attacks, Jayapal founded Hate Free Zone as an advocacy group for immigrants. Hate Free Zone registered new American citizens to vote and lobbied on immigration reform and related issues. The group successfully sued the Bush Administration’s Immigration and Naturalization Services to prevent the deportation of over 4,000 Somalis across the country. The name of the group was changed from Hate Free Zone to OneAmerica in 2008. In May of 2012, Jayapal stepped down from her leadership position in the group and in 2013 was recognized by the White House as a “Champion of Change.”

Jayapal also served on the Mayoral Advisory Committee that negotiated Seattle’s $15 minimum wage, and co-chaired the Mayor’s police chief search committee, which resulted in the unanimous selection of the city’s first woman police chief. After State Senator Adam Kline announced his retirement, Jayapal entered the race to succeed him. She went on the win in the race for Senator against Democrat Louis Watanabe in November of 2014.

In January of 2016, Jayapal announced her candidacy for Congress in Washington’s seventh congressional district. In April of 2016, she received an endorsement from Bernie Sanders, and on August 2, 2016, Jayapal finished first in the top-two primary, alongside state representative Brady Walkinshaw. In the end, Jayapal won the election with 56 percent of the vote.

The Legacy of Berta Càceres

By Korrien Hopkins

Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores was a Honduran activist of the Lenca people. 

She was born March 4, 1973 and grew up witnessing the violence that swept through Central America in the 1980’s. Her mother, Austra Bertha Flores Lopez, was a great role model for humanitarianism. She was a midwife and social activist who took in and cared for refugees from El Salvador, teaching her young children the value of standing up for disenfranchised people. Austra Flores served as two-term mayor of their hometown of La Esperanza, as a congressional representative, and as a governor of the Department of Intibucá

With the great influence of her mother, Cáceres grew up to become a student activist and in 1993, at the age of 19, she cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to address the growing threats posed to Lenca communities by illegal logging. This organization fought for their territorial rights and to improve their livelihoods.

In 2006, community members from Rio Blanco came to COPINH asking for help. They had witnessed an influx of machinery and construction equipment coming into their town. They had no idea what the construction was for or who was behind the project and asked Cáceres to investigate. What they did know was that there was a threat against the Gualcarque river which was a place of spiritual importance to the Lenca people and viewed as sacred land.

Cáceres responded to this threat by filing complaints with government authorities, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and by appealing to businesses that were funding the dam to withdraw support. Those efforts proved unsuccessful, however, and in 2013 Cáceres organized a human blockade of the road to access the construction site. The blockade stayed in place for more than a year, and protests continued to take place thereafter. Criminal charges were filed against Cáceres, and she and other activists were routinely threatened with kidnap and murder. After one protest leader was killed in 2013, Sinohydro, the Chinese partner of the Honduran company building the Agua Zarca Dam, withdrew from the project, and the International Finance Corporation later withdrew its support. Cáceres was later murdered in her home due to a fatal gunshot wound.

Despite her tragic death, Cáceres continues to be a great inspiration to many. She was a prominent figure in a very strong movement. Looking at current events like the protest at Standing Rock, we can see the attacks against indigenous tribal lands continue to rise. The fight that indigenous people continually face is a reminder that Cáceres was one person who has moved thousands, a single life turned into countless calls for justice.

Berta no murió. Se multiplicó. Berta didn’t die. She multiplied.

 

Ava DuVernay: Director, Producer, and Screenwriter

By: Korrien Hopkins

There’s something very important about films about black women and girls being made by black women. It’s a reflection as opposed to an interpretation.

Ava DuVernay is an American film director, producer, screenwriter, film marketer, and film distributor. DuVernay was born on August 24, 1972 in Long Beach, California. She was raised by her mother, Darlene, an educator, and her stepfather, Murray Maye. She grew up in Lynwood, California near Compton and graduated in 1990 from Saint Joseph High School in Lakewood. She attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and double majored in English Literature and African-American studies. During her summer vacations, she would travel to the childhood home of her stepfather, which was not far from Selma, Alabama. DuVernay said that these summers influenced the making of Selma and her successful career in film.

Prior to her filmmaking career, DuVernay worked as a publicist and marketer for 14 years. The award-winning firm she worked with provided strategy and execution for more than 120 film and television campaigns for acclaimed directors. These included directors such as Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Michael Mann, and Bill Condon. DuVernay is also the founder of ARRAY, a grassroots distribution and advocacy collective dedicated to strengthening films by people of color and women. DuVernay sits on the boards of both Sundance Institute and Film Independent and in 2017, DuVernay was named one of Fortune Magazine’s 50 Greatest World Leaders and TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.

At the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, DuVernay won the U.S. Directing Award Dramatic for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere, and was the first African-American woman to win the award. For her work in Selma in 2014, DuVernay was the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award. With Selma, she was also the first black female director to have her film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. In 2017, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film 13th in 2016. DuVernay’s latest film premiered March 9, 2018. The groundbreaking fantasy film A Wrinkle in Time, had a budget exceeding 100 million dollars, making her the first black woman to direct a live-action film with a budget of that size. DuVernay was the first of many, setting the bar high and opening the door for future women of color filmmakers like myself. She continues to inspire many and displays what it is to be a phenomenal woman of history by using her power to share stories of those like us.

Fannie Lou Hamer: Civil Rights Activist

By Tatiahna Turner

You can pray until you faint, but unless you get up and try to do something, God is not going to put it in your lap.

The youngest of 20 children, Fannie Lou Hamer was born Fannie Lou Townsend on October 6, 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi. From the age of 6 Fannie picked cotton with her family. She was allowed to attend the plantations’ one-room school house where she discovered her love for reading and poetry. However, at the age of 12 Fannie had to leave school to support her parents. She continued picking cotton and it said that at the age of 13 she could pick 200-300 pounds of cotton daily despite having a disfigured leg as a result of polio. She continued to develop her reading skills in Bible Study at her church, and in 1944, when her plantation owner found out that she was able to read and write, he selected her as the plantations’ time and record keeper. That same year, Fannie married a tractor driver on the plantation. Perry “Pap” Hamer and Fannie remained married for the next 18 years. Later, In 1961, while having surgery to remove a tumor Hamer was given a hysterectomy without consent by a white doctor. This was part of the state’s compulsory sterilization plan to reduce the number of poor blacks in the state and blacks in general. She is credited soon after for coining the phrase, “Mississippi appendectomy”.

Hamer became interested in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950’s when she heard leaders in a local movement speak at the annual Regional Council of Negro Leadership. In 1962, Hamer learned about the right to vote from volunteers at a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) meeting. After this meeting, she began taking action in the civil rights movement. On August 31, Hamer traveled to Indianola, Mississippi to attempt to register to vote. She was not successful in this endeavor and when she returned home to the plantation she was fired by the plantation owner who had warned her against trying to register. Hamer’s husband was required to stay on the plantation until the end of the harvest season. On September 10, while staying with a friend, Hamer was shot at 16 times by the Ku Klux Klan. In fear of further retaliation, Hamer and her family moved to Tallahatchie County the next day where they stayed for three months. On December 4, Hamer returned to her hometown to take the literacy test but failed and was turned away. It is said that she told the registrar, “You’ll see me every 30 days till’ I pass.” Fannie said about the event, “I guess if I’d had any sense, I’d have been a little scared — but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it kinda seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.”

After being hired as a field secretary by the SNCC in 1963, Hamer attended a citizenship conference in Charleston, South Carolina. On the way, the party stopped in Winona, Mississippi where they were refused service inside of a local café. Shortly after, a highway patrol man came into the establishment with a bat and intimidated the activists to leave. As one of the members of the group was jotting down the license plate number of the officer’s car, a police chief entered and began arresting anyone that was with the party. Hamer and her colleagues were arrested and taken to a local jail where they were beaten and brutalized. Hamer was taken to a cell where the inmates were instructed to beat her with a baton. The police made sure that she was held down during this almost fatal attack. Hamer was released on June 12, 1963. It took her more than a month to recover, and she was still left with injuries. She sustained a blood clot over her left eye and permanent damage to one of her kidneys. When Fannie returned to Mississippi she organized a voter registration drive.

Hamer died of complications of hypertension and breast cancer on March 14, 1977. She was buried in Ruleville, Mississippi. Her tombstone was engraved with one of her famous quotes, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Marsha P. Johnson: The Pioneer

By Korrien Hopkins

Marsha P. Johnson was a leader during the standoff that culminated in the infamous Stonewall Riots, a rallying cry against police surveillance and harassment of people in New York’s LGBTQ community during the 1960s. Johnson was a black transgender activist who did many things to enact change in her community. She mentored and helped provide housing for homeless LGBTQ youth, served as an activist for AIDS with the organization Act Up, and founded organizations to serve trans communities. She was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, and she co-founded the gay and transvestite advocacy organization, STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), alongside her close friend, Sylvia Rivera.

Sadly, the activist tragically died in 1992 at the age of 46. Her body was found in the Hudson River. The circumstances surrounding her death are still being examined. It was first ruled a suicide, but the case has since been reopened. Despite the loss of a pioneer in the LGBTQ community she lives on through her legacy. Today, we still fight against hate and discrimination of the LGBTQ community. We continue to push for peace and equality and we wouldn’t be nearly as far as we are without strong women like Johnson.