Black History Month plays a significant role in my life even though I fortunately had parents who taught me about the contributions and genius of Black people year around. I follow in my parents’ footsteps as I continue to share the inspirational stories of Black people, especial those who have fought to bring equality and justice to our country. Fannie Lou Hamer was the first person to teach me that Black women are central to resistance, and for that I am forever grateful.
“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Fannie Lou Hamer is often remembered for these famous words, and now, over 50 years later, that sentiment remains. Ms. Hamer took action at a time when society told women that they must act in ways deemed “ladylike.”
Rather than accept that further form of oppression, she created her own definitions and expressed her discontent to the conditions of Black people on her own terms. Ms. Hamer showed up and took action. Attending a meeting, she said, “Oh, I could run this!” She approached civil rights with urgency, passion and authenticity. Her ability to translate her personal story into the need for tangible policy change is something we still use today.
In a time where we can register to vote online, it’s easy to forget that registering Black southern voters in the 1960s was life threatening. In 1964 Fannie Lou Hamer was a leader in Freedom Summer, an effort to register Black voters in Mississippi. As someone who began my own organizing work doing voter registration, I remember the courage required while going up against the system and demanding to be a part of it. Building power to challenge an oppressive system has always been a winning strategy. Alongside Ella Baker and Robert Moses, Ms. Hamer’s work yielded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) which helped build independent political power. The MFDP was created in opposition to the Democratic Party, which didn’t allow participation by Black people even though they comprised 40% of the population of Mississippi. Ms. Hamer showed that if you weren’t offered a seat at the table, you create your own table. Her work has a lasting impact on the way that we organize.
This past month I have reflected on what resistance means in our current political climate. As our civil rights come under attack, we will continue to stand up and fight back. We have a responsibility to our greater community to ensure that the voices of the oppressed are heard, and Oakland Rising does that through ongoing community engagement and organizing. Opposition to oppression takes courage, and I draw my strength from Black women like Fannie Lou Hamer who stood up and fought back even when it was dangerous and unpopular.
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