Shanise Williams I, Black Voters Matter Fund, received a standing ovation after her eloquent and passionate keynote presentation at the National Network Assembly (NNA). https://www.facebook.com/ShaniseThe1st
From her bio, “Shanise Williams I is a published poet, entrepreneur, blacktivist, feminist, and founder of the Close Knit Communities Coalition who’s mission is to be the needle that threads love, leadership, and long-lasting change into our local areas by hosting and planning community events, collecting donations for local shelters, and speaking up for rights and respect for all.”
I will do the best I can to do justice to Shanise’s presentation. She spoke in a way that challenged me/us that was illuminating and thought provoking.
The theme of her presentation was honesty and authenticity.
What follows are from the notes I took at the time. I hope they are accurate. They are not exact quotations and any mistakes are mine. The bold, italicized sentences are my best summary of what she said. After that, I share some of my own experiences.
It is not enough to talk about racial injustice. White people must experience, live it. We can only be authentic when we speak from our own experience. I am so grateful I was given the opportunity to spend significant amounts of time in the Kheprw Institute (KI) community, a black youth empowerment organization. That taught me that white people must spend significant amounts of time, in a variety situations, with black people to even begin to understand racial injustice. Developing friendships is essential, before any real work can be done together. Over the four years I was involved with KI, before I left Indianapolis, I spent a minimum of several hours a month there. Often that was to participate in youth-led book discussions, where people were encouraged to respectfully express what they felt about that month’s book.
Black people’s guard is up because they are used to being taken advantage of. I’ve written about my initial contacts with the Kheprw Institute, where I realized I was being interviewed to see if I was someone they felt comfortable inviting into their community.
White people must create space for black people. White people commonly fail to ask to hear black people’s stories. This reminds me of the unfortunate experience that occurred when Indiana Moral Mondays (IMM) was created. My interest is in environmental concerns, so that was the area I worked in regarding IMM. My friend Denise Abdul-Rahman, who was the NAACP Indiana Environmental Climate Justice Chair, was also initially involved with that work. She had a great deal of knowledge and experience to offer. Unfortunately she found her voice wasn’t being heard, and soon stopped attending IMM meetings.
It is good for a white person to ask a black person they know if they are OK. White people should learn that just surviving another day is an accomplishment for a person of color. Should understand that black people, black activists are often targets of violence and death. Thinking back to some of my experiences at KI in Indianapolis I remember the first time I got a sense of how different life was for black people when I witnessed a black mother break down in tears as she told us how scared she was every single time her children left the house.
White people should remove the thought that large crowds of black people are dangerous. Paradoxically, having often lived in predominately white cities, I think of the many times there was only one person of color in the crowd I was in.
White people need to stop finding safety in white communities.
If a white person is working against white supremacy, they need to say so even when no black people are present. White people need to publicly denounce racism everywhere, everytime.
Shanise spent a good amount of time telling us white people that black people deserve trust. White people must stop looking for black people merely to represent a token diversity quota. We must genuinely want the contributions people of color have to offer what we work on together. We will gain so much by working together honestly and authentically. During the last meeting I attended with my friends from KI, I tried to thank them for how much I learned from them. I said I thought I’d received an advanced degree. My friend Alvin said, “we’ll mail you your diploma.” It was nice to leave with that laughter embracing me. I miss my friends a great deal.
This seems an appropriate place to share a new video of my friend, Imhotep Adisa of the Kheprw Institute.
“On August 22, Imhotep Adisa spoke about the 1619 Project of the The New York Times and the importance of looking at the historic roots of where we find ourselves today at the Monumental Luncheon at Newfields.”