SISTERALL ONE: I HAVE THE LIGHT OF FREEDOM - A NATIONAL CALL
Limited to forty women, the I Have the Light of Freedom SisterAll was a community-building project that called together Black female scholars, activists, artists, students, workers, practitioners, and lay and ordained spiritual leaders between the ages of 18 and 35 who have worked for justice, or who felt called to build up a non-violent movement that advances democracy in our community and in other communities.
Furthermore, the SisterAll strengthened the connections between younger and older Black female justice workers. It renewed our trust, respect, and intimacy so that we can build hospitable, just, and life-affirming environments where "we express the power of our collective voices in ways that add meaning and vitality to our lives" and the lives of others.
The following essential and overarching questions provide the fertile ground and the multidimensional tools (including spirituality and culture) for us to consider the short-term and long-term mission of using our gifts, skills, and resources to build up our lives and the lives of others without tearing anyone down.
What does it mean to be a young Black female justice worker in the 21st century, i.e., to encounter and address systemic injustice, such as racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism? We enlarged our understanding of the historical, cultural and social context, and the meaning of our work as young Black female justice workers. We also received an opportunity to meet our peers, hear their stories, and share our own, underscoring both the short and long-term victories and challenges that come with working for justice. Additionally, we collectively discussed the tools and values inherited from generations of Black female justice workers.
As another dimension of community building, we had an opportunity to look at ways to work together in an era where the rulers of society and policy makers require you to wear multiple identities, navigate opposing loyalties, and function from a value system of success that elevates the value of working in white progressive groups and institutions while simultaneously devaluing work in the Black community and institutions. Finally, we focused on the critical issue of doing justice work as Black females who share a common history and common conditions, when foundations and progressive organizations promote local organizing. By its nature, local organizing is territorial and fractures the national and communal unity of Black people or our ability to build national coalitions. We thought about this question through the lens of the Southern Freedom Movement and coalitions with our white female allies.
How do you address your gender needs and the needs of your community, especially when you face demeaning stereotypes at home and in other communities? Together, we named and defined those stereotypes that come out of a white supremacist, patriarchal, and elitist power structure that imprints every aspect of American life and culture. Within this conversation, we unveiled the ways that institutions, as well as Black popular and elitist culture and religion imitate white, male, elitist (including Black women) stereotyping of Black women.
At the same time, we engaged with the ways that Black Feminism or Womanist Theology grow out of white male and elitist stereotypes and the internalization of those stereotypes in our communities. As we moved through this conversation, we made the connections between stereotyping Black women and public policy that slanders, punishes or erases Black women. For this part of the conversation, we read and reflected on the introduction, "Reproduction in Bondage" and "Making Reproduction a Crime" in Dorothy Roberts' Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty.
From what participatory models of leadership can you draw? We viewed the leadership models of Sisters Fannie Lou Hammer, Ruby Doris Robinson, Ella Baker, Septima Clark, Diane Nash, and Clare Muhammad that is examined in Rosetta Ross' book, Witnessing and Testifying: Black Women and Civil Rights. We examined through the film Standing on My Sisters' Shoulders the leadership models of the prime movers of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Victoria Gray Adams, Annie Devine and Fannie Lou Hamer, as well as local Black female grassroots leaders in Mississippi such as Unita Blackwell, Flonzie Goodloe Brown-Wright, Mae Bertha Carter, and Arnell Ponder. Additionally, we looked at Lynne Olson’s Freedom's Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970.
I Have the Light of Freedom is a SpiritHouse project. SpiritHouse is a well-known national non-profit that brings diverse people together to build a non-violent movement that advances democracy by dismantling systemic injustice such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism. The director of The SpiritHouse Project and Co-Convener of the I Have the Light of Freedom gathering is Ruby Sales, a long-distance runner for justice, veteran of the Southern Freedom Movement, public historian, spiritual leader, activist, seminarian graduate, history maker and social critic.
The other Co-Conveners are: Martha Prescod Norman, long-distance runner for justice, veteran of the Southern Freedom Movement, public historian, social critic and co-editor of a forthcoming anthology on the stories and voices of female veterans of the Southern Freedom Movement; and Gloria House, Professor of African-American Studies, poet, social critic, activist and veteran of the Southern Freedom Movement.
The I Have the Light of Freedom SisterAll took place at the Bishop Claggett Center in Buckeystown, MD, located approximately one hour outside of Washington, D.C. The Center offered a tranquil setting at a very reasonable rate and includes air conditioned cottages, three meals a day, bike and walking trails, meeting rooms, beautiful scenery, a chapel, a swimming pool, and an activity room for entertainment.
In choosing the forty participants, the organizers kept in mind a range of variables which include geography, age, sexuality, class, and personal statements. Our intention was to bring young Black women from different social, economic, sexual, political and spiritual locations together into a community of Black women who begin to collectively think of strategies that build up their lives as we simultaneously build up the lives of our families, institutions, and communities.
COST AND SCHOLARSHIPS
The cost per participant for this five-day SisterAll was $710. Broken down, that was $330 for room and board and $380 for tuition and materials. Room and board included housing and three meals a day. This cost did not include transportation to the SisterAll. SpiritHouse desired to make it possible for a diverse group of Black women to attend this SisterAll by providing scholarships to young women who are financially challenged. We need your help.