BAJI Celebrates Black Women
By, Erica Baganza
As March comes to a close, BAJI highlights a few Black women who are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Like other Black women before them and presently, they faced and continue to face discrimination: sexism, misogynoir, xenophobia, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and/or homophobia.
Each of them has made an impact in their fields; created a foundation for others to stand on; played a role in holding the US and all of us accountable; and have in many ways pushed us to build on their work.
The fight continues for women’s rights on: fair labor laws; access to affordable housing; access to abortion, other reproductive rights and healthcare equity; gender and sexuality expression, the rights of non-binary and transwomen; and other human rights.
Today, BAJI offers flowers to those who have done the work before us and continue to do it now.
Shirley Chisholm was born on November 30, 1924 in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents were from Barbados and Guyana. For part of her childhood, Chisholm lived in Barbados on her maternal grandparents farm while her parents worked to settle the family in New York.
Chisholm paved the way for Black women in US politics by becoming the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1968. During her seven terms in Congress, she introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation, championed racial and gender equality, and called for an end to the Vietnam War. Chisholm also co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus and in 1971 was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and co-founded the Congressional Women’s Caucus in 1977.
Chisholm is the first woman and Black person to seek the presidential nomination; however, her career was not celebrated. Instead she faced gendered and racist discrimination. During her historic bid for presidency in 1972, Chisholm was blocked from participating in televised primary debates, and after taking legal action, was only permitted to make one speech. Even the CBC was split on supporting her presidential campaign. Many of her Black male colleagues felt she had not consulted them and that she had betrayed the group’s interests by trying to create a coalition of women, people of color, allies, and working class people.
Ilhan Omar is a U.S. congressmember and is the first Somali-American, first African-born, and one of the first two Muslim American women to serve in the US Congress. She and her family lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for four years before migrating to the U.S. in 1995. Adjusting into American life was not an easy journey. She was introduced to politics as a teenager as she accompanied her grandfather to Democratic Party caucuses, acting as his interpreter. The desire for a more equitable world, particularly for marginalized people, led Rep Omar on her political path. As a Black, Muslim hijabi, and an African immigrant, Rep. Omar is seen as the “extreme other” placing her at the center of a long historical fight about who belongs in the US.
Yvette Clarke is a U.S. congressmember and daughter of Jamaican immigrants from Brooklyn, NY. Prior to being elected to Congress, Rep Clarke succeeded her mother, Dr. Una S. T. Clarke, in representing the 40th District on New York’s City Council. Clarke continues to fight for migrant rights by calling for fair and humane immigration policies. Clarke has voted against legislative proposals to restrict immigration and pushed for temporary and permanent protections against deportation. She has championed programs like DACA and TPS; and condemned terminations of those programs.
Mariame Kaba is an activist, educator, and grassroots organizer who is an advocate for the abolition of the prison industrial complex and the police. Mariame was born in New York City to immigrant parents- her mother from Ivory Coast and her father from Guinea. Growing up, Mariame was taught to observe the world through a Black nationalist lens and was always looking for ways to help others. While in Chicago, Marieme founded the Chicago Freedom School, the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team (YWAT), the Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Young Women, Chicago Alliance to Free marissa Alexander, and We Charge Genocide (WCG). With her extensive experience working on issues of racial justice, gender justice, transformative/restorative justice and multiple forms of violence, she has been active in the anti gender-based violence movement since 1989. Mariame’s work has been recognized with several honors and awards.
Audre Lorde is a poet and author whose work explores race, gender, sexuality, class and violence. In her writing, she examines her identity as a Black lesbian, mother and person living with cancer, within a global context.
Lorde, the youngest of three sisters, was born in New York City on February 18, 1934 to immigrants from Grenada.
During the 1960s, Lorde began publishing her poetry in magazines and anthologies, and also took part in the civil rights, antiwar, and women’s liberation movements. Lorde published her first volume of poems, The First Cities, in 1968. In 1970, Audre published her second anthology, Cables to Rage. These writings covered more overtly political themes, such as racism, sexism, and violence. It also included “Martha,” a poem that acknowledged her queerness.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977, Lorde found that the process of cancer treatment and mastectomy were not openly discussed, and found herself further isolated as a Black lesbian. She wrote The Cancer Journals (1980) offering a raw portrait of her own pain, suffering, reflection, and hope in solidarity with other women like her.
Ruthzee Louijeune is the first Haitian-American City Councilor At-Large for the city of Boston, MA. Ruthzee was born in Boston to two working class Haitian immigrants. Growing up was not easy. Louijeune recalls seeing her parents struggle and work both overtime and overnight shifts to provide for their family both in Boston but also back home in Haiti. She witnessed the racism and discrimination her family endured as Black immigrants. She worked as an attorney representing families facing eviction and foreclosures. Since being elected as City Councilor in 2021, Ruthzee has prioritized action on housing, climate justice, immigrant rights and civil rights.