When women speak action happens; when African-American women get people marching communities are protected.
For the second year the Florida Women’s March and other social justice organizations gathered for a march in five cities to raise and bring attention to the political power of women in the state. The women and their allies comprised an intersection of communities whose communities include people of color, immigrants, Natives, trans, and poor people. They met in Miami, provided political information and motivated the crowd with their perspective before marching to nearby polling center and making their way back to unwind with Caribbean food.
On the morning of Nov. 3 about 100 people gathered at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex. In the 1980s the Complex was threatened with closure and demolition because of lack funds, but community advocacy kept it alive and it is now a thriving marketplace where vendors sell trinkets, salves, candles, African apparel and barbecued meat and poultry.
As marchers gathered in Miami, another group did so at the same time in Fort Lauderdale at the Old Dillard Museum. In Clearwater, Orlando and Jacksonville canvassing events were on the agenda.
“Our vote is not for us but for our community,” said Jasmen M. Rogers-Shaw, an activist who works with the Miami Workers Center.
Jasmen, who has worked to educate the Miami community on the amendments to the Florida constitution and provide comprehensive sex education, said black women need more representation in the political parties.
“The second annual Florida March for Black Women is another point in the plan to elevate the political power of black women,” Jasmen said.
Jasmen said the march is a manifestation of an urgent moment because mothers have trouble taking care of their kids and their homes are unaffordable.
After her introduction, Jasmen passed the microphone to Krystina Francois of the Miami-Dade Women’s Club of Florida. Krystina read the proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution and said afterwards that all but #4 should be voted against.
Amendment 4 will restore the voting rights of about 1.4 million people who lost their voting rights after having been convicted of a felony but are still without their right to vote even after serving their time. Dwight Bullard, political director of The New Florida Majority, coined the term “returning citizens” to refer people who need their voting rights restored.
One such person is Cortes Maria Lewis, an African-American woman who is the director of advocacy with Women’s March Miami.
“Your vote is their voice,” she said while on stage at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex.
As candidates and office holders throughout the U.S. African-American women are under-represented.
African-American women make up 6.5 percent of the U.S. population but are only 2 percent of candidates according to a September 2018 report of data analyzed by the Brookings Institution and the Higher Heights Leadership Fund.
Of the 107 women serving in Congress in 2018, 38 are women of color. In the House there are 18 African-American women. And Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) is the lone woman who has African ancestry. She is listed as multiracial in Rutgers’ University Center for American Women and Politics.
At the state level there are 7,383 lawmakers and women of color comprise 456 of that total. African-American women have 275 of those seats.
In Florida that representation lead to the passing of a witness protection bill that added additional protection for people who saw or have information related to any crime. State Rep. Cynthia Stafford began the work on the bill after advocacy from Tangela Sears and Mothers of Murdered Kids harnessed the passion of the community. Governor Rick Scott signed the bill in July 2017.
After leaving the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, the marchers walked towards the nearby Lemon City branch of the Miami-Dade Library System so that their early voters can do so.
The library’s history stretches back to the 1890s. Ada Merritt was a schoolteacher in a gang-infested part of Miami. She now has a K-8 Center and a Junior High School named after her after she created the Busy Bees of the Everglades, a club whose goal was to raise money for a school library. The club collected 400 books.
Merritt’s work was the foundation for Cornelia Keys and 13 other Miami women. Cornelia formed the Lemon City Library Association that raised money for the construction of a library that was completed in 1904. The Lemon City Library and the Village Improvement Association partnered for a newer library completed in 1963, but fire in 1964 changed preservation plans for the original building. A new library now sits at 640 NE 61 St.
As marchers cooled off with iced-water bottles in the park across the street, Armen Henderson exited the library with an “I Voted” sticker on his scrubs.
Armen is a 33-year-old doctor and professor of medicine at the University of Miami Health System. He’s also an organizer with the Dream Defenders and served as the medic during the march for African-American women.
“Black women are the moral compass of the United States,” Armen said. “They vote on behalf of most neglected people.
Trust black women is a mantra the U.S. needs to live by. When that happens a majority of people win. We’ll see a change in how we deal with each other. Black women have a lot of good ideas.”
Armen said a lot more people would take Haiti serious with more women in positions of power.