“When you talk about Africa and Pan African women. you talk about multiculturalism… If you don’t believe it, all you have to do is just look at us and you see that,” said Sonya Sanchez to a room of approximately 250 women of many languages and ethnic backgrounds dressed in colorful fabrics that reflected the diversity of Africa, America and the Diasporas.
The second day of the three-day Pan African Women’s Action Summit, held at Minneapolis Community and Technical College in downtown Minneapolis August 11-13, included poet and activist Sanchez, economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux, and several workshops giving attendees information on the importance of their work and steps to make their efforts more effective.
Sanchez began by praising Pan African women for the work they have already done. “We Pan African women have always been organizers of women and men and people of color and Whites and
Europeans to facilitate the survival of our communities. Our Black church here in America, the Black [women’s] club movement, sororities — [that] is evidence, testimonies, to the organizational capabilities of Pan African women.”
Sanchez honors the individual efforts made throughout history, led by people like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Mary McCloud Bethune and Rosa Parks, in which tremendous strides towards equality were made. However, she says the task-oriented approaches of the past are now ineffective in creating sweeping change large enough to challenge the American and world empires.
She proposes that Pan African women create a federation of sorts comprised of all the women’s organizations with a steering committee made up of scholars, mothers, youth, union leaders and researchers. One such committee would focus on educating Black children.
“[Black children] are not being educated at all — period… No city should have to do this on its own. We have enough PhDs and educators who can come into a city and tell the schools…what should be taught, how it should be done, what it should look like.”
Other committees would focus on preserving African families and on reparations. “I’m talking about reparations that mean every African American child gets a free education in a place called America,” Sanchez said.
“These committees will help us to identify the shared rooms, the freedom space we women of color often grapple with. This will give us a new identity in the world.”
Sanchez’s speech was followed by an opportunity for women to attend workshops covering topics ranging from how to fundraise using social media to the importance of Black women on organizational and corporate boards. A lunch of catfish, hushpuppies, coleslaw and fresh fruit was followed by Dr. Malveaux, president of Bennett College for Women, in Greensboro, N.C., describing the impact Bennett and other Historically Black Colleges and Universities are making on Pan African women.
During Malveaux’s four years as president of Bennett, four additional buildings have been added to their campus, the most recent being their global learning center. She invited the president of PAWAS, Jackie Copeland-Carson, to visit and consider the site for a future conference.
She urged attendees to support HBCUs, noting that only two colleges in the U.S. focus on educating Black women: Bennett and Spellman. Bennett requires that each of its students is exposed to four areas of study before gradation: entrepreneurship, leadership, global studies and communications.
“We believe that all of our women will be global citizens because they must. All of them will be entrepreneurs because the economy demands that you should always have a plan B, and the unemployment rates suggests that plan A doesn’t always work.
“All of them must be communicators, because communication is of course essential; it is your calling card to the world. And all of us must be leaders, because we are the leaders that we’ve been waiting for.”
During her keynote she also gave honor to Black women philanthropists, many of whom are mentioned in her most recent book, Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History, whose efforts have successfully supported HBCUs.
“I think often of Oseola McCarty, a woman from [Hattiesburg] Mississippi who as a washerwoman was able to amass $150,000 to give to Mississippi State University,” Malveaux says. She believes that stories like these are empowering for women as they remind us of what we are capable of, even without the resources afforded our White counterparts.
She says that the recent downgrade of the U.S. credit rating simply put words to what has been on the minds of many for the past few years, and that the double A-plus rating “call[ed] into question our basic fundamentals, to say, “How is it that this great rich country waits ‘til the very last minute to figure out how to pay its bills?
“How is it that this very rich country keeps finding ways to go to wars that cost money, but they can’t pay for basics like Social Security for our seniors? How is it that this very country is having challenges dealing with issues like education?”
Malveaux says she is fascinated by the fact that White men still make the majority of economic policy. The recent 12-member appointed economic super committee, 10 of whom are White males, is an example of this. She asks why people like Congresswoman Maxine Waters or Senator Diane Feinstein were not included.
While watching a recent Republican Party debate, she says that she almost mistook the Tea Party’s adamant support for large corporations as Comedy Central. “When corporations do their jobs, it’s to maximize profits. Our job is to ensure that as they maximize profits they maximize them under conditions that are humane.”
Minimum-wage legislation is an example of balancing corporate profit with humane business practices. Malveaux disagrees with the argument that loosening corporate controls will decrease unemployment rates, calling attention to the most dehumanizing business practices in the U.S. past.
“We had full employment in slavery. There were no unemployed people of African descent in the United States during slavery time. Everybody was working… So let’s be clear, we have to have regulations for capitalism; otherwise capitalism regurgitates results that we find unacceptable.”
The most daunting realization, Malveaux explains, is that in the U.S., women of African descent are being hit hardest by our current economic crisis. “The average Black working woman 16 to 64 has a net worth of $100… We took about a 63 percent hit in the past five years with our families’ wealth going down to $5,600 for the average Black household. That’s compared to $120,000 for the average White household…
“The average Black single mom has a net worth of five dollars… How come? Because we take care of everybody but ourselves.”
Malveaux says that Pan African women have always experienced globalization, as far back or farther than the U.S. slave trade. Our current challenge is to find ways to make globalization empowering. “This gathering is one way to make it empowering.”
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