21 Ninety's third annual Summit 21 conference was partly marked by black girl prayer circles, meditations and chanting to "Bodak Yellow." But don’t let the love for self-care fool you, we got down to business when it came to establishing a game plan for affecting social change.
Blavity Editor-in-Chief Lilly Workneh sat down with political commentator and attorney Angela Rye for a state of the black union during the Atlanta summit held in early June. Rye serves as a voice box for marginalized communities through her sharp CNN commentary.
She first talked about how black folks need to root for themselves when it comes to having ourselves heard in the political spectrum. That initiative, Rye said, begins with news media.
"When we don’t own our spaces, our voices can be disappeared, there are spaces on cable news networks," she said. "I’m sure you don’t have to think hard about them. Our voices are threatened because we don’t own the platform. We can’t afford to have that in this day and age."
"When I think about the state of black America, I think it’s strong yet so fragile. That our wounds are so deep and we’ve survived so much trauma we’ve never fully known freedom — and that’s intentional," Rye added.
But of course, a conversation on black women in politics in 2018 can’t be had without mentioning — and lowkey praise — of Stacey Abrams, the Georgia woman on a path to become America’s first black female governor.
I met Pam last year during one of many trips to Macon, GA. Pam has two daughters on their way to college, one of whom was expecting. Like many family members across Georgia, Pam planned to raise her grandchild while her daughter received an education. As I talked with Pam, I watched her eyes sparkle as she spoke about her daughters and their aspirations: One, to become an educator; the other, to work in law enforcement. I couldn't help but wonder what Pam wanted for her own life. When I asked, she looked at me like I was crazy. "I just told you everything that I want." I clarified: "But Pam, what do you want for yourself?" She paused. After a few seconds, she replied: "I don't know. No one has ever asked me that question before." Later, Pam told me about her dream to start a daycare facility to help women like her daughter and to help other children get a head start. I’m running for #GAGov for Georgians like Pam in places like South Macon – where politicians rarely go and prosperity hasn't been. I’m running for governor to build a state where Georgians like Pam both know what their goals are and have the freedom and opportunity to pursue them. Because all too often, our circumstances fence us in. We allow the reality of what is dictate what could be. We must imagine more for Georgia. Yes, it's important to have large companies build new headquarters here. But it's also critical to invest in Pam, Inc. I see the promise & potential of GA in folks like Pam – a potential waiting to be unlocked. All we have to do is ask. Until I am in office and able to make our shared vision a reality, I will keep asking, traveling the state and talking to folks, treating ALL Georgians like we are worth the investment. Because I know that we are. In November, I ask for your vote. But today, I ask for your help. When we stand united and stay focused – knocking on doors, reaching out to our friends & neighbors, never letting up or giving in – we win. Thank you for standing with me (and with Pam) in the months to come.
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In May, Abrams defeated her opponent of the same namesake Stacey Evans. Rye and others affectionately refer to as "white Stacey," who Abrams beat out for the democratic nomination for Georgia governor.
"Stacey Abrams beat that girl 76 percent to 24 percent," Rye said of the election results. "We have to develop our political power on every single level," she continued. "It’s just time and I think we have to understand that if we don’t support each other, they definitely won’t."
And while Abrams’ candidacy is exciting for Rye, and the rest of us, it’s also taught her an imperative lesson about contemporary racism.
"What I learned from watching Stacey’s race is that as racist and as bigoted and as xenophobic as Republicans are, we got sneaky racism in the Democratic party. Racism is covert on the West Coast, they not going to call you a n****r to your face," she said. "But they will call you a n****r in what you get paid, they will in terms of what opportunities they allow you to have."
Rye also shared a few tips on gauging your political priorities in lieu of the upcoming midterm elections.
"The most important thing is to understand what are your top three concerns. When you think about your life, whether they're the potholes on your street, your health care or your wages, whatever it is, all of those things are part of a policy making process," she said.
#mood It’s Friday and I get to be surrounded by the #BlackGirlMagic of @21ninety AND @Blavity’s #Summit21! Fireside chat starting soon! ✊🏾💕 #ootd brought to you by King @jasonrembert (stylist extraordinaire) with the Lebron lob on the short suit!
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"You want to make sure you're supporting candidates who represent your best interest and that will push your agenda. I think that is by far the most important thing right now. We cannot afford to be disengaged," Rye continued. "I hate to say this because it's not a threat, it's true, but our lives are literally on the line every time we look at another police officer who's beating the hell out of a person of color and gets off or gets paid leave. That is a political issue."
But speaking of our favorite black women in politics, Rye, who also hosts the podcast "On One With Angela Rye," spoke of the one thing she would ask her dream interviewee Michelle Obama.
"I would ask what's the closest you got to fighting somebody in the White House," she joked.
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