Picture this. A young boy, sixth grader, at the Urban Leaders Academy weekly afterschool program led by Girls for Gender Equity. He’s hype. Running around and having a good time in the relays with his friends. Now imagine sitting him down to explain to him that he, as a male body, is an ally and takes up space in the conversation for gender equity. That he needs to check his privilege and act in a way that promotes the social equality of his female classmates.
Now consider a grown-up example. Imagine a white woman, passionate about helping survivors of sexual assault and specifically women of color. Funders hear this woman’s plea and grant her– neither a person of color nor a survivor–10 million dollars to organize for the cause. Do you see any similarity between this woman and the young boy? As you can imagine, organizers who were elected to work under this woman were able to identify the problem with this situation and made sure that someone better qualified was appointed to lead the organization.
What these two situations have in common is that they explore organizing spaces and the role of allies. A major critique of specific organizing efforts led by allies is that they pursue issues in communities that they know little about without consulting the members of those communities and without regarding the organizing work that is already being done. (See: “Solidarity Not Charity”) Consideration of the community voices and leadership from within groups who face oppression is the most effective way to impact change, as the needs of the community become the focus of the work. Furthermore, the most empowering thing you can do for a community is to support and uplift people that are accountable to those communities, have been on the ground, and understand the issues through experience.
Girls for Gender Equity captures this idea of “for us, by us”. The organization was started by a woman of color and has evolved as a grassroots organization that is led by
people across the spectrum of race, sex, gender, and class as they serve communities that capture these similar demographics. Representation people!!! It’s so important.
In addition to representation within the infrastructures of school and state, GGE programs work to empower and uplift young people as leaders and organizers in their own communities. I saw this in two key programs. Sisters in Strength is a two-year high-school women’s cohort that explores organizing and activism. Young Women’s Advisory Council is another group of young people that work on policy and meet with lawmakers to both voice their concerns and to learn the how to affect change through legislation. I think it is phenomenal to see women of color working to better the experiences for women of color. For us, by us. And from the bottom up, empowerment for some of us is empowerment for all. F.U.B.U.