Racial Justice Leadership from the SOAR Fellows Community

by Marni Morse, Program Associate, Aspen Institute Forum on Women and Girls

At the Aspen Institute Forum on Women and Girls, we recognize that gender equity is inextricably linked to racial equity. There is no gender justice without racial justice. Black women and girls must not be an afterthought in our outrage over police violence and white supremacy. The full potential of women will not be unlocked until we center and address the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and all women of color. This philosophy is key to our work as we elevate perspectives across sectors, generations, race, and ethnicity and invest in female leaders of color. We fully commit to the fight of ending structural racism and anti-Blackness, and we stand in solidarity and action with movement leaders calling for justice and systemic change to dismantle oppression in the U.S. and around the world.

We need leaders from all sectors and segments of our society who will fight injustice. We are inspired by the work of our remarkable SOAR Fellows, who are reimagining and creating equitable systems for women and girls, offering us a path that will lead us away from violence and toward justice. These leaders show us how to face racism head on and highlight how racism permeates our systems and structures.

Below is a sampling of the leadership statements and action efforts from our SOAR Fellows:

  • Quincy Brown (@QuincyKBrown), AnitaB.org, has been organizing the response from Black computer scientists, who have shared an open letter and action items on equity and fairness in the field. In addition, Quincy has shared her own reflection on what it is like to be a Black computer scientist right now, recognizing the systemic and institutional changes needed so that she can show up as her full authentic self and for computing to reach the fullest potential it can offer society. Quincy has also curated a list of computing and technology related organizations and institutions of higher education that have made statements to hold them accountable to action.
  • Rebecca Dixon (@RebeccaDNELP), National Employment Law Project (NELP), has released a statement and call to action on the need to fight for Black lives. NELP is committed to strengthening workers’ rights and creating “bold, structural changes for racial and economic justice,” and their most recent report highlights how Black workers are being disproportionately impacted by working conditions and safety concerns during COVID.
  • A’shanti Gholar (@AshantiGholar), Emerge, is speaking about what comes after the protests, lifting up women’s leadership and its importance, and has shared how Black women’s leadership now will impact the next generation of leaders. Her podcast, the Brown Girls Guide to Politics, has shared resources to get involved in the fight against racism and was highlighted as a resource for parents to use to start conversations about race and injustice with teenagers. Emerge has also called for political leaders to prioritize ending harm against marginalized communities.
  • Nikishka Iyengar (@nikishka), The Guild, is also thinking about what comes next, advocating for a values-aligned city budget and how funders can invest in communities during this crisis through alternative models of development to actually build racial equity and not just talk. Nikishka has also been organizing a mutual aid fund for the metro-Atlanta region to support Black, Indigenous, and other peoples of color affected by COVID. The Fund has raised over $300,000 since March,  disbursed over $84,000 as of early May, and received over 890 applications for support in June for their second cycle of disbursements.
  • Lulete Mola (@LuleteM), Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, is leading from Minneapolis, the center of the demands for justice, organizing on the ground and leading efforts for philanthropy to invest in girls and women of color and realize racial equity. Lulete has been sharing strategies for change and her own experience protesting for justice and protecting the community.
  • The Forum is an evolution of a body of work by Ascend at the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Global Innovators Group. Both programs, along with the Aspen Institute as an organization, are committed to the work of anti-racism. You can find statements, calls to action, and commitments from each here: Ascend at the Aspen Institute, Aspen Global Innovators Group, and the Aspen Institute.

To close, we want to share a reflection from Lulete Mola, based in Minneapolis:

“Racial justice is not *MORE* urgent than ever. It’s *AS* urgent as ever. Let’s not forget that Black men, women, including trans people, have been getting killed at the hands of law enforcement and racists for centuries and in more recent years, videotaped for the public to see. This moment is the most recent. This moment has presented more unrest than previous times, particularly, in [Minneapolis-Saint Paul]. This moment has challenged people’s comfort and tolerance in a very unique way. This moment presents an opportunity for transformation. For those of us who have never rested until we reached freedom, it has ALWAYS been urgent. Always been on our minds and hearts. Always kept us up at night. Always impacted our emotional, mental, and physical health. Racial justice is as urgent as ever, and this moment gives us a chance to do something meaningful about it. Question is: will we?”

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