Atlanta gathering aims to help black women leverage power
ATLANTA (AP) — Black women are holding a strategy session in Atlanta this week, hoping to build an action agenda that women can take back to their communities to effect change.
The Power Rising Summit, running Thursday through Sunday at a downtown hotel, aims to bring black women together in agreement on “things that we will commit ourselves to do as black women to move our communities and our nation forward,” said Leah Daughtry, who’s leading the conference and has twice served as CEO of the Democratic National Convention.
“This is, I think, the beginning of a movement, the beginning of a collaboration that I think we’ll look back and call historic,” she said.
The idea for the gathering grew out of a Congressional Black Caucus women’s retreat in December 2016, when Daughtry was talking to Democratic U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of California about what should be next for black women in the wake of then President-elect Donald Trump’s election.
In that election, black women solidified their reputation as a reliable Democratic voting bloc. They gave 94 percent support to Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, and remained energized for Democrats in 2017, helping to send a Democrat to the U.S. Senate from Alabama for the first time in a generation.
More than 800 women have registered to attend, said Democratic strategist Karen Finney, one of the organizers. Speakers include politicians, activists and entertainers, and there also will be issue-driven workshops and time for informal networking.
Atlanta was a natural setting for this conference, Finney said, given its large, influential black population. It’s also a place where black women are politically prominent. Keisha Lance Bottoms, elected last year as Atlanta’s second black woman mayor, is among the scheduled speakers, as is Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House minority leader who is running to become the nation’s first black woman governor.
While the initial idea was to focus on political empowerment, Finney said, the scope expanded to also encompass business and economic empowerment; culture, community and society; education, technology and innovation, and health and wellness.
Black women fiercely defend their children or black men, but too often they are reluctant to stand up for their own interests, Rutgers University historian Deborah Gray White said. But coming together to celebrate and respect themselves can be a source of strength, she said.
“It is important for black women to speak up for themselves because nobody else is going to speak for them,” White said.
Summit organizers have invoked the legacy of the Combahee River Collective, an influential group of black feminists who came together in the 1970s to resist simultaneous race, sex and class oppression. Forty years later, there has been some progress, but clearly some of the same problems remain, Daughtry said.
For example, she said, black women are major consumers and control a large portion of the spending in their communities, but are rarely reflected in advertisements or the board rooms of the companies they patronize. A reliable voting bloc, they’d also like to see more representation in terms of candidates and support from donors, Daughtry said.
Underrepresented due to race and gender, black women experience intersectional invisibility, with their voices not heard as readily as those of members of dominant groups, said Erika Hall, a professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.
That was evident after allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. As those allegations snowballed into a broader movement, there was little mention initially that black activist Tarana Burke started the #MeToo online campaign more than a decade earlier to raise awareness about sexual violence, Daughtry said.
“How are we being erased from a conversation we started?” Daughtry said.
Coming together to develop specific, defined goals and to speak with a unified voice could be a powerful tool to keep that from happening, Hall said.
“They can be a symbolic force going forward and kind of erase that invisibility from history,” she said.