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Over the July 4th weekend, I was in New Orleans with about 500,000 others.  It was the Essence Music Festival, and as a 33-year-old Black woman fighting every day for equality and justice, I can’t even describe the feeling of being surrounded by strong like-minded women (and the men who love and support us).  Participating in a panel on Saturday titled “Moving Forward/Solutions for Fearless Black Women,” I was joined by Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Joy-Ann Reid, Dr. C. Nicole Mason, and others as we collectively said enough is enough.

Black women are hurting.

Our backs are being broken, and it’s time we stand up and fight for ourselves.  Our men don’t have jobs, our children don’t receive a fair shot at the American dream, our communities are in trouble, gun violence is tearing families apart, obesity and diabetes are far too rampant, the prison industrial complex is taking away our youth, and too much is on our shoulders.

Just as the women in Virginia and Texas stood up against extreme abortion rules, we must stand up and say, “Hell no,” to inequality and the issues we face.  That’s the only way things are ever gonna change.

I recently wrote a piece for the current issue of Essence Magazine (on newsstands now) on civil rights and the spirit of freedom. This August 24th, the National Action Network (NAN) and Martin Luther King III will be joined by others as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”

While paying homage to that historic rally, we will address today’s most pressing issues as the battle for civil rights continues in 2013. As Black women who are often times the caretakers and/or breadwinners of our families, we must be there to raise our voices.

Far too often, we tackle everything without taking proper care of both our physical and mental well-being. We’re drinking more, popping more pills,, and doing whatever to cope with the stress, when we should be uniting, supporting one another more, and finding solutions together.

We’re tired of people violating our bank accounts, our jobs, our families, our opportunities and our determination.  Let’s set ourselves on a new course.  If we don’t do it, nobody will.

On my panel at the Essence Festival, Dr. Malveaux talked about Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin.  She talked about the pain and anguish this mother is going through as people deliberate whether or not her son’s life was relevant.  She talked about Sybrina’s absence from work, and the unimaginable stress of sitting in that courtroom day in and day out.

Sybrina needs to know that there are folks out here that will support her during these difficult times.  We Black women often put ourselves last, instead of understanding that we have the power to collaborate and do things together.

Why can’t we organize like the women who protested against transvaginal ultrasounds in Virginia?  Why can’t we rally like the women who filibustered against the Texas abortion bill?  The truth is, we can.  And we will.  If 500,000 (mostly females) can gather in New Orleans for Essence, then there’s no reason that at least half that amount can meet us in Washington, D.C., to set an agenda for the next chapter of the fight for civil rights and social justice.

Nothing is ever handed to us.

It’s important that we remember that and keep reminding others. Whether it was women’s right or rights of minorities and the oppressed, people had to demand it, march and protest for it, push lawmakers and rally enough support for it.  Today, when the clock is reversed on voting rights, affirmative action is under threat, the criminal justice system is often unfair, there’s high unemployment in our communities, we don’t have the same educational opportunities, violence is tearing us apart, police brutality is alive and well, we see budget cuts for important programs like recreational centers, our reproductive rights are under attack and Black women especially try to take care of everyone without taking the time to heal from all this trauma themselves, there’s no reason why anyone should be sitting at home on August 24th.

Hundreds of thousands joined Dr. King 50 years ago, and we need to do the same now.  We must move a Black women’s agenda – our agenda – forward.

I met so many dynamic women at the Essence Music Festival who were entrepreneurs, educators, business owners, Mothers, etc., but most importantly, they were women who were taking firm steps to heal, uplift, and advance their families and their communities.

We need to continue that pattern this August and beyond.  Let’s show everyone the real strength of Black women.

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