Trust Black Women: How Black female artists, arts workers, and cultural leaders are conspiring to reshape the world

It’s been hard for me to come up with a summary of this session, and after some time, I’ve realized it’s because the things that struck me most are not really able to be captured in any linear fashion. In fact, for me, what this session was about was the awesomeness of black women’s leadership and just generally #BlackGirlMagic.

As well, I realized that this session was the very illustration of something I learned from one of the first sessions of this GIA Convening (Transforming Public and Philanthropic Practice to Advance Racial Justice), and that I wrote about in an earlier blog: the pivotal role of a “catalyst class” of BIPOC women leaders who are driving change inside and across sectors. To say that empowerment and change gets nurtured through the relationships and networks built among these leaders is true, but doesn’t begin to capture the level of co-conspiratorship and generosity of spirit that came across among these five women behind the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh Initiative.

This couldn’t have been better put than by Lisa Yancey when she said: “We say ‘the work,’ but it’s really the love, because we’re not outside what we’re here to do. These are my sisters. The things they’re calling the work, it’s our family. To be complete accomplices with such strategic minds to say how we gonna undo the inequities of a system that doesn’t consider us a part of the family, a culture that doesn’t know how to connect with us, is an extension of the legacy of Black women. We call it work but it’s love.”

The flip side of the coin of course is that pitfall of asking Black women to do all the work, clean up all the mess, and be all our saviors—putting on them what is not theirs to carry. I loved that this space was not about that at all, and instead about Black women getting to be all the things—artists, entrepreneurs, strategists, philanthropic leaders, family and community members, rigorous professionals, and more—without the otherizing gaze. “As a tribe within a tribe, these Black women hold their own Black womanhood as a valid identity to fight within the philanthropic sphere and in life”—this description from the session organizers really captured the essence of the conversation.

Jessica Moss, of The Roll Up CLT and the Pittsburgh Foundation, brought up the 2019 report Pittsburgh's Inequality across Gender and Race, which presents devastating disparities such as “Why Pittsburgh is the Worst City for Black Women, in 6 Charts.” When confronted with data like this, time and again, one can imagine wanting to shut down rather than leaning in further. Instead, Jessica said, “If we don’t stay here and dig into the ground and create roots, then that cycle will continue. It takes Black women staying here and doing that to make change. I’m not scared of the reports that say the things we already know, I’m interested in finding ways to do the work to negate these challenges.”

I’m very grateful to serve under a Black woman director of our health department, who navigates the high-wire act of leading a local government agency without ever turning away from community realities or losing sight of the work (and the love). Just today she reminded our team, in facing another uphill battle against the status quo, that “when we are doing the people’s work and carrying the community’s water, we can never go wrong.”

And I’m grateful for the urgency and inspiration of these women’s call to action to “use the tools you have, think about the communities you serve, and make it happen.”

(In a nutshell, from their final slide):

Rigor and love
Show up as who you who are
The process is rooted in the people
Hire Black women
Mindfulness, investment, collaboration
Trust Black women
Black Art is All Around Us