Black Girls Matter MIA holds a leadership summit

Many spectators gathered while girls from across Miami used art to voice the issues that affect them in school.

Wearing black and white T-shirts with the faceless-cartooned mugshots of younger versions of Sandra Bland and Rosa Parks and Malaika Moah Eyoh and Dajerria Becton, 15 girls held a mock auction.

“I am Black, and I am..,” said the first girl who walked on stage to be auctioned, before her words were silenced with tape. She held a sign with the word, “Wifey.” 

Wifey, whose real name is Trachell Surin, was followed on stage by three other girls, all of whom held their own labels, “Sweet Thang,” “Exotic” and “Submissive.” 

Each one attempted to speak but were silenced, in what was later announced as the “The Perfect Black Girl Auction.”

“We are Black, we are beautiful. We are loud, and we are proud. We are here to educate you, today and tomorrow and next day,” the last auctioned girl, Surayyah Muhammad, got to say before she was silenced.

The skit was performed at the Black Girls Matter MIA Coalition leadership summit in a crowded recreation hall at Barry University on Thursday.

Hoping to get the attention from Miami-Dade County educators and community leaders, the summit was the end result of a five-month leadership series featuring workshops and town halls in North, Central and South Miami-Dade, where participants shared their experiences in schools.

The coalition found that many girls of color experienced school push outs, criminalization and sexual objectification because of their race, gender and sexual identity.

“We need more support like comprehensive sex education, mental health services, better support for young parents and counselors, not punitive policies that fuel mass incarceration,” said Kera Carr, a reproductive justice intern and youth organizer with the Power U Center for Social Change.

During the summit, 15 of the girls presented their personal narratives through visual art, theatre, poetry and dance.

 The Perfect Black Girl Auction sold girls based on their skin tones, body image and submissiveness. Lighter skin and curves increased value.

Exotic, played by Anisa Tate, is biracial, so she was sold for $15, which is $10 more than most of the other girls, except Surayyah, who is also fair skinned with the bonus of being curvy; she was sold for $10. Anisa, a freshman at Miami Norland Senior High School, spoke about her racial identity during the open forum portion of the summit.

“In school, I always feel like I’m showed off like a trophy. People would just come up to me all the time, and ask me what I am mixed with,” she said.

Other people’s reactions to Anisa’s appearance isn’t always positive, she said. She was once called a “mutt” by a teacher, but with encouragement from her mother, she didn’t let it affect her self-image. 

Many of the other girls also wanted society to accept them for who they are. 

In addition to colorism, both dark and light, most of the girls during the open dialogue said they would be often berated for not acting stereotypically Black.

Five out of the 10 girls on stage mentioned being teased about using proper grammar and pronunciation.

“I was always treated like the white girl in the group. The other girls would make fun of how I would talk,” said Surayyah.

Other issues mentioned in the open forum were over-sexualization and the pressure of being a spokesperson for the race.

The girls’ final curtain call was the reading of their list of demands for schools, which included counselors who care; more educational resources and safe spaces; race sensitivity training and specific requests regarding decriminalization; and mental                                 health support.

The summit was a collective effort of the Dream Defenders, the Miami Workers Center, the Power U and S.O.U.L. Sisters Leadership Collective. 

In May 2015, the group held a town hall meeting at Liberty City’s African Heritage Cultural Arts Center concurrent with meetings in New York, Washington D.C., Baltimore, North Carolina and New Orleans. Concerns mounted following the release of the report, Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected, by the African American Policy Forum and Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies citing the low standard of living for Black girls in America.

Amaya Howard said she spent all last summer hearing, “Black Lives Matter,” but she felt something was missing from the movement—the voices of Black girls.

“You never see the story of the girlfriends, wives or sisters of the Black men who are killed,” said Amaya, a freshman at Dr. Michael M. Korp Senior High School. “You never see the stories, except Sandra Bland’s or Rosa Parks’.”

Representatives from the coalition say that they will continue to create platforms for the girls to be heard.

“Young people are not the future. They are the experts in right now, and we need to honor their expertise,” said co-host and an organizer Lutze Segu. “We have to make space for our babies because we don't know what it means to come of age in this society, but they know."

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