By Ashanée Player, United Way of Summit & Medina’s manager for diversity, equity and inclusion.
Malcolm X once said, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.”
To be a Black woman, you must be strong. Resilient. Unbothered. The anchor. When someone needs guidance, you are the guiding light. When all seems impossible — you make it possible with no signs of struggle. You are strong in your fight. You are anchors for your families and communities. You are human.
To be a Black woman, you must be passive. Unemotional. When decisions are being made — do not speak. When you show potential — you must be coached to become something. You show expertise in extraordinary ways — only to be recognized as average, if recognized at all. You aren’t human.
I am a Black woman. I know how it feels to be unseen, unheard, and unprotected. To constantly fight to exceed expectations. Defy stereotypes. Be empathetic without showing too much emotion. There is a constant weight on our shoulders. But we fight on.
When I reflect on her story, I wonder if Sojourner Truth felt the same way. She had everything against her even before she was born into a world that did not see her as human. A world that did not value what she had to offer until it became profitable. A world that ripped her children from her arms, all in the name of free labor. And yet, she fought on.
Truth bore the woes of slavery before taking her freedom; she did not wait for someone else to deem her worthy of such a human right. She fought to protect even when she was not being protected. She fought for women, even when some of those very women may have never fought for her. When she rose to speak on May 29, 1851, at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron, many there did not see her as human. And yet, she used her words, although inaccurately recounted, to move an entire audience — an entire nation.
Her presence was remembered. We remember Truth today because she was defiantly smart. Strong. Beautiful. An icon. Sojourner Truth is every monumental word that has ever been used to describe the “elites” but was likely never used to describe her.
I find it hard to capture the feeling, knowing Sojourner Truth will finally be given her deserved recognition through the Sojourner Truth Plaza to be located at United Way of Summit & Medina in Akron. To finally get to witness our shared struggle encapsulated within this monumental space feels surreal. To be seen, acknowledged and recognized. To know that generations of young Black girls will have the opportunity to look up at Truth’s statue and be able to say, “That can be me one day, too.” I never knew how much I longed for this feeling, because I never knew it was missing.
Truth’s legacy lives on, the importance of her message still impacts us today. So let us rally together as a community behind this precious moment. The Sojourner Truth Plaza is meant to be a beacon for us and by us, so let’s not take it for granted.
We can find new ways to come together and build the community for our families that we deserve. Make waves to protect, acknowledge and recognize the many Sojourner Truths that we walk with every day — our colleagues, friends, community members. While we can recognize that we have come a long way, we must also acknowledge that we have so far to go.
Again, Malcolm X once said, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.”