India Fenner is wearing a black T-shirt that in bold white letters reads:
“’TRY ME.’”~ Malcolm X.”
The message is fitting. It was Malcolm who said: “The most disrespected woman in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
Those words replay in Fenner’s head as she plans her first march, “A March for Black Women,” scheduled to take place Friday. Demonstrators will set out at 1 p.m. from City Hall to Cecil B. Moore Avenue to celebrate and highlight the diversity of black women and honor black women who were victims of police brutality. Fenner is spreading word of the march through social media and hopes to have a large turnout of women — and men.
The 19-year-old Temple University sophomore and Philadelphia native said it’s to “celebrate black women for who they are and not what the media wants them to be.”
“I’ve been to plenty of marches for black men who have been harassed or killed by police,” she said. “But when I went to one for Sandra Bland, it was very small.”
In 2015, Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, died in police custody after being arrested during a traffic stop in Texas.
Fenner also recalled that in 2016, Korryn Gaines, 23, was shot by police in her Baltimore home with her 5-year-old son close by. But, she said, “nobody was marching.”
That’s also why during the global Women’s March in January, which had the goal of “harnessing the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change,” Fenner was not in attendance.
“I didn’t believe it was quite for black women,” she said. “There were no chants, ‘Black women matter.’ ”
The lack of media attention given to black women or girls was so alarming nationwide that it prompted #SayHerName, a social media movement aimed at highlighting the deaths of black women due to police brutality or anti-black violence.
“Although black women are routinely killed, raped, and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality,” said Kimberlé Crenshaw, director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies, who co-authored the “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women” report. “Yet, inclusion of black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives, and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combating racialized state violence for black communities and other communities of color.”
Despite this, Fenner said, “there were marches for black men, but I saw mostly black women there. I see images of black women standing up against cops, putting their bodies at the forefront.”
But Fenner said she also wants to commemorate the women who are left behind after their husbands or sons are killed.
“Eric Garner had six kids,” said Fenner. “Now [his wife] has to take care of them by herself.”
For Fenner, it’s very personal. She remembers how, while attending Universal Institute Charter for middle school, she was going through issues at home, and her school cut back programs. She found herself frustrated and with very few outlets. She ended up physically fighting those around her.
“I had no problem with the girls I fought,” she said. “I just fought them. We all have self-hate, but I was willing to hurt someone else to feel good about myself.”
It was when she was almost expelled that she realized fighting those girls was counterproductive — and that, instead, she should have been uniting with them.
“I realized I was fighting myself,” she said.
When she attended the Girard Academic Music Program for high school as a drum major, Fenner noticed the stark difference in resources.
Now, not only does she hope to work within the school district to increase funding, the African American studies and political science major wants to erase the erasure of black women, whether it’s in history books, the mainstream media, or the black community itself. And to Fenner — a member of Temple’s Progressive NAACP, the Black Student Union, and the National Council of Negro Women — it’s important to celebrate all black women, be they straight, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
The march will also include performances by dancers, singers and even poets, such as 16-year-old wordsmith Kadidja Cisse from the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement, who instantly agreed to take part because the march was like nothing of which she’d ever heard.
“I had this conversation with my history class,” said the Parkway West High School senior. “We asked, which is the greater divide, race or gender? I wasn’t sure what the answer to that question was. I was sure that there were two divides there. It’s obvious that being black is what scares people the most. It’s obvious that being black and being woman and having any kind of voice is what scares people even more.”
She remembered trying to explain that to her classmates, but finding herself met with dismissal.
“It was hard for me in that moment,” said Cisse, “as a black girl, to sit here and listen to black boys who didn’t want to hear that black women are dying because it’s not what they were hearing in the news. It was not what they were used to.”
The poem Cisse will perform alongside her poetry teammates Shirmina Smith and Cassidy Arrington illustrates how “beautiful black men are and how the world doesn’t love them the way we do,” she says. “And we talk about how black men forget us. [We tell black men] you’re beautiful, you’re bright, you’re all these things, but we gave this to you.”
Fenner said black women are often told they have to be strong or they fall into stereotypes fed to them.
“I want black women and girls to know that they’re more than enough,” she said. “That we love them. And that they matter.”