Melissa Harris-Perry: How Our Country Fails Black Girls

The following was delivered before the
Congressional Caucus for Black Women and Girl.

“I hold a professorship named for one of the most extraordinary Americans to live in the twentieth century. Born in 1928, Maya Angelou experienced childhood poverty and dislocation. She was raped by an adult man when she only seven years old. The brutality and unresolved trauma resulting from that early sexual violence stole her voice and shaped her young adulthood. Eventually she became an unwed teen mother. More than three generations after Maya’s childhood, poverty, familial disruption, sexual violence, interrupted education, and teen pregnancy remain key barriers facing black girls in America’s cities, towns, and rural communities.

 Maya Angelou’s story does not end with her struggles; it only begins there. She was guided out of silence by the loving hand of an educator. Her teacher did not practice zero tolerance or call a school resource officer to slam young Maya to the ground. She saw the brokenness of a girl child who needed to be drawn gently back into the world. She helped Maya regain her voice through a love of literature and poetry. As a girl Maya was burdened with poverty and brokenness, but she also encountered meaningful opportunities to learn, grow, and discover her talents while experiencing the care of her community. Maya transformed these opportunities into a life of singular accomplishment and remarkable contributions.
Maya became a fierce advocate for voting rights and human rights, working first with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and later with both Coretta Scott King and Dr. Betty Shabazz.  Recognizing the importance of race and gender health disparities, Dr. Angelou gave her name to the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. In Washington, D.C., she enthusiastically contributed her name to the Maya Angelou Public Charter School offering second chances to young people emerging from juvenile incarceration. Maya Angelou’s path was not always pretty or polite, but it always affirmed that Black Girls Rock and Black Women Matter.”

Indeed, Maya Angelou’s story embodies the barriers and pathways for black women and girls we have gathered to discuss today. I believe she would be pleased by this unprecedented gathering of scholars, activists, artists, journalists, citizens, and lawmakers committed to eliminating injustices black women face. I believe she would commend each of the co-chairs for the visionary leadership to develop the first Congressional Caucus for Black Women and Girls. And I believe she would ask of the larger legislative body, “What took so long?”

Read the full speech in Elle.

Natalie A. Collier speaking

Blurred Focus: The State of Black Women in the Rural South

Natalie A. Collier, Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative for Social & Economic Justice

Presentation Description: In a world that has its spotlight—for better and worse—shone brightly on boys and young men of color, their mothers, sisters and others who love them are often quietly working, overshadowed. Dreams for boys and girls of color are already typically far too small. For many southern, rural black women while coping with the trauma of poverty, its spheres and effects that have become second nature, they must also deal with their own issues and displaced dreams for not only their sons but their daughters and selves. The focus and conversation on uplift and reconnection to personal and community power cannot be either/or; it must be both/and. Continuing along this path of either/or, we systemically and grievously rob women of color of opportunities to exercise their right to dream for themselves and their children.

FACT SHEET: Zubik v. Burwell + Asian American & Pacific Islander Women & Girls


Zubik v. Burwell is a consolidated United States Supreme Court case involving seven different lawsuits challenging whether religious nonprofits are able to deny their employees access to birth control under the Affordable Care Act.

Why does it matter?

The provision at issue in this case covers insurance provided to women and girls through religiously- affiliated organizations as well as religious colleges and universities. If employers are able to deny access to contraceptives under this case, this could set a precedent allowing employers to deny employees other types of healthcare or medical procedures as well, such as vaccinations or blood transfusions. A ruling in favor of the Plaintiffs can also lead to potential widespread harm beyond contraceptive coverage by allowing institutions to discriminate against

women, LGBT people, and others on the bases of their religious beliefs. Religious freedom should not be used to shield employers from providing healthcare benefits to their employees. Contraceptive coverage is essential in promoting quality of life and women’s economic security. All women deserve contraceptive coverage no matter where they work or attend school.

Read and download the full NAPAWF fact sheet.

Unequal Lives: The State of Black Women and Families in the Rural South

In the rural South, more than 1 in 4 children and nearly as many women live in poverty. When race and ethnicity are taken into consideration, the poverty rate is more than double for African-Americans and Latinos compared to their white counterparts.

For women and children living in the rural South, poverty is the result of unequal social, political and economic conditions— failing school systems, high levels of unemployment, poor public infrastructure and housing, and the lack of access to quality healthcare—that have persisted over many decades.

This report, Unequal Lives: The State of Black Women and Families in the Rural South, by the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative, aims to shed light on the most significant and persistent barriers to success, opportunity, and economic security for lower-income women and families in the rural South. It also provides an in-depth analysis of the economic security, health, and overall wellbeing of women living in nine counties across the rural South in the states of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.

Obama’s call to lift up black women gets applause, but some want specific plan

“President Obama’s passionate testimony to the contributions of black women to “every great movement in American history” during a speech Saturday night was applauded by African-American feminists, who were equally glad to hear him acknowledge that black females face unique economic and social challenges.

In his speech at the Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner, Obama described the “real and persistent challenges” faced by black women and girls, including lower incomes, higher rates of serious illness and more exposure to violence. But he offered no specific effort to address those challenges, as he did a year-and-ahalf ago when he launched My Brother’s Keeper for at-risk boys and men of color.”

Gender Norms: A Key to Improving Health & Wellness Among Black Women & Girls

Scholars have thought about the impact of gender and race on Black women and girls for several decades. Many theoretical frameworks and scholarly writings have examined the issue (Cole, 2009; Collins, 1990; Giddings, 1985; Hooks, 1981). However, the empirical research on race, gender norms and Black girls is still in its infancy. There is a small but growing body of empiri- cal research specifically devoted to Black girls and gender norms, which the authors sincerely hope will continue growing. However, there are a wealth of studies that employ racially diverse, multi-ethnic samples that include Black girls in significant numbers. Given the limitations of the empirical research base, this report focuses on three problem areas where the research base on the impact of feminine gender norms is both broad and well-accepted:

  • Basic health and wellness;
  • Reproductive and sexual health, including teen pregnancy and STIs;
  • Intimate relationships (including partner violence).