Say Her Name
A speech from the Say Her Name vigil
By kēr, Contributor
[Editor’s note: The following is a speech delivered by kēr, one of the organizers of a Say Her Name online vigil for Black girls and women, on Wednesday, June 17, 2020. The vigil was organized by kēr and Faith Olanipekun through Luther College Chaplaincy.]
Good evening. I stand before you this evening reluctantly, because yet again, I do not want to be here. Nobody should be standing here for the reasons we are. Nobody should have to put together a service for Black girls and women because they constantly get erased but again, amidst a global pandemic, I stand before you. I am not an activist, but I am considered so for merely wanting my sisters, my community, myself, to live.
June is National Indigenous History Month, and I would be in err if I didn’t use the same breath I use for Black girls and women to shine a spotlight on our Indigenous sistren. The same violence we endure, so do they, and our fight as I have constantly mentioned is the same. Some of the sisters we spotlight tonight are both Black and Indigenous: Breonna Taylor, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Chantel Moore… all victims of police violence.
There is a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls rally this Sunday outside the Ledge at 1pm; please attend. If you think there isn’t a problem, I implore you to read the Human Rights Watch report on police violence on Indigenous women in Saskatchewan.
June is also Pride month, and it is worth noting that Black queer and trans women have been intergral in every civil rights movement ever, and without them none would have been successful. It is, however, heartbreaking to say that although Black queer and trans women have constantly shown up for everyone, nobody shows up for them, thus making them a very endangered group of people.
As we commemorate Pride, we must remember we have more to do as a community still, and we must be willing and ready to do it. To my greater Black siblingry: Black queer women, and especially Black trans women need us, for truly i tell you: whatever we do for the least of these our siblings, we do for ourselves – whatever we do not do for the least of us, we do not do for ourselves. This should go without saying, but let it be clear, we reiterate: the fight is for all Black people.
Last Sunday evening was particularly hard for me. Toyin, an active member of Black Lives Matter actions, had been missing for a few days and I was losing hope. She had previously documented the sexual assault she suffered, and her eyesight wasn’t very good. She was very at risk because her family had discarded of her. Later that night, I found out that her body had been found. I shut down. I just couldn’t.
I woke up on Monday and all I could do was cry, my eyes were wet with tears of pain and fury… she didn’t deserve to die, and at the hands of a Black man? The same people she marched for? How can we fight white supremacy only to need to fight for our lives within our communities? It hurt, because it brought back my own life and experiences.
That evening, I called Faith with the idea to hold a vigil for Toyin and the uncountable number of sisters we lose, who get forgotten like they never existed. It has been difficult getting support to put this service up, as if signaling a testament to how Black girls and women are not seen as worth fighting for even amongst fellow Black women.
We have to do better, team, we must. For shame. when we say Black Lives Matter we shouldn’t have to add on that it means women, that it means all Black women, fat Black women, queer Black women, atheist Black women, darkskin Black women, trans Black women, Muslim Black women, gender nonconforming Black women, Black women who are sex workers, Black women you don’t find desirable (and maybe this is the time to arrest what and whom you find desirable and why), Black women you don’t find respectable (because you can’t respectable your way out of racism), Black women who are unhoused and Black women who are substance users. When we say Black Lives Matter we mean it globally, from Shukri Abdi in the UK, to Joane Florvil, a Haitian woman who was killed by Chilean police, to the Black women suffering in the Middle East under modern day slavery.
As I end this, I would like to wish a happy graduation to Aiyana Stanley-Jonesz, who would have been with the class of 2020.
Say Her Name:
Oluwatoyin ‘Toyin’ Salau
Dominique ‘Rem’mie’ Fells
Pebbles LaDime Doe
Bee Love Slater
Cathalina Christina James
Denali Berries Stuckey
Shukri Ali Said
and too many others