By Jared D. Childress | OBSERVER Staff Writer
It was only supposed to be a march, but the community had other plans for Black Womxn United (BWU).
The Sacramento-based nonprofit on Aug. 13 hosted the inaugural Black Womxn’s Festival, “Money, (Em)power, Respect,” at William Land Park. The free event, its first in person in two years, marked a departure for the organization made famous by its Black Women’s March, which drew hundreds to the state capital in June 2019.
“We never intended for it to be anything other than a march,” said Elika Bernard, one of four co-founders who established BWU in 2017. “I’m glad that I can see beyond myself. A lot of times, Black organizations die with their founders, but this was so much bigger than me.”
The festival was the result of a survey finding previous march-goers were exhausted by pounding the pavement in protest. So BWU pivoted to a celebration offering women resources meant to circumvent the gender pay gap, which leaves Black women among the lowest-earning demographics in the country.
“We wanted to have fun but we also wanted to offer education,” said Ebony Chambers McClinton, BWU board president. “We wanted Black women to claim what was rightfully ours. That includes financial wellness, but also our basic life needs like employment, housing and access to medical care.”
The event, in partnership with California Black Women’s Health Project, was sponsored by SMUD, Planned Parenthood, Delta Sigma Theta, Inc and Visit Sacramento. The city’s most influential movers and shakers were amongst the crowd of nearly 300, including NAACP Greater Sacramento President Betty Willliams, recent candidate for Sacramento County district attorney Alana Mathews and state senatorial candidate Dave Jones.
The event culminated in a financial literacy panel composed of Black women from Sacramento and the Bay Area.
“It’s a conversation that doesn’t happen enough,” said Malikka Rogers-Owens, a panelist and podcaster who prides herself on speaking “unpopular” truths. ”A lot of parents who may have made inroads financially don’t know how to have the conversation with their children. It starts with very basic conversations with our children about money – you don’t have to be an expert.”
Demi Gooch, a Black woman of trans experience and advocate for representation in education, added it was important to have “actionable items. Rather than just telling me to save money, show me what that looks like. Hold my hand and walk me to that bank,” she said.
The theme of empowerment resonated most with Mellonie Richardson, the chapter president of Black Women Organized for Political Action, which educates Black women about politics and policy.
“A major piece for us is educating Black women because we felt left out,” Richardson said. She added that the organization worked with Sacramento Sister Circle to create a voter guide for the upcoming Nov. 8 midterm election. “We don’t have to wait for anyone to give us permission to know what’s going on.”
Richardson received the Community Honoree Award for her decade-long service to the community.
“To be acknowledged is really nice,” Richardson said. “But I really believe in Shirley Chisholm’s quote that ‘service is the rent we pay for living on this earth.’ I live by that professionally and personally.”
The event also addressed reproductive health with the inclusion of Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, the nation’s largest affiliate of the not-for-profit.
Candelaria Vargas, director of public affairs, said it was “important to be present” given the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade and COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Planned Parenthood Mar Monte’s majority Black clientele.
“We really want to let Black women know we are still here for you,” Vargas said. She added that Planned Parenthood has created an accommodating telemedicine program and conducts 40% of patient visits virtually.
Vargas also noted Planned Parenthood provides “gender affirming care. We provide hormone therapy and say ‘pregnant people’ because not only women can get pregnant,” she said. “We are absolutely inclusive in that way.”
Inclusion is the foundation of BWU, which advocates for all womxn and girls, regardless of gender assigned at birth.
Autumn Asters, a queer co-founder who named the organization, explained the “x” in “womxn” is meant to be “more inclusive. Even though we mean all women, sometimes it’s important to have a symbol that directly says that.”
When asked if opting for a festival signals a departure from BWU’s political beginnings, Asters said the festival is keeping in the tradition of their historic march.
“We deserve to just be able to celebrate our womanhood and femme-hood,” Asters said. “Our existence, happiness, and joy are, in fact, resistance.”
For more information on Black Womxn United and how to get involved visit www.bwusac.org