By Leah Harris
During Black History and Black Futures Month in February, Massachusetts-based Wildflower Alliance, in collaboration with New Life II in Connecticut, launched a live and virtual exhibit entitled Black Movement History Leaders, Past and Present.
The exhibit honors the leadership of Black Californians, including Keris Jän Myrick, Kelechi Ubozoh, and Gogo Ekhaya Esima.
In the Project Statement, organizers Dana Smith, Chacku Mathai, and Sera Davidow further elaborated shared the exhibit’s call to action to the consumer/survivor/ex-patient and peer movements:
“…The faces and voices of this movement has consistently skewed white, while the faces and voices of people most deeply and negatively impacted by the psychiatric and other intersecting systems are Black and Brown. The fact of the matter is that there have been and continue to be many powerful Black leaders within this movement who are too often made less visible by a society that continues to find it easier and more automatic to lift up white voices first.
This ongoing trend causes great harm. Not only in its most obvious inequities, but also by perpetuating a gap for people who are currently struggling and unable to find anyone who looks like them. We need people to identify with, including those who has moved through struggles and beyond to a full life that they are living on their own terms. This gap contributes to more Black and Brown people becoming stuck in these systems, and fewer emerging as leaders themselves for lack of support and visibility of that potential.
This exhibit is intended as only one of many small steps to counter that trend. We consider it not just an exhibit, but a call to action to lift up more Black voices, to at least sometimes take a step back to make space for those who’ve had less access to these platforms, to share or pass along invitations to step forward, and to make intentional efforts to mentor and grow emerging Black voices, too.
All this said, we need to acknowledge that this process is deeply imperfect. Even the existence of this exhibit is itself a product of white supremacy. In some ways, it is complicit by acting as if ‘Black leader’ is something different and set apart from ‘leader’ overall. The accomplishments of Black people in this movement would simply and routinely be acknowledged alongside everyone else without needing to differentiate were we where we should be. And yet, these voices are not recognized enough, and we hope this exhibit can serve as a step along the way, not just to equity but to inclusion for all.”
The organizers also acknowledge the work of Vanessa Jackson, author of ‘In Our Own Voice: African-America Stories of Oppression, Survival and Recovery in Mental Health Systems’ and ‘Separate and Unequal: The Legacy of Racially Seregated Hospitals,’ which guided the exhibit’s development process.
Please share this exhibit and its call to action far and wide. If you’d like to nominate yourself or someone you know to be featured, the Wildflower Alliance and New Life II are looking for additional nominations.
Leah Harris is a non-binary, queer, neurodivergent, disabled Jewish writer, facilitator, and organizer working in the service of truth-telling, justice-doing, and liberation. They’ve had work published in the New York Times, CNN, and Pacific Standard. You can learn more about their work at their website and follow them on Instagram.