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As Goes The South: Remembering Our 5 Little Girls And Mapping A Way Forward

What happens to the Black girls who are haunted by traumatic experiences every day, the ones who often don’t have their stories told, nor the support they need to help pull them through?

Say their names: Addie Mae Collins. Cynthia Wesley. Carole Robertson. Carol Denise McNair.

On September 15th, 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, 4 little Black girls attending Sunday service at 16th Street Baptist Church lost their lives after members from the Ku Klux Klan planted a bomb to disrupt worship, and to drive a stake in the movement for civil rights at that time. But, as many people may not know, there was a fifth Black Girl, Sarah Collins, who was blinded by the blast but survived. The trauma she experienced that day and for years after, reminds me of the many Black girls who are haunted by traumatic experiences every day and who often don’t have their stories told or the support they need to help pull them through.

It’s time we shift that narrative.

Today, women and girls of color account for 0.5% of $66.9 billion donated by foundations, according to Ms. Foundation landmark study on philanthropy, totaling just $5.48 per woman and girls of color in the United States.

As a daughter of the South, who is deeply invested in today’s movement for racial justice, along with many of my fellow sister friends, we feel a strong need to change this dynamic.

In February of 2020, I launched an effort with three other philanthropy-minded Black women living in the South called the Southern Black Girls and Women’s Consortium (SBGWC). We began by conducting listening sessions with about 350 Black girls across our network in order to inform the grantmaking strategy we wanted to build. We now have a sound understanding of the difference between rural and urban experiences in the Black community, how to meaningfully integrate Black girls, their voices and their spaces; and have learned that our strength is in our ability to be in relationship with each other.

These young women, ranging in ages from 9 to 25, shared with us their hopes and dreams. They talked about their desires, passions and frustrations. Many spoke about the need for access to quality health care, recreational facilities, affordable housing and education reform.

Since that listening tour, we have successfully raised more than $10 million toward our investment goal of $100 million over 10 years, in support of Black girls and women in the South; we also recently announced the Black Girls Dream Fund fundraising initiative, which is designed to intentionally focus on the needs and goals of Black girls and women in the South. In America today, more African-Americans live in the South than any other region. And yet, it is still home to the most disenfranchised communities in the country.

Furthermore, throughout America, Black girls and women continue to be disproportionately impacted by policies and practices that prevent too many of us from excelling.

Today, on the anniversary of this powerful civil rights movement, SBGWC is proud to join the #MeToo Movement, A Long Walk Home, Girls for Gender Equity, National Women’s Law Center, and the Ms. Foundation for Women in a new effort, led by Grantmakers for Girls of Color, called 1Billion4BlackGirls, a 10-year philanthropic campaign designed to invest $1 billion in the brain trust, innovation, health, safety, education, research, and joy of Black girls and their families. Inspired and informed by our regional work through SBGWC, 1Billion4BlackGirls is a national fundraising effort that expands power-building in philanthropy, in a way that centers the voices and lives of Black girls and women, a group who has for too long been ignored or forgotten.

In an open letter, published by ESSENCE, the partners leading this national initiative makes it clear why this is a critical moment for a vision such as this.

“Black girls and young women still remain at great risk for being adultified, erased, and victimized by violence, even at this unprecedented moment in which Black Lives Matter has emerged as our nation’s largest racial justice movement ever. From discrimination in education and healthcare to sexual assault and policing, the lives and livelihoods of Black girls and young women are notably absent in the public narratives, policies, and justice movements most crucial to addressing inequality and racial trauma.”

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It’s time we encourage America to reimagine how we support and empower Black girls and women—going above and beyond surface level remedies to inspire generational change.  We want to see Black girls and women in America thriving, not just surviving.

Black girls have shaped our democratic process and cultural legacy without an expectation of return. We must honor the voices of Black girls and we invite you to invest in their future, along with us.

As we honor the memories of the 4 little girls who were murdered in Birmingham, Alabama, on this day 57 years ago, we must remember the countless Black girls across this country for whom the fight for justice continues today.  

Say their names. 

Breonna Taylor 

Sandra Bland

Natasha McKenna

Courtlin Arrington

Hadiya Pendleton 

Taiyania Thompson…

LaTosha Brown is the visionary and co-anchor of the Southern Black Girls and Women’s Consortium and co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund.  You can follow her on Twitter @MsLaToshaBrown.