Erika Totten is a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement in the greater Washington, D.C. Metro area, and an activist for the black liberation movement at large. She stresses the importance of self-care for activists and radical healing for black people through emotional emancipation circles. In a recent interview with Sojourners (June 2015), Erika painted a picture of what liberation could and should look like, challenging churches “to listen and stand up.” Below, read Erika’s web-exclusive answers to questions on parenting and womanhood within the movement.
How has your womanhood helped or hindered you as a leader in this movement?
I don’t think it’s hindered me. There are certain spaces where my voice isn’t valued. But an elder named Dorie Ladner, one of the founding members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, affirmed what I was saying and believing. She said, “If they don’t offer you a seat at the table, kick the damn legs from underneath the table.”
If no one is giving me the space, I take it.
As a woman, I speak up passionately. And I believe that passion comes from the fact that we are the givers of life. So if black people are being killed, we birthed that person. If you are threatening the lives of our children, black women will stand up. I’m a mother and a former teacher, so these are my kids.
However, there are certain things I have to deal with as a woman that men don’t—misogyny, sexism, and objectification. I had to deal with sexual harassment in Birmingham and decided to write about it. As a survivor of sexual abuse, when I experienced that, I knew what it was. And because of the healing work I had to do to heal from what I experienced in my childhood, I said to myself, “I’m not carrying anybody else’s shit, and I’m saying your name.”
I hold men accountable. If we hold systems accountable, we have to hold those within the movement accountable, too.
SOURCE: Jenna Barnett