Black excellence, intersectionality and community

Women’s panel talks being black in Eugene

Diana Baker // The Torch
Panelists Ratie Dangarembwa, Fatuma Gedi, Ayasha Benninghoven with Naomi Thornsberry on her lap, and Anetra Brown. Brown explained that discipline rates are worse for children of color, who get punished more often and with harsher consequences than their white peers.

On Nov. 15, the Eugene community was welcomed to “Emergence: The Voice of Women in the 21st Century.” The Eugene chapter of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People hosted the panel discussion at the historic Mims house as part of the “Love You Madly” series.

“By holding this series every Wednesday, we hope to shine a light on our mission statement: find common ground, educate allies and community members, and promote healthy, robust dialogue in a safe, communal space,” Brittany Judson, NAACP program coordinator, said.

About thirty people gathered to enjoy Filipino lumpia and to get acquainted with leaders in the black community. Judson cooked the meal and hosted the panel discussion. Other NAACP organizers on the panel included Anetra Brown, education committee co-chair and Ayasha Benninghoven, the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics Chair. Ratie Dangarembwa, a Zimbabwean vocalist, and Fatuma Gedi, the president of University of Oregon’s Muslim Student Association, were also panelists.

The panelists used their wide variety of cultural backgrounds to discuss how the intersections of gender, race, income levels, religion, cultural experiences and other identifiers can influence a person’s life experiences. Participants shared the common experience of being women of color in Eugene and often shared similar reflections on the topics discussed.

Frequently missing in discussions is empathy, but a simple openness to being willing to learn, Benninghoven explained, can help people overcome barriers. Panelists encouraged attendees to ask questions, acknowledge not knowing everything and be open to feedback.

Several panelists said that people knowing their roots and culture can give them a greater understanding of themselves and the history that brought them to where and who they are. One panelist mentioned how understanding the history of colonialism allows people to see how it’s still impacting culture, so people can understand how to change it. Geddi mentioned that Oregon’s history of racial suppression was still unknown by many people.

The topic of cultural identity tied the panelists together in appreciation of black excellence and several shared stories of finding strength through identifying as black women. Brown smiled as she commented on embracing, “black girl magic”. Black girl magic is a movement celebrating the power, resilience, and beauty of black women.

The recent nationwide discussion on sexual assault was a panel topic that several panelists tied into their personal and professional experiences.  Benninghoven shared of her purpose in working towards sexual violence prevention and education. She explained that the privilege to come forward about sexual assault was tied to race.

“#Metoo wasn’t shocking because of how many women were coming out. What was shocking was how many men were surprised at how many women [did come out], or surprised that their behavior is not okay,” a panelist said.

Dangerembwa and Brown shared Benninghoven’s experience of sexual health being a taboo subject growing up. The lack of education about healthy sexuality and consent, the perpetration of predator behavior in media and victim blaming were discussed as problems that contribute to sexual assault.

The current administration’s impact on the cultural discussion of race was seen as something with both negative and positive impacts.

“It exposes us to more people who are racist,” Benninghoven said, “But it also builds a community for those who aren’t.”

“It’s been a wake-up call for people,” Judson said.

After the panel, a community discussion raised questions about overcoming racism and being a helpful ally. Panelists encouraged community and connection, like showing up to positive cultural celebrations and asking people to share what’s going on in their lives. One panelist explained how white allies can call out the racist actions and words of other white people. Another panelist stressed the importance of letting people of color be voices of authority in the conversation, but not expecting them to be the first or only people to speak up.

“Step up, then step back. Know when your voice is needed, know when to let people talk,” Benninghoven said.

The panel discussion fits with NAACP president Eric Richardson’s desire to connect with and educate the community through the ‘Love You Madly’ series. Richardson launched his lifetime of activism by participating in student government as a Lane Community College student. NAACP holds their Back to School/Stay in School program Saturday mornings at LCC’s Mary J. Spilde Downtown Campus.

The “Love You Madly” events will continue through the end of the year on Wednesday nights and include talks given by prominent community members such as Charmaine Coleman and Willie Mims, poetry by veteran Marcus Holloway and a Kwaanza celebration.

“In light in much of the negative press, we want to present positive images of black excellence,” Richardson said.


Diana Baker // The Torch
Fatuma Gedi talks with Ratie Dangarembwa and two others in the historic Mims house after a women’s panel discussion on Nov. 15.