The Dream Continues: Amplifying the Voices of Black Women to Achieve Health Equity

Speaking up about an issue doesn’t mean you intend to hurt other people; speaking up is about promoting justice. We cannot heal disease by pretending it doesn’t exist.

Stephanie Dixon and her mother, Deundra Hundon demonstrate a support technique for a birthing mother in San Francisco on March 12, 2019. Hundon and Dixon, a mother-daughter doula duo called Bare With Me, are part of the partnership with the San Francisco Department of Public Health that provides doulas to low-income Black and Pacific Islander women, who have some of the poorest maternal and infant health rates in the city. (Carlos Avila Gonzalez / San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

We recently celebrated Black History Month, followed by Women’s History Month, and have now transitioned into National Minority Health Month. Additionally, April 11–17 commemorates Black Maternal Health Week. These commemorative markers each highlight populations often overlooked and minoritized. Going forward, I propose that we shift the paradigm from characterizing these populations as “marginalized,” to focusing more on our strength and resilience in the face of tremendous adversity. As the backbone of my own family and community, Black women are the epitome of resilience and strength—particularly, Black mothers and grandmothers.

I am reminded of one of the most iconic and memorable lines from the civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “I have a Dream” speech, eloquently highlighted our nation’s hypocrisy, saying “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

Two things stand out to me in this quote:

  1. the irony of a founding document emphasizing human equality while simultaneously defining Black people as three-fifths human; and
  2. the exclusion of women from the notion of human equality.

I recently had a vivid dream upon which I chose to reflect. Interpreting the meaning behind dreams is one of many traits I inherited from my mother—she was known for doing this before transitioning to the ancestral realm. Interestingly, I received a call from my brother the morning after this dream, who shared I too was in his dream the night before.

My dream began with me shopping for jewelry and ended with me being accused by security of attempting to steal. Surprisingly, my initial thought was not to make a big deal about it because perhaps my actions could have been perceived as suspicious—for example, my prolonged browsing. When I think about it, my typical response when faced with conflict is to focus on my role and what I could do to improve going forward, understanding that other people’s actions are beyond my control.

But in my dream, I recall charging up to the register with jewelry in hand, and yelling out, “This store is racist!” I remember thinking “Wow, my voice sounds so loud and clear.” This is significant because I’ve never been particularly fond of the sound of my voice. For starters, the tone is quite soft and becomes high-pitched when trying to project louder. Also, I have a natural tendency to speak fast, and my pace increases when I’m nervous or particularly passionate about what I’m saying. Lastly, my accent is a combination of dialects from the South Side of Chicago and the southern U.S., which gets tricky when speaking to professional audiences. But in this dream, I was impressed with my own voice.

I continued my outburst: “I have never stolen anything in my life! I am a college professor! How dare you accuse me of stealing.” People around the shop looked shocked at my outburst, but they also seemed to be on my side, including some white customers. I proceeded up to the register as a young white woman offered an apology, which did not feel particularly meaningful or sincere. I responded, “Okay, can you ring up my jewelry?” She looked shocked and asked, “You still want to give us your money?” I replied, “Yes, I want the jewelry, I put a lot of time and effort into carefully selecting each piece. I just hope you learn your lesson.”

As I reflected upon this ending, an important thought emerged: My goal in life is not to punish anyone for past mistakes, or to take anything I didn’t earn. My goal is to educate and raise awareness about historical and ongoing anti-Black racism and sexism in hopes that we can all learn and grow as a collective. My ancestors paid a hefty price for the freedoms I currently experience, and I intend to pay that gift forward so that the next generation does not have to fight the same battles.

As the backbone of my own family and community, Black women are the epitome of resilience and strength—particularly, Black mothers and grandmothers.

Our souls are tired. We want to enjoy the freedom that has cost more than I can fully understand. My ancestors fought to change the narrative that Black people are inherently inferior to white people, and Black women played a significant role in this fight.

Consequently, the civil rights and feminist movements, along with related actions, gave rise to the adaptation and creation of social, economic and political power structures to maintain the inequitable socioeconomic hierarchy we see today. In short, anti-Black racism and sexism went undercover. Therefore, my work focuses primarily on removing structural barriers which are often hidden in plain sight. Raising awareness about structural racism and empowering Black women to raise our voices are crucial to addressing health and social inequity.

Exclusion of Black women from mainstream world history has effectively masked our contributions to society, helping to facilitate marginalization. An important step in the process towards health equity and social justice involves amplifying the voices of Black women and other marginalized populations by creating spaces for us to tell our own stories. I hope that by sharing reflections from my dream, more people are encouraged to speak their truths and listen to/support people in speaking their truths about injustice.

My dream highlights that speaking up about an issue doesn’t automatically mean you dislike or intend to hurt other people; speaking up is about promoting justice. So, instead of being offended by someone else’s truth, we could listen with open minds and hearts, receive any lessons that may be there for us to learn and keep moving forward. But be clear—moving forward does not mean covering up the past. Moving forward from any situation requires honest communication, mutual understanding and tangible reconciliation. We cannot heal disease by ignoring it or pretending that it doesn’t exist.

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Dr. Alicia Best is an assistant professor in the College of Public Health at the University of South Florida. Her research, teaching and service work is collectively aimed at promoting health equity, social justice and dismantling anti-Black racism in the U.S. and globally.