In honor of Black History Month, I'm excited for an interview series with several lovely black women. My hope is that this series with be able to inspire black girls like myself by providing stories, advice, and emotional honesty from successful women. Their courage, determination, and all around badass-ness inspires me to do my best, and I'm sure that it'll do the same for you.
I spoke with Johnetta Elzie, also known as Netta, one of the leaders in the activist group We The Protestors. She has been profiled by The New York Times as a leader of the group that built "the nation's first 21st-century civil rights movement," and named as one of the 53 people on Fortune's list of "World's Greatest Leaders" for her work with the Black Lives Matter Movement.
What makes #BlackGirlMagic so important?
When I first saw it, I thought it was fun, cute, necessary, and a really cool way to highlight just the incredible, remarkable, and often everyday things black women and girls are doing that we normally don't get recognition for.
Is there an emotional impact of constantly talking about things that are problematic in our government and justice system?
Yes. I would say, I think, the biggest drain is repeating myself over and over. That's what happens when you're talking to a mass amount of people all of the time. It's exhausting to constantly go over these things, basic concepts that black people have a grasp on, when talking to people who are privilege. It's like mental gymnastics.
My main amount of work is police violence, so I wouldn't even say that it's emotionally taxing. That's just taxing in general. It's constantly happening, everyday. In the month of January - the last time time I checked, it was 44. But now, 59 people have been killed in 2016 and we're only on day 28. Numbers like that exhaust me. The fact that people - that's fifty nine names, fifty nine souls....It's just a lot to know that, even though in 2014 and in 2015 we did a really good job in making police violence a national conversation, it has not slowed down the police killings because there is no accountability.
What do you think needs to be changed for police to be held accountable for what they're doing?
Everything needs to be changed. Literally, the whole system needs to be changed because there is no accountability. Even just looking at Laquan McDonald in Chicago. Everybody knew that this man killed Laquan, and that Laquan was actually not a threat. The mayor knew it, his top aids, literally everyone knew. To me, it's not possible to pinpoint a specific part of the system that needs to be changed more so than another one because all of it is corrupt.
What do you think about when you hear "Black History Month?"
In my house, every day was Black History Day, so we didn't really have a month. I don't know. I feel like it just depends on who's teaching or what a person is learning. I think it's important.
Is there a specific black woman from history who inspires you?
Harriet Tubman. I love her. She's a freedom fighter, and she had a gun because she knew that, not only would the slave owner or the plantation owner be out to hurt and harm her, but that respectability politics were a thing, and that her own people would try her. And so Harriet carried a gun.
I love Harriet Tubman. She's so important. She was like, "I'm gone get you free and if you try me, that will be that last time you try anybody."
What does being a black woman mean to you?
Being a black woman to me means that I...do you know those "I met God, she's black" shirts? I love them. I'm not kidding. I think black women are the most amazingly beautiful and brilliant beings ever. I just really love black women.
Owning it is amazing. I love the fact that not doing what women expect of black women, I love being able to do that. I love being able to break boundaries that people place on me because I am a black woman, and I embrace my womanhood completely. It's the shit to me. Being a black woman is the shit.
What would you say to a girl who isn't sure about her blackness?
Well, I don't know. I think that depends on the person. If this girl is interested in embracing her blackness, I would just say keep living because either you'll figure it out on your own or the world will make you figure it out with how they treat you. If they don't want to embrace their blackness, hey, I don't have too much to say about that.
What is the most difficult part of being black woman today?
I feel like defying labels or stereotypes that people have about black women is really important to me. Stereotypes or tropes that people have for black women - black people and black women included - can be really exhausting. But I always think about Janelle Monet's lyric where she says "Categorize me, I defy every label." I'm not going to be where you place me, but still having to fight to not be that is exhausting.
Where do you get your courage?
I have a delightful, lovely, funny, charismatic, little sister who will be sixteen this year. She reminds me that everyday I used to be a teenager. I'm just always in awe of the things she says. I just think she's the most brilliant little being possible. My sister gives me a lot of my strength, because I want the world to be a better place for her. I want it to be a fair place for her. I want it a place where she doesn't have to do all of this fighting that I do, or that we saw our Mom do.
A lot of my courage comes from my mom, who isn't alive anymore, but I think just the legacy I have of her in my mind helps me remind me of who and where I come from. Also my aunt, my grandpa. They just remind me that I'm happy that God chose us together to be in a squad.