Black History Month: Elizabeth Freeman

”Any Click To Tweet a free woman— I would. — Elizabeth Freeman” username=”forwardactionmi”]

Elizabeth Freeman, also known as MumBet was the first enslaved Black person to file and win their freedom in a lawsuit in Massachusets.

Freeman’s lawsuit, Brom and Bett v Ashley (1781), resulted in a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling ruling slavery unconstitutional. The court further cited her suit in a review of a similar lawsuit by Quock Walker, implicitly ending slavery in Massachusetts.

Freeman’s lawsuit resulted in her freedom, damages to the tune of 30 shillings (approximately $350 today).

Black History Month: The Black Panther Party

The Black Panther Party was a revolutionary socialist organization founded in 1966 with the intent of protecting and enriching the lives of the Black community.

The BPP publicized What We Want Now!: A Ten Point Program, demanding the following:

  1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
  2. We want full employment for our people.
  3. We want an end to the robbery by the Capitalists of our Black Community.
  4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
  5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.
  6. We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
  7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people
  8. We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
  9. We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States
  10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.


The BPP set out to accomplish these things by creating armed patrols within Black communities and neighbourhoods. These patrols would simply walk around and monitor police activity for incidents of brutality. The Black Panthers focused on learning about open carry laws and acting within those laws for self and community protection. When confronted by police, they would cite laws, and threaten to sue should those rights be violated.

They further created social programs, called Survival Programs, including things like clothing distribution, classes on politics and economics, free medical clinics, first aid and self defense classes, transportation to prisons for family members of inmates, an emergency response ambulance programs, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and testing for sickle-cell disease.

The most famous Survival Program, however, was the Free Breakfast for Children Program. This program provided breakfast for nearly 20,000 children a year during its run, making them a target of the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation.

The FBI, being invested in maintaining white supremacy, engaged in a program dedicated to delegitimize and eradicate the Black Panther Party and their Survival Programs. This involved raiding their breakfast programs, targetting and arresting their rank-and-file members, attempting to start rivalries and wars with various other groups, and infiltrating their organization. The FBI murdered two members, and arrested a third, who remains in prison to this day, despite declassified documents admitting to his framing.

Further reading:

The FBI’s war on the Black Panther’s South California Chapter

Black History Month: Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin was a 17 year old Black boy shot in Florida by a white man who liked beating up women.

At 9 years old Trayvon Martin saved his father’s life, by pulling him out of a fire. He was known as a shy, kind, and quiet kid, who could often be found hiding in his hoodie and listening to music. He babysat, cut grass and washed cars to earn money. He showed amazing skill and talent for fixing and riding dirt bikes, and was focused on building a career working with airplanes.

On February 26th, 2012, Trayvon committed a crime against white supremacy by daring to walk home from a convenience store while wearing a hoodie and carrying a can of Arizona iced tea and a package of skittles. His murderer shot him in the chest, twice, claiming self-defense, and was acquitted by a jury, despite overwhelming evidence of his racist intent.

Trayvon’s story catapulted discussions on white supremacy, racial profiling, and police brutality into the media’s eye, and convinced many white Americans to finally acknowledge the problem. While police brutality, and racial injustice within the legal system continue to form a core part of our social structure. Our work is not finished.

Black History Month: Eartha Kitt

We're all rejected people, we know what it is to be refused, we know what it is to be oppressed, depressed, and then, accused, and I am very much cognizant of that feeling. Nothing in the world is more painful than rejection. I am… Click To Tweet

Eartha Kitt was an American entertainer and activist who fought for civil rights, to the detriment of her own career, and did so with no regrets and no shame.

In 1968, Kitt answered a question posed to her by Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam war, stating

The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don’t have what we have on Sunset Blvd for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons – and I know what it’s like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson – we raise children and send them to war.


This caused Ms. Johnson to burst into tears, and led to the CIA investigating Kitt, calling her a “sadistic nymphomaniac” and making it difficult for her to find paid work in the US.

Kitt didn’t let that stop her, continuing to build her career in Europe, singing in eleven languages, fluent in four. She continued her activism despite the CIA’s attempt at blacklisting her.

Kitt never stopped fighting for civil rights, coming out in support of LGBTQ rights, establishing the Kittsville Youth Foundation, and working with Rebels with a Cause in 1966.

Black History Month – Emmett Till

Emmett Till was a 14 year old boy lynched in 1955 after being falsely accused of flirting with 21 year old white Carolyn Bryant while in her family’s grocery store in Money, Mississippi.

A few days after having visited Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market with friends, Carol Bryant’s husband Roy Bryant returned from a hunting trip, at which point his wife informed him that Till had flirted with her. Roy Bryant immediately began attempting to track down Till. A few days later, The Bryants, and Roy’s half brother J.W. Milam climbed into a truck and drove to Till’s uncle’s home in the middle of the night. There, Bryant and Milam forced their way in, dragged Till out of his home, and threatened his family that should they tell anyone, they would be killed. They tied Till up, depositing him in the back of their pick up truck and driving him to a barn in Drew, Mississippi. Witnesses heard crying and the sounds of someone being beaten from the barn, but no one got involved. Till was shot, and driven to Glendora, Mississippi, where his body was thrown over the Black Bayou Bridge.

Three days later, Till’s swollen and bloated body was found by two boys fishing the Tallahatchie river. His face had been badly disfigured, along with evidence of impacts to his back and hips. A fan blade had been attached to his neck with barbed wire to weight down his body.

Roy Bryant and JW Milam were tried for the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till, but were acquitted by an all-white jury.

A year later, in 1956,  Bryant and Milam were paid $4000 for an interview with Look Magazine, where they admitted to murdering Till, proudly insisting they hadn’t done anything wrong. In 2008, Carolyn Bryant admitted that Till had never flirted with her.

Black History Month: Claudette Colvin

I kept saying, 'He has no civil right... this is my constitutional right... you have no right to do this.' And I just kept blabbing things out, and I never stopped. That was worse than stealing, you know, talking back to a white… Click To Tweet

In March 2nd 1955, Claudette Colvin was a high school student attending the segregated Booker T. Washington High School in Montgomery Alabama. Returning home from class on city busses, Claudette Colvin was thinking about a school paper she had written on local segregation issues within department stores. Black folk weren’t allowed to use dressing or fitting rooms.

At the time, segregation meant that Black folk were expected to stand in the back of the bus, rather than take up seats up front that were reserved for white people. When a white woman entered the bus, the driver insisted that Colvin move to the back of the bus, and she refused.

Police were called, and Colvin was arrested, and convicted of disturbing the peace, violating the segregation laws, and assault. Colvin insisted, accurately, that there was never any assault. She was bailed out by her reverend, who told her that she had brought the revolution to Montgomery

Colvin was one of the five plaintiff’s in a lawsuit by Fred Gray against the Mayor and city of Montgomery, Alabama which ultimately determined that bus segregation was unconstitutional. The lawsuit made it to the Supreme Court. On November 13th, 1956, The Supreme Court ordered Alabama and Montgomery to desegregate the bus system. This finally happened on December 20th, 1956.

Aila Moireach is a social justice writer and educator. You can find her on facebook or on her blog



Black History Month: Latasha Harlins

Hey FAM! Every week day this month, we’ll be posting a brief biography on a figure in Black history.

Latasha Harlins was a 15 year old girl Black girl murdered in a convenience store in Los Angeles. Her murder, 13 days after Rodney King’s beating, and the murderer’s subsequent slap on the wrist contributed to tensions leading to the LA Riots.

Soon Ja Du, a 51 year old convenience store clerk assumed Latasha Harlins was attempting to steal a bottle of orange juice, despite Latasha having the money to pay for it in hand. Mrs Du reacted by grabbing Latasha’s sweater and backpack, and assaulting her.

Latasha fought back in an attempt to get away. As she stepped back, Mrs. Du threw a stool at her. Latasha bent over to pick up the orange juice that had fallen to the ground, when Mrs Du snatched it from her hand. As Latasha turned to leave, Mrs Du reached under the counter for her handgun and shot Latasha in the back of the head from three feet away.

Mrs. Du was arrested and claimed self-defense, however her testimony was contradicted by both eye witnesses, and the security camera.

Mrs. Du was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the murder of Latasha Harlins, which carries a maximum sentence of 16 years. While the jury recommended the maximum, Judge Joyce Karlin claimed “mitigating factors” and sentenced Mrs. Du to five years probation, 400 hours community service, and a $500 fine. Judge Karlin is quoted as saying Did Mrs. Du react inappropriately? Absolutely. But was that reaction understandable? I think that it was….this is not a time for revenge…and no matter what sentence this court imposes Mrs. Du will be punished every day for the rest of her life.”

This sent a clear message to Los Angeles’ Black community that to the white justice system, Black lives did not matter.




Aila Moireach is a social justice writer and educator. You can find her on facebook.

What Does Transgender Mean?

Hey FAM!

On this week’s Social Justice installment, we’re going to discuss Trans issues. We’re going to touch a bit on the Transgender community and some of the ways they are marginalized by cisgender folks.

Let’s start with a few definitions:

Gender: A social construct that allows individuals to make logical assumptions about someone based on cues such as appearance, mannerisms, presentation, clothing, speech patterns, name, and other cues.  Often, this is “assigned” to an infant at birth based on their genitalia (when those genitalia are unambiguous).  On an individual level, gender is an emotional, mental, and social state that is influenced by a number of factors, including genetics, society, neurochemistry, upbringing, exposure to media and academia, as well as other nonspecific factors.  Often, this term is conflated with ‘sex‘ as a way to differentiate “how someone feels” from their genitalia.  However, genitalia, chromosomes, and assigned birth gender have no scientifically provable bearing on one’s gender.  Only people have a gender; genitals, objects, actions, media, and other such items are not gendered.  Society may at large may associate them with a particular gender, however these associations are a function of a strong bias towards binary gender, and to a greater degree, gender essentialism.

Gender Presentation: How any individual represents their gender through mannerisms, appearance, name, and other nonspecific factors.

Gender Binary: The concept that only two genders exist, male and female, and that all other genders are invalid, made up, fake, or some other similar term.

Gender Essentialism: The practice or idea of boiling down an individual to so-called “essential” qualities associated with the gender they are, or present as. Examples include reducing an individual to their genitalia or secondary sex characteristics, to a biological function (such as pregnancy/birth or menstruation), to a societal role (housewife/homemaker, breadwinner, think 1950s americana), or to another lesser quality to remove the complexity and abstraction of the individual.  This is harmful not only in trans discourse, but also in feminist discourse in that it is often sexist as well as cissexist.

Transgender or Trans: (adjective) Transgender is an umbrella term for anyone who is not the gender doctors assigned when they were born. This includes binary and non-binary genders and identities as well. This is an adjective (not a noun) and should never use the -ed or -ism suffix. While you may see trans folks refer to themselves as “a tran” or “a trans” or “the trans” colloquially (and often in jest), much like with racially-charged language be sure to avoid mimicking the usage of the trans community as a cis individual.  Generally one should refer to binary trans folks as “trans men” or “trans women” as the term “trans” is an adjective, similar to blonde, white, fat, disabled, or neurotypical.  Specifically, using the terms “transman” and “transwoman” (note the lack of space) implies that these individuals are fundamentally “not” members of their gender, by creating a fully new term rather than applying an adjective to said gender.

Non-Binary: (adjective) Sometimes shortened to NB, or enby. This is an umbrella term for folks whose gender doesn’t exist within the gender binary. They aren’t “men” or “women,” but often have identities such as agender, gender-fluid, etc. If you think of gender less as a binary and more as a big ball of wibbly wobbly gendery-bendery stuff,* then non-binary folks are somewhere in said ball.  Sometimes this term is shortened to NB, or “enby” by members of the community.**

Cisgender: (adjective) Anyone who is the gender they were assigned at birth. Also referred to as “cis <insert gender here>” such as cis man or cis woman. Borrowed from latin, where it is the opposite of the prefix “trans”. This word follows the same grammatical rules as transgender, and should never have the -ism, or -ed suffix attached.

AMAB/AFAB: Abbreviation for “assigned male at birth” or “assigned female at birth”; this is an abbreviation often used by/around trans people to avoid harmful or misgendering language such as “born <insert different gender here>” or “<insert different gender here>-bodied”.

Deadname: A trans person’s deadname is the name they were assigned before their gender became known. It is incredibly problematic to use this name, or to ask about it. Using it suggests that you don’t respect a person’s declaration of their authentic selves, and also runs the risk of potentially outting them.

Misgendering: The act of referring to someone using terms, implications, imagery, or other communication that expresses or implies that they are a different gender than they are, or are not genuine about their identity.  While it may be easier to understand this as “a different gender than they *say* they are” that language implies that an individual’s gender is invalid and based only on that individual’s opinion and that they do not have the agency to know their own gender moreso than society (or simply another individual).  While this can be as simple as using the incorrect pronouns, it can also be less obviously done via explicitly avoiding using a gendered or genderless pronoun to indicate a trans individual, preferring to use their name (or worse, their deadname) even when it is grammatically awkward or conversationally inappropriate. 

Dysphoria: This is the distress a trans person experiences as a result of the gender they were assigned at birth. Not all trans folks experience dysphoria, and for those who do, the degree to which they experience it may vary. Historically ‘gender dysphoria’ was the medical term for the condition of being transgender, much like how homosexuality was considered a mental illness in the socially unaware days of yesteryear.  As of the release of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (or DSM-5 for short), this is no longer the case.

Intersex: Intersex refers to a person who has a body that does not fit society’s binary definitions of male and female. This includes variance in chromosomes, hormones, secondary sex characteristics and sexual and reproductive anatomy (sometimes referred to as “ambiguous genitals” at birth).

Cissexism: The discrimination of the dominant group (cis folks) against the oppressed group (trans folks) based on the quality of being trans, or having one or more qualities associated with trans folks, or the assertion/implication that trans folks are inferior to cis folks.

Folks: An easy-to-use genderless reference to a group of individuals.  Sometimes used in text as “folx” in the LGBT community to be more inclusive, and as a nod to the role of the internet and social media in modern LGBT culture.

TERF: “TERF” is an abbreviation for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. TERFs are a hate group and are known for doxxing (tracking down and publishing private information about), harassing, and excluding trans folks from spaces (including LGBT spaces). For more information, check out: Cathy Brennan is a Fake Goth. Originally coined by trans activist and historian Katarina Rose around 2008 as “Trans Exterminatory Radical Feminist” in an effort to describe a subset of radical feminists who, under the guise of “gender critical” arguments, seek to exclude trans women from feminist and female-only spaces, and to a greater extent, to eliminate the acceptance of trans women as women entirely.  Over time, TERFs have (largely successfully) rebranded as “exclusionary” but given their stated goals, this term is not entirely accurate.

Still with me? That was a whole lot of definitions, and they may be hard to remember, but it gets easier, I promise!

The problem of transphobia or transantagonism, like sexism, racism, ableism, or classism, is a systemic one. Under the theory of intersectionality, first coined by feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, various oppressions can not be understood independently of each other. You can’t separate the oppressions of being a woman, a person of color, of being poor or being trans. They’re intertwined and they act on each other frequently compounding the trauma and oppression and magnifying it. For transgender folk, this manifests in the way stigma and transphobia drive other oppressions like class and gender.

Transgender folk are more likely to experience family rejection and homelessness. The 2015 Transgender Survey asked respondents a series of questions relating to their immediate family’s support of their gender. They found that of respondents who were out to their immediate families:

  • 10% reported a family member was violent toward them because of their transgender status.
  • 8% were kicked out of their homes
  • 10% ran away from home

Trans folks experienced considerably higher rates of psychological distress as a result of the social stigma and rejection by their families.


  • 40% of transgender folks who responded to the survey have attempted suicide in their lifetime, compared to 4.6% of the US population as a whole.

Homelessness was a struggle for many of the respondents

  • 30% experienced homelessness at some point in their lives
  • 12% experienced homelessness in 2015 because of being transgender
  • of that 12%, 26% avoided staying in a shelter because of fears of being mistreated as a transgender person.
  • of those who did stay in shelters, 70% reported harassment, physical and sexual assault, or being kicked out because of being transgender.

Transgender folks are more likely to be victims of violence or harassment:

  • 46% of respondents experienced verbal harassment in the year predating the survey (2015)
  • 9% of respondents reported being physically attacked for being transgender in 2015
  • 47% of respondents were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime
  • 54% experienced some form of intimate partner violence.

Transgender folks are often discriminated against when attempting to simply exist in public. 31% of respondents to the survey experienced some form of mistreatment while in a place of public accomodation:


Should Republicans have their way and manage to completely defund Medicaid and Planned Parenthood, trans folk stand to suffer as well — low income trans folk, just like cis women, rely on Planned Parenthood for reproductive health. In many states, Planned Parenthood is the only option trans folk have for access to hormone replacement therapy and other trans related healthcare. Many trans folks avoid seeing doctors for fear of being mistreated as a trans person, or because they could not afford too.

So what can we do to support our trans siblings?

I’m so glad you asked!

The most important thing we can do for our trans siblings is listen.

When our trans siblings tell us that our pink pussy hats hurt them, we need to take them off.

When our trans siblings tell us that our insistence on associating genitalia with femininity excludes them, we need to find new symbols.

When our trans siblings tell us to use their pronouns, we need to do it without question.

When our children and loved ones tell us they are transgender, we need to support them.

We need to donate to Planned Parenthood’s HRT program, and to the Trans Lifeline.

When our politicians try to limit our trans siblings’ access to bathrooms and healthcare, we need to pick up our signs and march with them.

Remember Martin Niemoller’s famous words:

Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up Click To Tweet

For more in-depth terms, and additional resources, check out these links!

A Glossary of Terms —

Gender is messier than a singular point on a two-dimensional line

Trans Feminism: There’s No Conundrum About It

*Doctor Who reference because why not?

**There is some controversy as to whether or not it is appropriate for cis folk to use the term enby. While the term is generally accepted by the non-binary community, it is vital to always respect individuals and their choice of terms when referring to them.

I would like to give a heartfelt thanks to Bronwyn Sperling, Ian Pinsker, Alaura Mae, and Tawny for their significant contributions to this piece.

If you are trans and living in the United States or Canada, the Trans Lifeline was created by trans folk for other trans folk. They are a free, 24 hour hotline that can be reached at (US) 877-565-8860, or (Canada) 877-330-6366. You matter, and you are loved.

On The Unity Argument

Good Morning FAM!

The admin team has decided to start introducing weekly social justice posts! On these posts, you’ll be introduced to a new topic, and have the opportunity to ask questions.

FAM is committed to working to make this a group that welcomes marginalized voices as equally as it does privileged voices. We realize we’re not there yet, but we’re going to keep trying!

Our first topic is The Unity Argument.

Throughout FAM’s history, we’ve repeatedly seen people make use of an argument for unity. While we can all agree that a unified front is far more difficult to tear down than a divided one, the way in which this argument pressures marginalized voices to silence is actually the opposite of unifying.

Throughout history, marginalized folks have continuously had to put their concerns and their fears on the back burner in an attempt to help further social justice. What this looks like is Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) often staying quiet and feeling excluded from movements that are centered around white folks and white experiences. One example of that is the pink pussy hat.

To understand why this is so problematic we have to acknowledge and agree on a couple basic facts.

  1. Trans women are women.
  2.  BIPOC women are women.
  3. Not all women have pussies
  4. Not all pussies are pink.

While the creators of the movement certainly didn’t intend for their hat to be exclusionary, it ultimately was because it ignored those basic facts. It isn’t enough to simply say that our intent is good, if we ignore our impact.

We have to consistently choose to listen to marginalized voices when we organize movements and engage in activism. We have to specifically ask ourselves “this feels like it is in line with my experience. Is it in line with the experiences of BIPOC? Does it make room for trans women? Non-binary folk? Does it make space for folks with various disabilities, including mental health issues? Is it accessible to the poor?

If it is inaccessible to the poor, it is neither radical, nor revolutionary. (source unknown) Click To Tweet

By not taking steps to make sure we are being inclusive, we become the real perpetrators of divisiveness – we end up excluding folks from a community where they actively belong.

I’m sure you’re thinking “But it’s just a hat! Why are we getting all up in arms about a hat when there’s other terrible stuff happening?!”

And you’re right. There’s lots of terrible things happening in this country and around the world that we need to fight. Perspective is important.

So let’s look at it from a trans woman or a BIPOC woman’s perspective for a moment:

Trans women and BIPOC women want to participate. They’re disproportionately affected by a lot of the policies we’re fighting against. They face the most discrimination, and the most violence. They’re more likely to face poverty, and to lose access to things like healthcare. Trans women and BIPOC are more likely to face things like sexual assault, police brutality, or murder. Their voices are not only important, they’re essential to the cause. They have an intimate understanding of the ways the current system is harmful in a way that white or cisgender folks don’t and can’t.

A movement that excludes them, but claims to be for them isn’t helpful, because it ignores the realities that marginalized folks face. It ignores the valuable insight that folks who have experienced the oppressions we’re fighting could provide.

Sure, there are other things we need to focus on. One person brought up the plight of undocumented folks fighting deportation as an example. Undocumented folks aren’t usually white. We can’t effectively fight for them without listening to, and including their voices in our movement. Oppression is often interconnected, and we can’t fight one without fighting them all.

At the end of the day, it is a hat. And wearing a different colored hat, or not wearing one at all, isn’t nearly as damaging as excluding those that we should be centering in our activism.


Featured image is “Come Together” By Karen Loew