It’s easy to slip into a “ho, ho, hum” frame of mind as we look back on 2020. Let’s face it, between the COVID pandemic and the resultant economic downturn, it was probably one of the toughest years ever. But when the going got tough — and tougher — Black women got going and took charge. We have a lot to be proud of! Black women leaders were at the forefront of the most pressing issues and important movements.
Here are the top three times that Black women stepped up to lead our country toward justice and equality for all in 2020:
1. Black women saved the nation — and the world — from four more years of the Trump administration
Just as Black women voters were integral to the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives in 2018, Black women also did the hard work of registering, educating and turning out voters to deliver the White House to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. That’s especially big news because Kamala Harris broke another glass ceiling when the was the first Black and Asian-American woman to be sworn in as vice president.
At a time when white supremacists proudly march in the streets proclaiming their racism, burning Black Lives Matter signs in front of historical churches and threatening voters, it was no small feat to elect a Black woman to the second highest office in the country. Undaunted, Black women not only got out and voted, we organized our communities to get out and vote.
2. Black women caused national reckoning on racism
Three Black women founded the Black Lives Matter movement for racial justice after Trayvon Martin was murdered in 2012. Eight years later, after sustained organizing and mounting protests across the nation and around the world to call for racial justice, America is immersed in a reckoning on racism.
In cities and towns from coast-to-coast, Black people and our allies are demanding real change. Statues honoring racist Confederate leaders began to topple as public officials heeded the changing sentiments. Sports teams and musical groups started to drop racist names. Corporate America moved to dismantle racist branding from beloved products. Even nonprofits grappled with racist legacies and began to do the hard work of trying to give more than lip service to diversity, equity and inclusion.
All of that happened because Black women stood up against racism and organized their communities and — ultimately — inspired the nation to take action. While the work is far from done, we’ve seen progress like never before.
3. Black women are leading the fight against COVID-19
We couldn’t possibly look back on 2020 without mentioning the coronavirus pandemic. While Black communities have been disparately impacted by COVID-19 and have suffered far worse outcomes than our white counterparts, Black women have played an oversized role in combating COVID-19.
It’s no surprise that the first person to receive the vaccine in the U.S. was a Black ICU nurse and that a Black woman was one of the lead scientists on the team that developed the vaccine. Black women and women of color account for most of the essential workers who are keeping this country going. We are health care workers, home care workers, postal workers and people who are stocking grocery store shelves and delivering groceries — all essential services. Without Black women and women of color, commerce would grind to a halt and people wouldn’t be able to get the care they need.
But Black women also have been disparately impacted by the economic recession caused by COVID-19. We are bearing the brunt of the fallout and our communities are struggling as a result. Thankfully, Black women are also raising funds to provide COVID relief. Black women’s organizations around the country are providing groceries, diapers for families with infants, rent money and other essentials for needy families.
These are the top examples of what happens when #WhenBlackWomenLead. Black women have been at the forefront of every successful movement for human and civil rights in the U.S. As we look toward the New Year, Black women’s accomplishments in 2020 are a salient reminder that America needs Black women’s leadership to, not just exist, but to flourish in 2021.
Marcela Howell is the president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda. Follow her on twitter at @BlackWomensRJ.