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Words of Fire: Igniting The Voices Inside Trauma Survivors

Nothing can stop a survivor who has re-awakened and been re-born into their own power. Nothing can stop a survivor who breaks through the shame and stigma of the trauma that forced them to survive in the first place.  Nothing can stop a survivor who realizes that survivorship can inform resistance and be a tool for liberation.  Nothing can stop a survivor who, in community with other sister-survivors, visions and then relentlessly works for a future without violence, without rape, without incest, without harassment.  With words of fire at our back, our sister survivors at our sides, Black Women’s Blueprint, in partnership with the Women’s Research and Resource Center at Spelman College is hosting the Words of Fire: Sex, Power and the Black Feminist Call for Social Justice conference, in Atlanta GA, where we will honor and build upon the black feminist legacy of resistance.  We will not be silenced.  We will not be stopped.  

For Black women, our collective trauma is compounded by the personal traumas we all carry.  For Black women, our collective and personal her-stories of survival have historically been erased, disregarded and rendered invisible, which is perhaps why Black women, in particular, understand the power of words, the power of being able to name experiences, to draw connections through language.  It is this power of collective resistance that was canonized in “Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought” edited by Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, what we at Black Women’s Blueprint call the Black feminist “bible,” that we will be celebrating and honoring at the Words of Fire Conference on April 29th – 30th. 

As a survivor of sexual violence myself, I was cut off from the understanding of the collective power of survivors.  It wasn’t until I was a testifier at the Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, convened by Black Women’s Blueprint in April 2016, that I was able to recognize the power of naming survivorship and understanding how honoring our experiences of individual and collective trauma is a tool for liberation.  It was through being in community, through the words and analysis of Black feminist authors, and through developing my own voice through my writing that I started believing in my power as an activist and community organizer, as informed by my experiences of survivorship.    

As a survivor, trauma is part of my daily language.  Trauma tells me often that I am not enough.  That I will never be enough.  Black feminist writing and the legacy of Black feminist activists such as Ida Wells Barnett and Recy Taylor provides a counter to the narrative of trauma and oppression, provides a blueprint of how those before us rewrote their narratives, springing into action.  Barbara Smith, Beverly Smith, and Demita Frazier, founders of the Combahee River Collective wrote, “Black women are inherently valuable.” (A Black Feminist Statement, Words of Fire Anthology).  It is this declaration of humanity, this language of affirmation that I and so many of my sister-survivors turn to in moments of despair, that holds a mirror for Black girls and women everywhere to understand their experiences and to fight oppression.  

It is recognizing the power of words, the power of language to name and galvanize movements, to allow survivors to give testimony and speak truth to power that gave birth to the Words of Fire Conference.  The Words of Fire Conference is a way to honor the legacy of survivorship that has been passed down through generations of Black women.  Words of Fire pays tribute to the continued resistance and finding strength in our collective power and in the words, analysis, and actions of our feminist freedom fighters.  Not only will the conference engage participants in workshops, deliberative dialogues and plenaries on deconstructing violent, patriarchal, heteronormative ideologies, the conference will offer a Praisesong, an in person honoring of the Black feminist contributors to Words of Fire, including Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Pearl Cleage, Cheryl Clarke and others.  Praisesong will honor Black feminist activists, including Fania Davis, Julianne Malveux, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Brittany Cooper, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Kimberly Foster and Bré Campbell.  Participants will hear Keynotes from Michaela Angela Davis, Neil Irvin, and Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall.   Black Women’s Blueprint invites you to reserve your Praisesong ticket now, to be in conversation and part of the honoring of these amazing Black women.

The Words of Fire Conference strives to co-create with participants a blueprint for a Black feminist future, to envision new ways of resistance and to engage face-to-face with those who have made it their life’s purpose to fight for the collective humanity of Black women.  

Words of Fire is a testament to collectivity, to the absolute necessity to build a movement where folks are held (and held accountable), where Black women’s full humanity is named and recognized and where folks have different avenues of leadership.  This movement has to be built out of the idea that each individual is inherently valuable, and thus as a collective, Black women matter.  Being a survivor is enough.  Being a Black woman is enough.  Being a trans-Black woman is enough.  Being a Black lesbian/hetero/bi/queer woman is enough.  Being who you are, in your full humanity is enough.  

Words of Fire are voices inside of all of us, they are our experiences, our-her stories, they are in our DNA.  They are our truth, our individual uniqueness, and our collective strength and power.  We invite you to register now to attend the Words of Fire conference and to be part of continuing to build the fire of transformative change and the destruction of oppression.

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Ericka Dixon is the Policy Programs Coordinator at Black Women’s Blueprint. Ericka is a queer woman of color, a rape survivor, a human rights advocate, a rape and domestic violence crisis counselor, and an educator