Color Me Candid

Women of color have been at the forefront of a number of civil rights movements, but many of their names and faces are unknown. In the cities of Jacksonville and St. Augustine alone, there is a rich population of minority women standing up for what they believe in. Not only do these women work alongside one another, they refuse to be represented by anyone other than themselves.

Mary Cobb, captain of the Women’s March chapter in St. Augustine, is one of many such women. Cobb became profoundly involved in activism after the first Women’s March in 2017. It was then that she decided to actively participate in her community and work toward creating a better life for her daughter. She has seen firsthand how women of color can be swept under the rug. “I’m of Asian descent myself … and I had more privilege than, say, an African-American woman,” said Cobb. She added, “[There has been] a lot of discussion as [to whether] women of color are represented.”

Cobb explained that, despite the ardent involvement of women of color in a number of social and political movements, they aren’t considered to be the driving force behind the movements. Cobb said, “A lot of black women in activism have to be blunt and frank … and white women don’t know how to handle this.

“Activist movements come off the backs of women of color … but the spotlight isn’t on them. We have to look at this.”

Jaime Perkins is hoping to change this mindset. Perkins is running against incumbent state Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, a Republican, to represent Florida’s District 17, which includes all of northern and central St. Johns County, extending south to St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach. Through her candidacy, Perkins hopes to bring awareness to problems facing minorities that have been overlooked in the past.

Perkins said, “[I am] a woman of action, so I organize with like-minded individuals to bring awareness to issues and dissect
ways to impact positive change. Activism, to me, is also about engaging in your community, finding ways to educate individuals on laws and policies that [effect] them and their families, lobbying to change laws that negatively impact the minority who typically has no voice in
our democracy.”

In order to make her voice and the voices of others heard, Perkins stays active in her community. “The atmosphere and the movement is a progressive one. Women of color being unapologetic about their views of the current state of the First Coast and our nation is forward progress. People are listening and paying attention.”

In her platform, Perkins stresses several key issues.

“To allow people to realize that the wealth gaps, the gaps in the criminal justice system, the issues we face from law enforcement agencies—it’s not a black problem, it’s not a white problem, but it’s a United States of America problem,” she said.

She has faith in the possibility of the nation undergoing a fundamental a change of heart and finding a solution to bringing about change and unity for women of color.

“History teaches us that when it comes to … women of color, we have to create our own lane. Organizing and developing our own nonprofit organizations and organizations for activism are how we increase and improve representation in this arena … . The continued collaboration with like-minded organizations will help increase the influence of women of color. Specifically, collaborating with organizations that are formed and predominantly run by white women. Women of these organizations should be open to allowing women of color to tell their own story, and utilize their interpersonal influence to highlight the issues that we face.”

Hasani Malone agrees. Malone is vice president of the Black Student Association at Flagler College and a member of the steering committee for St. Augustine’s Women’s March youth outreach program and supporter of The Reverend Ron Rawls’ determination to take down St. Augustine Confederate monuments. “Too often, women of color [are] pushed to the background by men and white women, and despite that, they remain the driving force for movements without the recognition that is deserved. Hand the mic over so they can speak out on their truths … . Listening to women of color from the start and spotlighting their voices is important,” said Malone.

Monique Sampson, Students for Democratic Society president at the University of North Florida, is also working to change this mindset and bring awareness to the involvement of women of color in social and political movements. “I think the activist scene for women of color in Jacksonville is exploding. My group is made up of 80 percent women of color alone,” Sampson said.

Sampson and her colleagues took part in a Black Lives Matter rally at UNF and she is actively involved in events for equality
and progress in Northeast Florida. “At the Black Lives Matter rally, a student compared black students to monkeys, someone got this on video … and the video went viral,” Sampson said.

Along with the viral spread of media regarding racism and inequality, Sampson has been able to draw national attention to events in which she has participated and helped organize. “A white supremacist student at UNF, with Nazi tattoos, commented on one of our publication’s stories and threatened student organizations,” she said. In response, a “No Nazis at UNF” protest was held, and more than 100 students showed up. The protest gained attention from national outlets such as Al Jazeera and The Washington Post, as well as other universities participating in similar rallies.

In addition to staging events, Sampson and her student organization created 10 demands and delivered them to UNF’s new president, David Szymanski. The demands included requests to implement more outreach to students of colors, effectuate opportunities for more scholarships for the same, make UNF a sanctuary school and create a more equal and open space. Of the 10 requests, four had already been accomplished when we spoke earlier this summer.

Sampson was inspired by a string of deaths caused by police brutality involving a number of black individuals, like Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling and Sandra Bland. “It’s always a little bit hard for me to talk about this. One of the women […] Sandra Bland, looked just like my mom,” Sampson said. Hearing about and seeing reports of these deaths on repeat led Sampson to start attending protests. However, she found that just being on scene didn’t satisfy her need to draw attention to causes about which she cares. “I realized just attending protests wasn’t enough and so I started organizing events,” Sampson said.

Police brutality and marginalization inspired Malone and Sampson to devote more time and talent to the local activist process. “The women of color activists in Jacksonville are the people who motivated me to get involved in St. Augustine. One of the first rallies that I ever went to was for the Jax 5 in 2017 …. Of course, after seeing the video that surfaced of the brutalization of protesters by police, I showed everyone I knew who would listen because I was angry,” said Malone. “[The] next day, one of my friends and I drove up to Jacksonville to join the rally to have the Jax 5 protesters released.

“And it was the first time I was exposed to the state of conditions for marginalized groups in Jax and seeing and hearing the anger and power behind the [women of color] activists … made me want to actually use
my voice and not just sit in the background,” she said.

Malone has an even more personal
reason for her deeper immersion in progressive movements.

“I wasn’t involved in activism in St. Augustine until August of last year, because I just didn’t know of any organizations or community efforts available. But I found it hard to be a queer black woman at Flagler College and in St. Augustine and not speak up about the oppression and marginalization that you face.

“Flagler has such a low number of people of color, which means my experience at college would be especially different than my white friends’ [experiences], and I didn’t want that for myself, or the other students who are here or who would be going here, because it is hard,” Malone confided.

All the women who spoke to Folio Weekly for this article have high hopes for the future. Cobb believes that collaboration of all women, regardless of color, and active listening, could contribute to successfully working toward correcting the lack of representation of women of color and those who are putting their blood, sweat and tears into such an inspiring, life-changing endeavor. Asked how women can become more involved in activism, Cobb said, “Be an active member in something you care about. It’s important to stand up if something speaks to you …. It can change your life. It can be uncomfortable, but that’s what makes it real.”