Woman to Watch: Blair Imani Brown
Last year, when hundreds of students gathered at LSU by candlelight in response to the Mike Brown indictment decision, it was the organizing work of Blair Imani Brown and Peter Jenkins. The event became the catalyst for the group now known as Baton Rouge Organizing, and Brown, Shamaka Schumake, Majdal Ismail, Zandashé Brown, Aryanna Prasad, and Leonela Guzman became co-founders. Soon after, they organized a Die In on LSU’s campus, an #ICantBreathe A Rally for Eric Garner on the steps of the Louisiana State Capitol, a rally for Victor White III, a Google Hangout about Freddie Gray, while providing support for events outside of Baton Rouge including a Die In and Solidarity March in Lafayette. They have also organized to push for animal rights and push against homophobia and sexism.
But those efforts at social justice only seem to reveal the tip of Brown’s passion for equality, giving meaning to the work she has begun around human rights. The budding lawyer said she’s learned how important it is to change policies. “I’m a nerd about the civil rights movement,” she said. “I’m enchanted by it and it’s transferred into an urgency to be part of changing how we think of things through law. The push right now is education because (we) don’t have the ability to initiate public policy.”
At 21 years old, Brown has stepped up to address the daunting, and often times risky, challenge of fighting for equal rights and fair treatment of all humans. Her demands have lead to her being threatened by email, followed to her apartment, and called a N*gr B. They have also lead to changes at LSU. For one, Brown was able to have the Odell S. Williams African American Museum included on in the Department of History’s internship program.
“When I found out about the museum was not a part of the program, I was confused and I spoke to professor… What kind of failure of the institution is this?” she said with a laugh. “But I believe it was just miseducation and they sincerely did not know and were not overlooking. It was important that they acknowledged it and willingly corrected it.” Now the university can introduce students to the city’s only public museum dedicated to Black history.
Through Baton Rouge Organizing, Brown and the other leaders galvanized students to push the LSU police department to change how it identifies suspects on the campus wide alert system. The police would announce that the suspect was a “Black male wearing a hood” and the group used that in a 15-person demonstration on the campus where they wore hoodies and held up signs that stated “He fit the description.” The demonstration included students and the university’s director of diversity. They also sent a letter to the LSU PD requesting that they “respond responsibly”.
“(We used a) combination of the wide spread social media presence and main stream media and LSU media,” Brown said, “It was something that couldn’t be ignored.” The system now offers more detailed descriptions on campus alerts.
“Education is the best vehicle for awareness and change,” she said. As her awareness of injustices increased, Brown said she began noticing that the women around the world had similar experiences, “I founded Equality for HER a women’s empowerment organization dedicated to bring awareness to women’s health, education, and rights…and to address the intersections of one’s identities that constitute their being.”
She has been able to work with women as far away as Latin America, Egypt, and Lagos.
“I feel that too often we are made to choose one part of identity in order to join a given group. For example there’s often a narrative that I must divorce my heritage as a Black person in order to “focus” on women’s rights or conversely remove my identity as a women in order to work on LGBTQ or minority rights. While this narrative is unfortunately very prominent, I think I have proved it to be false.”
Blair Imani Brown, 21
Founder and President, Equality for HER
Co-Founder, Baton Rouge Organizing
Hometown: Pasadena, CA
Moves made: In January 2014, As I began my efforts with Equality for HER, I simultaneously worked as the assistant organizer of the Louisiana Queer Conference in 2014 with student activist Michael Beyer…I developed an intersectional presentation on dating violence. I was able to do a few presentations at Louisiana State University, develop a web module about Breaking the Cycle on EqualityforHER.com, and provide commentary about Louisiana’s issues with domestic violence for media outlets…After the decision was announced not to indict the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, Peter Jenkins and I used social media to bring the Baton Rouge Community together for a candlelight vigil in less than 24 hours. The Baton Rouge Organizing Facebook group turned into an amazing phenomenon. With Equality for HER, we have just finished our Women’s History Month features where in we feature a variety of multicultural women achievers that have made contributions to our society. However, perhaps the most inspirational endeavor I have been a part of is the work with the family of Victor White III…and getting a petition circulating on Change.org urging the New Iberia coroner to change the cause of death from suicide to homicide. This petition was delivered (to the coroner’s office) on the anniversary of Victor White Iasi’s death. More than a year after his mysterious death we still await justice for Victor White III.
What to expect from you: This year began with all eyes on Baton Rouge Organizing. We have been able to initiate, sponsor, and promote various protests around many issues. We have held rallies, demonstrations about racial profiling, vigils for “Our Three Winners” Deah, Yusor, and Razan who were victims of Islamophobia. Shortly after the (Victor White III) petition’s delivery, I visited Howard University Law School, and I made the decision to attend there in the fall…Working with Rev. Victor White Sr. and his family has further encouraged me to pursue a legal career, so that much like Attorney Marilyn Mosby, I can be apart of the systematic change required to root out the racism and corruption within the court system…I continue to organize events surrounding social justice issues.
What music are you dancing to? Anything from Motown Records. I love the empowering message of the protest songs of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I have also found a renewed appreciation for the rap music of the ‘90s.
What are you reading? “Death of a King” by Tavis Smiley
Mentors and Role Models: My mother, Kristina Brown, she has taught me strength and resilience. My father, DeWalt Brown, is someone who I also admire because of his commitment to social justice and belief in humanity. The person who I both identify with and aspire to emulate is Attorney General Kamala Harris. I also look up to Representative John Lewis, Dr. Terrence Roberts, and Melissa Harris Perry.
Personal Resolution: My personal resolution for 2015 is to find a balance between my efforts in social activism and my academic career. I have resolved to take on less projects while cultivating leadership skills in my peers. I have also become committed to being an advocate of causes that I may not directly identify with. I have recently converted to Islam and getting closer to God has given me a lot more strength and helps me give up my fears and worries to him.
Company Resolution: With Equality for HER, we will be transitioning the brand under the leadership of Sophia Herzog as we work in collaboration while I am starting my first year of law school.
Life motto: To create and implement change and to advocate for all marginalized people.
Where to find you online? www.BlairB.com or on LinkedIn.