Black Women Voices plans roundtable on race, social justice

June 8, 2020

OKLAHOMA CITY – On Sunday, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and his wife, Sarah, hosted a televised panel discussion on race as protests against police violence against minorities and racial inequality continued to attract thousands across the nation.

The panel included religious leaders and law enforcement, but many other African American activists said they felt left out of the conversation.

In Oklahoma, thousands across the state have engaged in public protests stemming from the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who was killed after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

“We don’t ever want that to happen in our state. That’s why we’re here,” said Stitt. “We all want more for our state, for our kids and for our future. I want to take a moment to truly listen and I really want to invite Oklahomans to join me in listening. We believe this is the start to help promote healing in our state and to learn what we can all start doing to create opportunities for a better future.”

The panel included Capt. Marcus Williams of the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office, Moore Police Chief Todd Gibson, founder of Stronger Together Clarence Hill and Pastor Herbert Cooper of People’s Church in Oklahoma City.

However, many black activists in Oklahoma felt the panel discussion was not inclusive of an important segment of the population, including Black Lives Matter Oklahoma co-founder and Director T. Sheri Dickerson and members of the Black Women Voices group.

In response, the Black Women Voices group will host its own roundtable discussion on race and social justice issues at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The event will be livestreamed through the Black Women Voices Facebook page.

Bailey Perkins, a native of Lawton, is one of the hosts of the event. She plays a key role in shaping state and federal public policy decisions and strengthening civic engagement in Oklahoma. Her experiences in public policy range from education policy analysis, developing legislative strategies for a think tank to leading policy initiatives in a congressional office. She is also vice chair of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition.

“Black Women Voices opens an opportunity to showcase the knowledgeable black women throughout various sectors in Oklahoma City who have important contributions to health and health care, education, law, science, child welfare, economic security and other issues that affect our daily lives,” said Perkins.

“Through this project, we aim to broaden exposure to lenses on social problems and solutions provided by black women in Oklahoma City in hopes that elected leaders and other influencers will learn from and apply those lenses into their policy decision making. It also creates a space where people can hear directly from the black women thought leaders who are making valuable contributions.”

Black Women Voices is a project developed by women of color to lift the perspectives, concerns, and ideas of black women on important issues that they face. The idea spurred from the governor’s announcement of his conversation on race.

“The conversation not only excluded those on the front lines working towards justice within communities across the state, it overly left out black women in this important dialogue,” Perkins said. “Several women, like Erika Lucas and those on the panel, expressed concern about a conversation that left out diverse perspectives. So Erika brought several women in Oklahoma City together to ‘create their own table’ and discuss the intersections of systemic racism in meaningful ways.”

The Wednesday event will include Councilwoman Nikki Nice of Oklahoma City Ward 7; Sheri Dickerson of Black Lives Matter Oklahoma City; Camille Landry of Nappy Roots Bookstore; Chaunte Gilmore of New Leaders Council Oklahoma; and Skye Latimer of Folded Owl.

Perkins said she felt the governor’s panel lacked inclusive perspectives of women and leaders within the community who have engaged in social justice work over time.

“Without diverse and community centered perspectives, we forge narrow conversations that don’t get us to the heart of what systemic and institutional racism looks like and what truly should be done to dismantle it,” she said.

“Instead, the panel centered individualized acts of racism and lifted conversations as the way to fix racism, which doesn’t get to the root of why social, economic and health disparities exist. Leaving the needs and perspective of black women out of influential spaces keeps us from addressing real problems meaningfully. How can we be a top-10 state if we’re leaving people out? When we build conversations that don’t include the community it’s intended to serve, we get performative discussions that lack the substance needed in this pivotal time.”

On Monday, the Oklahoma Black Caucus also released a statement in response to the governor’s roundtable.

“The panel selection should have been more broad to offer more insight on these issues,” said Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus Chair state Rep. Regina Goodwin in the statement. “Gov. Stitt referred to the death of George Floyd and said, ‘We do not want this to happen in Oklahoma.’ This has already happened in Oklahoma. Elliott Williams, a black man with a broken neck, died in custody; an unarmed Terence Crutcher was murdered by a police officer; and both incidents were videotaped among numerous other incidents of innocent black people being murdered.”

The Black Caucus said it had been working with police reform advocates and activities to create policy, but added that good legislation must also be implemented.

“The governor also asked ‘What can elected officials do?’ For years, the Black Caucus collectively has created bills related to law enforcement reform only to meet disregard and rejection from leadership, “said Goodwin.

“I have personally filed legislation addressing hate crimes, police body camera usage, and excessive police force. None of these bills were heard on the House floor.”

Perkins said no spaces centered on the perspectives and needs of black women in Oklahoma City exist. She pointed to appointments by the Legislature, governor, and even local governments that include few people of color and barely any black women even though there are numerous who are qualified and capable of serving.

“We hope that this dialogue will help those in positions of influence hear the perspectives of black women leaders and include them in spaces of influence,” Perkins said.

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