By Alicia Bunyan-Sampson and Amanda Parris A year after starting The Ride or Die Project we realize how challenging it is for some people to understand what we mean when we say ride-or-die. Our definition goes beyond the “ride or die chick” rapped about by The Lox or depicted by the fictional character of Keisha in Belly. For us, identifying a woman who is ride-or-die is not limited to those who hold it down for their lovers. It includes women whose loyalty to their children knows no bound, women who ride to the ends of the earth for their homegirls and women who are ready to lay their lives on the line for a movement. At The Ride or Die Project we try hard not to romanticize and we make our best effort not to judge. We recognize that everyone has a story that is more complicated and layered than we can ever fully know. To illustrate this complexity we have selected some examples of women who in our opinion exhibit this multi-layered idea of what it means to be ride-or-die. Hustlers sit next to freedom riders, for better or worse, because without judgment and without romanticization we recognize that they all ride hard for something or someone outside of (but connected to) themselves. This is just Part 2! (To see Part 1, click HERE) This list is not in any particular order and it is by no means exhaustive and it definitely needs to be continued. Let us know in the comments section who you think should be added to the list.
Shirley Anita St.Hill Chisholm Shirley Chisholm is a trailblazer whose name should be spoken often but rarely ever is. Her political career began when she became involved in a combination of organizations including, but not limited to the League of Women Voters and the Seventeenth Assembly District Democratic Club. The work in her democratic club attempted to rid the white democratic machine that held the majority of the power in her Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood. She was removed from her position on the board of directors for speaking out too much. Shortly thereafter, Shirley ran for the New York State Assembly and was elected in 1964. Chisholm ran for the 1972 Democratic notation for the presidency of the United States and became the not only the first major party black person to run but the first women. The Chisholm slogan “Unbought and Unbossed” directly reflect her constant advocacy for the civil rights for racialized bodies and women. Unfortunately, during her bid for the presidency Shirley received little support from black organizations or women’s groups. When asked how she wanted to be remembered, Chisholm said, “I don’t want to be remembered as the first black woman who went to Congress. And I don’t even want to be remembered as the first woman who happened to be black to make the bid for the presidency. I want to be remembered as a woman who dared to be herself in America” Ride or Die’s take a multitude of forms, but ultimately they are women who dare to define themselves and their reality for themselves. We salute Shirley Anita St.Hill Chilsholm for being a political pioneer and a women who dared to be herself.
Kemba Smith At the age of 24, Kemba Smith made headlines across the U.S. when she was sentenced to 24.5 years in prison for conspiracy despite having no prior criminal record and being a first-time non-violent offender. The reason for this ridiculous sentence: the infinite brilliance of the U.S. decision to enact mandatory minimum sentencing laws as part of their (impossible to win) War on Drugs. Kemba was the survivor of a four-year abusive relationship with a man 8 years her senior who also happened to be the leader of a $4 million crack cocaine ring. She was 7 months pregnant when in 1994 she decided to leave her boyfriend and plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine for him. However right after submitting her plea, the police found him murdered and the government held Kemba accountable for the total amount of the drugs in his drug conspiracy charge. In 2000, Kemba was released after being granted clemency by President Bill Clinton. Since then she has become a tireless advocate who utilizes her personal story to shed light on U.S. drug sentencing policies. “I think it’s important for myself along with other adults in the community to share experience and mistakes made so young people don’t have to go through each and every mistake on their own they can learn from other people’s stories.” – Kemba Smith Although initially ride-or-die for her boyfriend, Kemba has since become a ride-or-die for numerous incarcerated people across the U.S. through her work and advocacy.
Sojourner Truth Isabella Baumfree was born a slave to enslaved parents in New York City in 1791. She escaped from slavery to freedom with her daughter and later went to court to to recover her son thereby making her the first Black woman to win a case of this nature against a white man. When she was fifty-two years old she took on the name Sojourner Truth, and began her work in the women’s rights & abolitionist movement. One speech that she is most widely known for would be her 1851 speech at the Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio titled “ Ain’t I A Women”. Sojourner did not write down the speech as she elected to remain illiterate as a conscious and deliberate resistance to the white supremacist standard of education. Fredrick Douglass was a big critic of Truth as he felt that her decision to remain illiterate and not obtain “formal education” diminished her legitimacy as an activist. Consequently, all record of speeches and quotes by Truth are in a way biased and potentially inaccurate as most regarded her as an uneducated inadequate southern slave. Even the title of her most famous speech known as “Ain’t I Women” has been said to be incorrect as Truth spoke in a northern dialect, which would mean the actual title is “Ar’nt I a Woman?” Sojourner worked tirelessly to recruit Black troops for the Union Army during the Civil War and following its conclusion fought for reparations through land grants from the United States government. Despite not being accepted by her male counterparts and being subjected to constant criticism, Truth remained dedicated to the movement and her strategies of resistance. “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne five children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?” We salute Sojourner Truth for being unapologetically bold and resolutely courageous.
Coretta Scott-King Coretta Scott King was born and raised in Marion, Alabama. After graduating as valedictorian from her highschool, Coretta went on to receive a B.A in music and education. She also studied concert singing in Boston earning a degree in voice and violin. Coretta met Martin Luther King Jr. in Boston and later married him in 1953. Coretta had the vow “obey her husband” removed when she married King – a request that was unheard of at the time. During his career in the civil rights movement Coretta balanced her time between raising their four children (alone) and work in the movement. She wrote countless letters, gave speeches, and participated in direct action campaigns. She also created a series of freedom concerts that included poetry narration with musical selections and led speeches at churches and peace groups. Her tireless devotion to her husband and his revolutionary pursuits, despite his frequent documented infidelity are just a fraction of the sacrifices she made that not only contributed to the growth of Martin Luther King Jr as a man, but facilitated the space for him to be the figure that is honoured and remembered today [Coretta never married or dated again] Following her husbands assassination Corretta never ceased working for the movement. In 1983 she brought over 800 human rights organizations to form the Coalition of Conscience and in 1988 she was the head of the U.S delegation of Women for a Meaningful Summit in Athens, Greece. This work, among hundreds of other actions conceived and facilitated by Coretta (including the creation of Martin Luther King Jr Day) are rarely discussed. “Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.” We salute this woman who dedicated her life to the movement and deserves to be known for much more than simply being the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Shante Broadus Shante Broadus is most popularly known for being the high school sweetheart and wife of rapper Snoop Dogg. However she does not hesitate to remind everyone that she has a name and is not simply just “Snoop’s Wife.” Dubbed “The Boss Lady” as a result of her unapologetically bossy nature, Shante is a fierce protector of her family. She shies away from the glitz and glamour of celebrity, avoiding red carpets, award shows and clubbing, preferring to stay out of the drama, maintain a laid-back perspective and focus her attention on her 3 children. Beyond her family, she is also the designer behind the women’s comfort wear clothing line Cocoa Reed and loves dance and acting. In 2004 Snoop filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences. He later admitted to being caught up and said that his vision was temporarily blurred by the music industry. Around that time, their 11 year old daughter was diagnosed with lupus and this challenge brought the family back together stronger than before. In 2008, Snoop surprised Shante with a ceremony attended by 200 guests on Charlie Wilson’s ranch to renew their vows. “We have been together a long time and that is on the strength of me. I’m a real person and he knows that. He tried to go and do what he wanted to do and he did and he came back. He seen that it don’t get no better than this.” – Shante Broadus