North Texas Daily

Say It With Your Chest advocates for and serves Black community

Say It With Your Chest advocates for and serves Black community

Say It With Your Chest advocates for and serves Black community
June 24
13:30 2021

By Eva Kramer, with additional reporting by Meredith Holser

The heat smothered, clinging to her neck, her arms, even to the sweat that pooled under her mask as she shouted into the megaphone.

Despite this, a current of electricity ran through the air. From several blocks away, a chorus of car horns surged as traffic congealed. A distant driver might have simply mistaken it for an unfortunate car accident, but upon arriving at the intersection, an entirely different scene unfolded.

A cacophony of people on all four corners of the junction held signs and chanted while vehicles honked to voice their approval. Danielle, a 21-year-old Black woman, who declined to share her last name for personal safety reasons, held the megaphone to her lips and led the crowd in a rousing mantra. “Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!” they resounded. A fire burned in her eyes as she targeted specific cars, pointing to their drivers, and asking if they support Black women.

At this one intersection, if only for a moment, she felt as though the world stood still.

In June 2020, Danielle led her first Black Lives Matter protest at the corner of Park Boulevard and Preston Road in Plano. With more than 50 people in attendance, the intersection ignited with the fire of Black women’s voices, and with it, Say It With Your Chest was born.

As an organization focused on Black liberation, Danielle strives to create a platform in which Black women can shamelessly speak their truth.

“When I’m out there on the street protesting, I can say whatever I want because guess what, I have the megaphone,” Danielle said. “So, you’re gonna have to listen to me. It’s a chance for me to shift the power dynamic that I’ve endured for so long. It’s very liberating because now I’m forcing people to listen to me the same way I was forced to make [my existence] more palatable for [white] people.”

Food drives, letters sent to Plano ISD in support of young women of color, free stores, laundry runs for the houseless and protests in the name of the Black Lives Matter movement are only a small portion of the avenues in which she focuses her organization’s efforts.

Via unrelenting volume, Danielle aims to show the young Black women, trans Black women, disabled Black women and others in her community that they are heard, and they are worth the fight. Within Danielle’s personal life, Black activism burned slow and deep before culminating into her beginning her own organization.

“Trayvon,” she said. “Without a doubt, [it began with] Trayvon.”

February 26, 2012: the day Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American teenager was fatally shot during an altercation with George Zimmerman. Although Martin was unarmed, Zimmerman claimed self-defense in the trial and was later acquitted despite a massive public outcry.

For Danielle, who was in seventh grade at the time, this death was a grim wake-up call. Although she was raised by parents who taught her about the struggles she would face, she grew up in an affluent, predominantly white suburb outside of Dallas and did not experience overt racism on a daily basis. Colorism, microaggressions and snide remarks were commonplace in her life as a young, Black, queer woman, but blatant racism was an abstract.

Despite the grief that accompanied Martin’s death, it was not long before he became a statistic, and the spotlight was shifted onto another wrongful death caused by the police: George Floyd.

As an inciting incident for Black Lives Matter protests that spanned all 50 states and more than 60 plus countries worldwide, his death marked another pivotal moment in the current wave of the civil rights movement.

“Even with all that evidence, the officer at fault was just released on bail,” Danielle said. “Every time something happens, they move the goalpost for cops. No matter what it is, because of qualified immunity and police unions and rules they have set in place, police officers are almost never convicted. […] How many more have to be executed by the state before there is actual change?”

The duty to serve the Black community led Danielle to work with groups like The Oak Cliff Veggie Project, a 501(c)3 nonprofit focused on fighting food insecurity through community participation.

“We are making sure that we are spending as much time working with fellowship, building and strengthening our relationships with the leaders and volunteers in organizations [like Dani’s],” said Ples Montgomery IV, executive director of The Veggie Project.

Education, cultivation and preparation within The Veggie Project’s mission come together to form a self-reliant community that is essential for liberation.

“Once you liberate the people at the bottom, the lowest on the socio-economic food chain, everybody else above gets liberated as well,” Danielle said.

For her and the people she volunteers with, these tenets are carried out by means of opportunities such as food drives, public trash pickup days, clothing drives, and many others according to the donations she has at the time. During her first food dispersal event in collaboration with Feed the People Dallas this past August, she provided 108 meals and care packages to families across the metroplex.

“It’s a pandemic and people need to eat,” she said. “A lot of times people don’t get actual meals, instead just canned food and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sometimes people just need a warm, fulfilling meal.”

Although she is passionate about serving those who are food insecure, fundraising has been a difficult but mandatory hurdle to jump. Danielle relies heavily on dispersal of information through social media on platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Slack to draw the attention of large groups of people without the need for a team to delegate duties.

Instagram, specifically, has proven to be helpful to Danielle because she is able to synthesize information into infographics. Because people respond well to bright colors and large fonts, infographics are an easy way for Danielle to post information about her protests or need for food drive donations, she said. Since her volunteer base is heavily founded on the young adult bracket, social media is vital.

“The majority of the community is aware and connected via social media or the internet in some form or fashion,” Montgomery said. “It’s a powerful tool for educating because you can craft very, very specific, short messages that provide a great amount of information.”

Instagram is the same avenue that introduced Danielle to countless North Texas-based organizations that do similar work like hers for the community. One of them, North Texas Rural Resilience, takes a holistic approach to community care through harm reduction aimed at substance misuse and other issues that impact communities like income inequity, racial disparity, lack of access and over-policing.

Kirby Lynch, an officer of North Texas Rural Resilience, followed Danielle’s Instagram presence, and the pair got to know each other online through story updates, infographics and sharing resources.

“My first impression of Danielle was that she wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer,” Lynch said. “She didn’t care if she had to stand out in the street corner by herself with a sign because that’s what needed to be done. I noticed that even if nobody else is there, Say It With Your Chest was there.”

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the key for survival for many people is their ability to adapt. This, too, is true for protestors. While it is important to show up for the issues surrounding systemic racism within society, it is equally important to be safe and health-conscious while doing so, Danielle said.

“We took precautions immediately,” Danielle said. “We’re sanitizing every hour on the hour and standing at least six feet apart. I specifically pick locations that can withstand a large group of people that way everybody can socially distance while we are protesting.”

Although Say It With Your Chest began at a time of societal standstill, she had no plans to cease her work at such a time as when the pandemic’s effects slowed. Danielle said that for her and countless other Black women, this is not a fight with an end date in sight.

Danielle hopes to continue fighting with the same fervor she had since the organization’s inception. And now that a vaccine for COVID-19 is readily available, she has the capacity to work hard.

“For the safety of my protestors, [who] I care about so much, I still have people take the precautions to wear masks [at my events],” Danielle said. “I think this is stuff we should’ve been doing already. Wearing a mask when you’re sick. Washing your hands. It just creates a cleaner and safer place for all of us.”

Say It With Your Chest was built on the notion that this country was founded upon the backs of Black women and their subjugation. It is not something that can be denied or ignored, Danielle was quick to note, nor is it something on which any Black woman is obligated to educate their white counterparts.

“We are not your collective mothers or aunties,” Danielle said. It is not Black women’s job to help people unlearn their biases, nor is it their job to shoulder their burdens alone anymore, she said. “We don’t get the benefit of fragility that white people do,” Danielle said.

If nothing else, Danielle hopes people take away one key message from her protests: listen to Black women, support Black women and protect Black women.

This a marathon, not a sprint, Danielle adamantly noted. This is a fight to protect herself, the Black women around her, and the young Black girls who will eventually take her place.

“Every second that I live and breathe, I am protesting,” Danielle said. “I am going to be protesting my whole life because that’s what it is to be a Black woman.”

About Author

North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

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