We will cry: tears and justice at the 2021 Womxn of Color Leadership Conference

Callie Fausey 

Staff Writer

Crying can be difficult, especially when you are raised in an environment that tells you to repress your emotions. Crying is scary when you are raised by parents who, upon seeing you shed a tear, tell you to “fix your face,” otherwise they’ll “give you something to cry about.” Crying is a luxury when your vulnerability is not met with comforting words, but with frustration from the world. 

But crying can be liberating. There is validity in what we all feel; letting those tears fall down our cheeks fuels our resilience to a world which can often be unforgiving. 

Crying was one of the main themes of the Womxn of Color Leadership Conference, held virtually Feb. 5. The goal of the conference, according to the program description, was to “provide an intergenerational space for womxn of color to build individual and community capacity towards justice,” and to center the voices and experiences of those who are most marginalized.

“Perhaps you are crying. And this is where my admiration of you begins because it means you found a fount of the liberation, of healing and reconciliation, of atonement and acceptance,” RyanNicole, the keynote speaker of the conference, said. Beyond that, she is a Grammy-nominated artist, actress, athlete, and activist. “Those of us who can’t uncork, or don’t even know where the top of the bottle is, need your leadership. Those of us who swallow volcanoes regularly require your patience and open example of how to blow off steam.”

The conference included a variety of different workshop sessions, many of which were centered around themes of racial justice, with titles such as, “Can’t Cancel Grandma: How to Address Anti-Black Racism Within Latinx Families” and “Black Women’s Relationship to Political Engagement.”

For conference adviser Mary Wardell-Ghirarduzzi, the vice provost for diversity engagement and chief diversity officer at USF, this year’s event was especially impactful. “I think the difficult year of racial injustice, and the ways that the pandemic has disproportionately caused harm for womxn of color, we are feeling a lot,” she said in an email. 

Wardell-Ghirarduzzi resonated with the keynote address, in which RyanNicole said that no one cares about Black women in America. “This has been proven by decades, even centuries, of neglect, prejudice, and rejection,” Wardell-Ghirarduzzi said. “So to experience this amazing conference now, as a dispersed community within the pandemic, is more poignant, purposeful, and powerful.” 

Over the course of her life, RyanNicole has worked to better herself and her community through her art and her activism. She is one of the youngest non-profit executive directors in the Bay Area, and now supports various community organizations as a business consultant. But as she’s built her long list of accomplishments, what has remained the same is her identity. 

“In all these years what hasn’t changed, though, is the fact that I am Black, and I am a woman,” Ryan Nicole said in her speech. “And if I’m ever inclined to forget those facts, I am reminded by the world around us daily. In a myriad of ways, my being as Black and woman is both fabulous, and at the same time, fatal.”

One of the points raised in the session “Black Women’s Relationship to Political Engagement,” presented by third-year USF students Kailyn Goodwin and Aniah Francis, was how Black women’s narratives have been minimalized throughout history due to the oppression they face as both Black people and women. 

“People are now starting to see the power of Black women’s mobilization, and it is not some new phenomenon, but one that has been in the making since the days of America’s inception,” Francis said in an interview with the Foghorn. “With that said, the responsibility of ‘saving’ America should not solely be on them. Other communities must be accountable in this fight for change and liberation.”

Responding to the tears that women shed, “Las Lagrimas Que Me Cuidan (The Tears that Care for Me)” and “Too Deep for Tears,” were two workshops intended to empower women of color to explore their vulnerability, wellness, and resiliency and to reflect on their relationship with tears and how it is affected by the different identities they hold.  

“When a woman of color cries, there’s this sense of emotional instability,” workshop facilitator Claudia Miranda, a Chilean-American, first-generation clinical psychology student at The Wright Institute in Berkeley, CA, said. “There’s a question about her vulnerability, and if she can handle a job. A lot of it is influenced by the way we’re raised. A lot of times, when women of color cry, it’s treated like it’s too deep.” 

Though I am not a woman of color, I was able to attend and participate in one of the conference’s workshops called “Too Deep for Tears.” In the workshop’s breakout session, I met a woman, who wished to remain anonymous, who immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia when she was seven years old. She told me she’d experienced a mixed cultural upbringing and was often reprimanded for being “too emotional.” 

“Whenever I would cry, I felt like I was always belittled,” she said, “The message I received was that I should move away from emotionality.” 

The tears of women of color are too frequently met with criticism, interrogation, and  violence. During her speech, RyanNicole spoke of the way that Black women and girls’ tears have been treated in our society. Specifically, she mentioned the egregious incident that occurred Jan. 29 in Rochester, New York, where a 9-year-old girl was handcuffed, pepper-sprayed, and told to calm down by police while crying for her father.

“As if there’s anything she possibly could have done to warrant this behavior from so-called ‘trained’ officers,” RyanNicole said. “The police were called that day because this nine-year-old little girl expressed a desire to take her own life, and on that day, baby girl learned that in America, the wages of a Black girl’s tears are assault and arrest.” 

Despite stigma and opposition, women of color are creating space to allow themselves to bravely cry in public. RyanNicole discussed Cat Brooks, an Oakland activist and community leader, who recently held a demonstration with other Black women artists to wail in public

While engaging with other Black women activists and artists to make a change in their communities, RyanNicole reminded the women of color in the audience that not only will they cry, but they “will rest,” they “will beauty,” they “will conjure,” and they “will joy.”

“The world should woman up and grow some ovaries,” RyanNicole declared. “Our healing is next. Live your best life for you. You cry. In public. And you leave the world to fend for itself, colored girl, while you save yourself.” 

As for the intended takeaway from this year’s conference, Dr. Wardell-Ghirarduzzi said it is for women of color to take, and own, their power. 

“The paths that are presented to us are limiting because institutions have never fully cared for womxn of color,” Wardell-Ghirarduzzi said. “The opportunity, then, is to conjure the courage, discernment, and cultural pride within us to realize there are choices and paths that exist and are just waiting for us.”

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