After performing in “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is not enuf” last fall, Lashawn Simmons ’18, a Posse Scholar, decided to create a zine, Ebony Axis, that contained poetry from black women on campus. To celebrate the launch of her publication and its contributors, a coffeehouse was held at Chum’s over the weekend, with students watching the performances from outside because it was so crowded. The party was a showcase of poets, dancers and singers who shared pieces on blackness, womanhood and the intersection of both.
The performances varied in content, but most of the performances corresponded with the essence of Ebony Axis. The night started with poets reciting their pieces, including some poets whose work was not in the publication. After the intermission, several dance groups came on stage to change the mood and the night ended with singing and more poetry. Some performance highlights were the Platinum step team dance routine and the recitation of a poem by Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise.” Bronte Velez ’16 recited a poem of hers that addressed police brutality and violence toward black women.
“We deserve complexity,” Simmons said about the need for more representation of the many facets of being a black woman. The zine itself contains a variety of poetry that focus on topics from sizeism in the black community to hypersexualization of black women. In the editor’s note, Simmons describes how she came up with the name Ebony Axis: “Ebony as in the dark hardwood found in West Africa as well as an identifier for our irresistible beauty. Axis describes our displacement on the single axis framework.”
Intersectionality and the single axis framework were coined by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, a critical race theorist and a professor at UCLA and Columbia Law School. Both intersectionality and the single axis framework describe how discussing anti-blackness and feminism separately could silence black women’s experience and dismiss their interlocked oppression. Crenshaw recently wrote “Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait” for The Washington Post to review the significance of intersectionality since she coined the term over thirty years ago.
Before everyone left Chum’s, Simmons climbed on stage and encouraged the crowd to start their own projects and “to just be creative.” Simmons went on to add how she did not want the feeling she felt with “for colored girls” to end; she felt there had to be a space on campus where women of color felt comfortable sharing their experience.
After viewing several productions last year that featured several black female leads, Nyah Macklin ’16, the Student Union president, wanted to keep spaces on campus open to discussing and portraying black womanhood. “This should not be the stop. The same with “for colored girls” and “The Colored Museum” back in the day, we needed it.” Macklin said.
After the death of Sandra Bland over the summer and the national activism against police brutality, student groups and creative collective have been using art to create a dialogue on these sensitive topic.
Simmons was able to create Ebony Axis through a grant from the interdisciplinary minor, Creativity, the Arts, and Social Transformation Department. These grants were created to foster spaces inclusive to everyone and to encourage the public to enter into dialogues. “The publication will showcase the beautiful and varied narratives of black women on campus” according to the CAST website. This coffeehouse kicked off the CAST Minor series of events addressing the fight for voting rights, Now as Then: We who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest.