By KENDRA SITTON | Downtown & Uptown News
Delina spent her final birthday before adulthood fighting for her life.
“I have to fight for something most of my counterparts don’t have to,” Delina said to a crowd of 100 protesters outside the San Diego County Administration Center on Sunday, Aug. 23 – her 17th birthday.
Instead of celebrating the monumental day with people she loves, Delina and three other friends led a protest through Downtown San Diego against the premature deaths of Black women in the U.S. due to police violence, domestic abuse, medical bias and hate crimes.
From San Diego City College to Pacific Highway, the protesters chanted “Say Her Name,” a phrase coined to raise awareness of the specific gender- and race-based violence Black women face.
“The reason why we wanted to do the ‘Say Her Name’ protest was to highlight Black women who have died through all forms of abuse. It all ties into one thing: our system and that a lot of times when Black women ask for help (because) they feel they’re in danger, people don’t really pay attention or shed light as they would to another woman which is why we’re using the term misogynoir, which is the misogyny against specifically Black women,” Delina said.
Breonna Taylor, a Black woman shot to death in her home by Louisville police, was featured in many of the signs and chants during the protests. The organizers also told the stories of lesser-known victims of misogynoir and the crowd chanted the names Miriam Carey, Bree Black and Aiyana Jones in response. The protest concluded when Delina read the names of dozens of Black women who died too soon.
Highlighting the issues Black women face was not meant to diminish other fights, according to the organizers, including protests over Black men killed by police.
“It does need to be a focus on Black women too because we are not listened to,” explained one protester. At 53 years old, she believed she was the oldest Black woman at the protest. “It’s a [expletive] shame we left this to 17 year olds. This is not the life they should have.”
The protest was organized by four high school students who founded Dream High Black Girls in June this year to amplify and encourage the voices of Black girls in San Diego. The founders, Tieja, Kaylah, Delina and Jordyn, attend San Diego High School together and are all 16 or 17 years old. (Editor’s note: Their last names are not being included because they are minors.)
“At a protest where 17-, 16-year-old girls are telling you about people that look like them who have died, it really wakes people up,” Delina said.
In addition to direction actions like protests, the group created spaces for Black girls who are often misunderstood elsewhere.
“We’re trying our best to make sure that Black girls feel like they’re heard before they go into their adult years,” Delina said.
Through weekly Zoom calls, which usually have 25 attendees, they provide communal support to each other. On Saturdays, they also highlight a mentor – an older Black woman in a field where there is not much representation. According to Kaylah, as the school year picks up, they intend to add tutoring as one of the ways they help others.
Their latest protest was well organized. Snacks and water were passed out at the shady beginning and end of the march. Nurses handed out electrolytes as people sweated during the stifling hot day. Legal observers wearing vests walked alongside marchers. Neon yellow-clad people and bicyclists stopped traffic so the protest could take up the full road. Others used their bodies as a barrier between observing police and the protesters. A car followed the protest to help anyone who needed emergency assistance. The majority of the people performing these functional roles were white or non-Black allies, with the safety of Black leaders and protesters paramount.
Delina spoke against people who questioned the organizers’ emphasis on safety by ending the march at 2:30 p.m.
“We are 16- and 17-year-old girls. Our safety matters. It is not safe for us. There are 63,000 missing Black girls (and women)… Countless disparities exist across the board. So you who question what we do: Question the system and why it made us do this,” she said.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.