black lives matter by Julia Ismail September 27, 2018
When Cheyenne and Florcy first met as students at Clark University, they would’ve never been able to tell you that one day they’d start something that would become a global movement for many young women just like themselves.
But after linking through ALANA, an organization that helps sculpt an easier path for first-generation students of color by providing them a safe space on campus, they found their calling and did just that.
With a common interest in community activism and a goal to educate on the issues that women of color go through, they started the group WOCIS, which provides a space for individuals just like them to find solace with each other.
Kulture Hub had the chance to catch up with the co-founders on their current successes with the organization, the expansive network that connects POC to communities across the globe, and their annual conference coming up this weekend.
Florcy cites the experience that propelled their institution into full gear. Shortly after the murder of Michael Brown in 2014, a march was held outside the university, located in the southside of Worchester, Massachusetts.
Participating in the march, both girls noted the separation between the white students and students of color. Florcy shares that their peers in the crowd and anyone attending would notice the same thing saying,
“Most POC were in the back, dragging on the march, not really wanting to be there. Meanwhile, for the white population, it seemed more like an opportunity to miss class.”
Taking matters into her own hands, Florcy then led the march over onto Main Street of the neighborhood. Cheyenne stepped in, grabbed the mic and called all women of color out to link up for a meeting that focused less on the white population. According to Florcy, over 80 women showed up.
“It was intergenerational. The youngest person there was around 7, and the oldest being around 80.”
With such a positive response, it seemed only obvious that the duo would go on to fulfill their objectives through self-started organizations. While they were active on campus, they didn’t feel like they were gaining the response their community deserved. Cheyenne shares,
“Florcy and I did a lot of work, but we would see in our institution a lot of groups separated by race or ethnicity. For me, it didn’t seem like it was very collaborative amongst different organizations. The Black Student Union wouldn’t link up with the Latino Association or the Asian American Association. Especially international students of color, we were all separated.”
From there, Women of Color in Solidarity was born. The community provides support for women, femmes and gender non-conforming people of color, particularly those who come from low-income neighborhoods.
For the founders, it wasn’t a question of bringing WOC together, but a way of passing along the lessons, history, and experiences that different POC sometimes miss out on. Cheyenne says,
“A lot of times with matters like Black Lives Matter, or whatever it may be, a lot of people don’t identify with that ethnicity so they don’t feel obligated to show up — and for us that was a huge thing, because most of the work we do, we always show up with communities that are outside of our own. That’s also a big thing abut WOCIS, we’re very adamant in making it known that me and Florcy do come from different backgrounds, we do have different racial ethnicities or whatever you want to call it, but that is a part of why we come together and the work that we do.”
The team behind WOCIS does share a similar background in one way, however, are also allowing organizers to maintain a unified coalition. Cheyenne tells us,
“The people that we work with, or the organizations that we work with, our squad right now, the core team that’s getting work done right now, all of us come from lower statuses.”
Though the project has been ongoing for over three years now, it just started getting poppin’ on social media just this year.
Last year, what now is considered an annual conference opened pathways for WOCIS in every sense of the word. After a successful time bringing POC together, the idea for a discussion was brought into fruition, which allowed for a more honest and open conversation between those involved.
“Honestly, it was important because there wasn’t a conference like that happened. Tickets were free, people were able to submit for workshops, and I think it was the first time you saw anyone being able to share their story. With conferences, I think there’s a lot of hype around the institutions bringing us together, guest speakers and things like that… We don’t have a keynote speaker. The speakers for us is introducing ourselves and WOCIS, but there’s no major keynote speaker. They’re all workshops and we’re curating floor panels. But outside of that, we have people playing music or whatever it may be.”
“Usually what we do is have an artist showcase so that people can display their different forms of art, so they can be who they want to be as well, and not base it all on workshops, that helps people express themselves.
They feature artwork in many forms in order to highlight people of color or women of color. Since the organization is still in its intimate pages, WOCIS has a spiritually charged community which expends across the globe through word of mouth.
“The last couple of months, a lot of work that we’ve been doing is traveling to different communities where women are doing a lot of global and local work and connecting people and the work that they’re doing throughout the world. That for us is one thing that we do most (best) is connecting people. Most of the people we’ve been collaborating with are our friends, and I think that within the next 10 years, we’ll have a global network where you are able to put someone on speed dial when they’re in need.”
And while they’ve connected with organizations on every level, so far, the most successful partnerships have been those who are their own friends, making strides from every angle all over the globe.
Florcy told me,
“It’s mostly our homegirls that are doing all that work, and they also have their own movements as well. We have friends all over… It really just depends on our friends…. We’ve traveled to other countries, and since we do global solidarity, we wanna know how we can expand beyond our block. We always make it known that WOCIS is doing work there, but it’s more like, ‘So how we gonna build now? How are we gonna keep our connection, me and my homegirl?’ Also putting each other on when there’s different opportunities that arise for us, and asking, who is needed at that table, at that moment?”
“I think our work is built in friendship. I also wanna highlight the Women’s Space because they provided us with a lot of our space to host workshops and are still very much are supportive of us.”
Solidarity Beyond Border’s first conference was last April. The upcoming conference will focus on the practice of solidarity and the healing that comes with it. While last year was directed at healing projects, this season will touch on the subject of self-care and how to maintain it no matter what it is you’re involved in.
Cheyenne went on,
“Last year was healing head, heart, and soul for WOC by WOC. This put healing at the forefront of our conference, so we focused on healing in all different sectors; educational, actual healers, politics, whatever that may be. This year we’re thinking to put the actual practice of solidarity amongst and not just in your local community, but expanding that to other forms of healing.”
If Cheyenne and Florcy had any advice to share for those seeking to become more involved in their activism, it’d be to get started, even if it’s just a topic of discussion.
“When me and Cheynne first started talking, we would have conversations in the kitchen or just chillin’, but they were always just conversations. Sometimes we’d look guidance in people, but we realised that doesn’t exist. Rather than going to conferences, we decided to just create our own. I would say if you have a vision, link up with other people who share that mission with you.”
Cheyenne agreed, saying,
“All these things, self-care, self-healing want people to know that the work is exhausting. One thing we mention is to create a self-care policy, whatever you want to call it. Me and Florcy are both educators and I think that we work with young people, and yes it’s nice to see them motivated but it worries me that they’re not understanding how detrimental it can be to their own health. I think that is something that I’d like to see more of.”
Thank y’all for really fuckin with us! We can’t wait to see y’all in 2 weeks at our conference ✨This has been a long ass week (everyone please be patient with us if we haven’t got back to you). Please take care of yourself and remember we are all just regular degular ppl like you trynna to live our best ass lives and grow our squad! It’s FRIDAY 😜💦✨💜
Cheyenne and Florcy have brought real change to their communities, inspiring everyone around them, and will continue to develop their mission with WOCIS.
Join WOCIS for their annual discussion and conference on April 21st and 22nd in New York for leadership education and experience, as well as lifelong sisterhood connection.