By Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith
In 1974, Ella Baker, the African American Civil Rights leader and a board member of the Puerto Rican Solidarity Committee, gave a major speech for their assembly in New York City. She was a behind-the-scenes strategist who fought to end inequities for those who disproportionately experience hunger and poverty—as well as racial, gender, and class bias. Her leadership approach was to empower grassroots communities and build solidarity for sustainable change.
As an Episcopal lay leader, Baker’s faith informed her approach to organizing and mobilizing communities affected by hunger and poverty. Baker mentored and supported the leadership of people like John Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr., Julian Bond, and Diana Nash. She understood that solidarity with her latino/a brothers and sisters and various other groups was important to ending structural inequities. She also knew that such recognition and solidarity was not new.
Consider the following. Did you know that enslaved people of African descent in the United States found refuge in Mexico? Did you know that for many years Brazil has had the largest population of people of African descent outside of Africa? Did you know Afro-Latinos comprise some 150 million of Latin America’s 540 million total population? Did you know that Pew Research shows that one-quarter of all U.S. Latinos/as identify as having African descent?
Recently, people like Ella Baker were remembered for promoting solidarity. As a founder of the 1963 March on Washington, she has helped to ground the renewed focus on solidarity in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement also empowers and brings solidarity to grassroots communities for sustainable change. This was demonstrated at the featuring of families directly affected by police brutality at the recent Commitment March to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington. These movements to end racial inequities, hunger, and poverty point to a critical season of renewed solidarity with our Latino/a brothers and sisters.
In a recent article by Salud America! it was pointed out that Latinos/as are experiencing a rising burden of hate crimes, discrimination, and anti-immigrant sentiment and have joined in the Black Lives Matter cause to advocate for change—not just in African American neighborhoods, but in all communities of color.
“It’s not just Black people being murdered by police. Hispanics are dying, too,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR). “It’s not only one bad apple. The whole system of criminalization and violence against people of color is the pattern. This system criminalizes all people of color who are poor. That is why it’s important to connect.”
Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity for all of us, including all Pan African communities, to recommit to solidarity with our Latino/a and Indigenous communities.
Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church engagement at Bread for the World.