Concerned and dedicated Black men are working harder to protect Black women and girls and end the sexual violence, misuse, and abuse they suffer. Their role in this effort is critical. 

According to statistics, Black women are disproportionately at risk of sexual violence. Nearly one in five Black women are survivors of rape, and 41 percent of Black women experience sexual coercion and other forms of unwanted sexual contact.

From grassroots activism to influential leadership positions, some Black men are reshaping the narrative and championing the rights and safety of women and girls.

Among them, award-winning author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has partnered with A Long Walk Home (a survivor-led Chicago-based national non-profit), and New York-based A Call To Men, to launch the Courage Fund, a groundbreaking initiative to support survivors of sexual assault. The Courage Fund aims to raise awareness and provide resources to those dedicated to ending sexual violence against women and girls in the United States. 

Pastor Jesse Jackson Photo: courtesy of Jesse Jackson

“I wanted to conceive of the Courage Award, which will honor whistleblowers who have risked everything to break this cycle of violence in our community and to support programs for underserved girls and women who are survivors of sexual abuse,” said Mr. Coates in an official statement.

“We recognize how important it is to honor the resilience and courage of underserved girls and women who have survived sexual assault and other forms of violence as they reclaim their strength and voice,” stated Ted Bunch, chief development officer of A Call to Men, the statement read.

“These survivors and truth tellers use their journeys to inspire us to continue our work to create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful, and all women, girls and those in the margins are valued and safe,” he added.

With an initial $1 million in support from the Ford Foundation, the Courage Fund will acknowledge the bravery and sacrifices of those who have spoken out against or survived sexual violence, and to create community-based programs that focus on education, prevention, and healing.

Plans are to raise $10 million over the next two years, and award-winning singer/songwriter/activist John Legend and NBA player Harrison Barnes have pledged support as ambassadors, according to organizers.

Derek Shackelford, affectionately known as “Bro. Shack,” is the Director of Men and Boys Programming at True Love Movement, LLC. The New Orleans, La.-based life coach, educator  author and peer support specialist is the author of “Resolving R.A.P.E. (Religion, Athletics, Politics, Entertainment) Culture.”

His work as a life-long community organizer in the city of New Orleans and across the country has focused on Black men and boys, and most of what these populations talk about is relationships, according to Mr. Shackelford.

In his deeper search to understand the genesis of relationships for them in America and the root of problems between Black men and women, he found that it lies with racism, socialization, White supremacy, and emanates from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

“What became clear, very early was that the ideas that Black men have about Black women were given to us by the White man. He’s been our teacher, our daddy. … We have a White man sitting in our minds on what and how we should be,” stated Dr. Shackelford. 

According to his studies, the vehicle for this multi-generational socialization of the Black man is religion, athletics, politics, and entertainment in terms of how he should be in the world and behave as it relates to Black women. Resolving R.A.P.E. Culture involves understanding that it is a mimicking of behavior, he said.

“Once we get down to a sexual assault, it means that whoever’s perpetrating that has already determined that there’s no consequence. So, the only person that there’s no consequence on violating is the Black woman,” continued Mr. Shackelford. “The invisiblization of the humanity of the Black woman, everybody participates in.

Everybody’s complicit in maintaining that particular arrangement, but she’s the one that gets everything done. She’s the most qualified to lead and do everything, because she has had the absolute worst of conditions for the history of her time here in America and no one of us could do that, so she is in fact the most human,” he added.

In his view, a quick transaction won’t change people’s reality in the current moment, but he observed that the ground floor of solving the problem is personal development. 

“In the language of the Nation of Islam, we are still talking about self-reflection, introspection … self-improvement (“Self-Improvement Study Guides: The Basis for Community Development”), but the challenge is you’re actualizing self-improvement. … It is a pragmatic exercise and that cannot happen if a person is disingenuous,” he said.

Los Angeles-based Dr. Aquil Basheer is founder of the Professional Community Intervention Training Institute International (P.C.I.T.I.I.) and several other peacekeeping organizations which address various types of violence, trauma, and crisis. He emphasized the necessity of systemic change within the Black community for combatting the scourge of sexual violence against women and girls. It is important to deal with the victim, as well as the perpetrator, he told The Final Call.

“Not only do you have to deal with the women and their psychological issues of degradation that many of them over decades have had to endure, which has shaped their thinking process, you have to be able to raise and change the story that they’re operating from,” stated Dr. Basheer.

The men that abuse a woman, the men that have to create that castrated oppression have to deal with their own psychological inadequacies of why that is the case and why they can’t raise the woman to an equal standard of excellence, explained Dr. Basheer.

“This is our problem: We don’t study the true nature of violence. Violence is a science. It takes a special type of person to be able to use and be extremely effective with violence … It is diametrically opposed to our thinking,” said Dr. Basheer. Sexual violence consists of layers and the key is not to understand the individual layers, but to get to the root-setting factors of what causes violence to be used in the first place, he stated.

For example, sexual violence is an action of violence, meaning that works for some as opposed to other types of violence, explained Dr. Basheer. It is about gratification of the perpetrator, either sexually or by beating down and taking advantage of the woman, he continued. But both sides must be examined and changed, he said.

“Usually, a person is abusing another person because of their lack of wellness and resolve on their own. They have some type of issues going on within their mindset, that they don’t know how to handle their own trauma, so the domination of women gives them temporary pleasure, gives them temporary wellness, and even though it’s anti-social, they get some type of reward from that abuse,” stated Dr. Basheer.

If nobody stops them, abusers will get better at it, so the longer one uses sexual violence to control another, the more dominant they become with it and the harder it is to break what has become a continual, habitual norm, observed Dr. Basheer. 

Another key is unity, versus operating in silos, recommended Dr. Basheer. He encouraged the Black community to form collaborative partnerships to create safety nets.  

“I can do a whole lot. I’ve got a whole lot of skills individually, but my one set of skills and my mindset will never equal two, three, four, five, six combined thinking processes that will supersede the individual intelligence,” he said. Solutions must include key mental health and public safety experts, and those with capacities to house a woman once she decides to go against that oppression that’s coming after her, he further recommended. 

For 13 Black females in Oklahoma City, sexual violence came not at the hands of a significant other, but entities sworn to serve and protect. That is, a predatory cop, police department and criminal justice system that cradled him.

A federal judge denied former Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw’s request for a new trial based on claims prosecutors hid evidence and ordered him to serve the maximum 263 years consecutively in prison for committing rapes and other sex crimes against five of the women while under color of authority. They were middle-aged women in their 40s and 50s, and a 17-year-old.

Mr. Holtzclaw had preyed on women who had drug dependency pasts or histories of incarceration, however, Jannie Ligons, the grandmother who reported her assault to police immediately, had no checkered past that he could level against her.

Activists insist other women reported Mr. Holtzclaw’s assaults but there wasn’t much follow up. That’s exactly what Mr. Holtzclaw banked on when he preyed upon these women, activists argued. “He did that because he knew those women were less likely to report and if they did report, they were less likely to be believed,” said Grace Franklin, founder of OKC Artists for Justice, to The Final Call in November 2015, shortly after his trial began.

“It really comes down to their skin color. I truly believe in my heart that these women were not believed just because they were Black women,” stated A. Jafar Cooper, a former board member of OKC Artists for Justice. That was the biggest challenge, he told The Final Call, but he feels after OKC Artists for Justice united and took to social media, news of their ordeal came to light.

As they protested outside the courtroom, seeking justice for the survivors, they were barred by law from using anything to amplify their voices, according to Mr. Cooper. “We knew we had to have a large group of people, walking around the courthouse downtown, saying ‘We believe her! We believe her!’, he recalled.

“We were just chanting so they understood that these women were not alone anymore, but that they had a group of men and women alike that was advocating for them,” continued Mr. Jafar.

Standing up for Black women and girls, in that way, put people on notice, just like anything else in society, he said.  “There are individuals that will come together as a collective to advocate for individuals who have been misused, abused and violated,” said Mr. Jafar. 

That is important to effect change, unifying and showing up, because whether people do or don’t, sends a message, he continued.  “We all have our lives.  We have families.  We have to go earn livings.

We have businesses and things, so we make some noise, and then it gets busy and people kind of forget, so I think while we made some strides, some progress, I still believe that Black women still are the most vulnerable within our society,” concluded Mr. Jafar.

That is partly because people don’t stand up enough for them, according to Pastor Jesse Jackson of the East 6th Street Christian Church in Oklahoma. “I’ve been married for 33 years. I have a daughter and two granddaughters. I had a mother and I’ve pastored Black women, and I think that they should be celebrated, valued, upheld, and protected as much as we can,” he told The Final Call.

According to his observations, in the initial days of the Holtzclaw trial, the survivors seemed to be supported by primarily family members, and, he alleged, they were being “mean-mugged” and intimidated by his supporters. “We could not leave those sisters in the wind. … We had to get some Black men, some brothers into place to counter-balance that,” stated Pastor Jackson.

The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Eternal Leader of the Nation of Islam, taught on the importance of protecting Black women. In a message titled, “The Abuse of the Female,” His National Representative, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, explained that if the female is not protected, then the destruction of the nation comes through the woman, since the elevation of the nation comes through the woman.

“The Honorable Elijah Muhammad gave us a law that no man strikes his wife. How are you going to beat the woman that produces your future? Men should be ashamed to abuse women, but most men who beat and bruise women, yet want sex with them the same night they beat them.

Men want to beat women like they are inanimate objects, like trees or a lamppost that a dog will lift its leg to; like women do not have feelings,” Minister Farrakhan stated during his July 2, 2006 message.

“Do you think after you beat up a woman that she really wants to give herself to you? Why would you want to take pleasure from someone to whom you have given so much pain?” Minister Farrakhan stated.