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Women’s coalition launches ‘Respect Me!’ campaign

By Charlene Muhammad
Staff Writer | Last updated: May 14, 2007 - 11:16:00 AM

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Dr. Arisah Muhammad (at podium), addressed audience at the "Respect Me!" April 24 press conference in front of the Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper.

LOS ANGELES ( - “Respect Me! Respect Me! Respect Me,” was the demand that rolled off the tongues of Black women who launched the “Respect Me” campaign against sexist, racist speech at a press conference in front of the Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper Apr. 24. Present were college students and little girls, grandmothers and female executives, artists, educators, politicians and various community leaders and organizers.

Overall, approximately 250 people, including men and boys, gathered for the event, which focused primarily on female empowerment to make a change in a long overdue journey back to positive imagery of Black women in media and music. Organizers informed that although the campaign was sparked by Don Imus, the insulting broadcast host recently fired from CBS for making disparaging remarks about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, the campaign is not totally about him.

As the Staple Singers’ song “Respect Yourself,” and Aretha Franklin’s song “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” flowed from loud speakers, Brenda Marsh Mitchell, president of Mothers In Action, and “Respect Me” convener, highlighted the significance of the national campaign, which will include town hall meetings, picketing movies and record companies, as well as a letter writing campaign. Mothers In Action is a community group that explores creative ways to support, improve and motivate the elderly, youth and less fortunate residents of their community.

“This is not a new fight. Women like Ida B. Wells, Ella Baker, Johnnie Tillman, Dr. Dorothy Height, Rosa Parks, C. Delores Tucker and many, many voiceless women have begun the dialogue and the fight before some of us were ever born,” Ms. Marsh-Mitchell stated.

Ms. Marsh-Mitchell said that women pray, vote and take care of their families and communities, and she announced that women are in harmony, as Sisters in Detroit, Chicago, Washington and Atlanta have joined the fight. “Today we’re serving notice to everyone in the United States of America and farther that we want our respect. We’re going to take it, ladies. We’re going to respect ourselves and we’re going to demand that everyone respects us,” she stated.

Some speakers encouraged women to take accountability for mistreatment and to stop justifying their denigration by dancing scantily clad in music videos. Others pleaded that young Black men revere their elders and women. And others insisted that corporate media and music executives be held accountable for their role in green lighting projects which disrespect Black women and girls.

Bobbie Parks, wife of L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks, and campaign organizer said that for so many years, she found it very easy to ride up and down the street with her windows rolled down, listening to music blaring from nearby cars. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh how appalling. Where did they get this from? Where are their parents? What are they doing? What is this about?’ and let my window up and kept on driving. This made me wake up, like the bear hibernating, and say that this would jump start Bobbie Parks,” she stated.

Dr. Arisah Muhammad, Nation of Islam Western Region M.G.T. and G.C.C. captain, joined the host of speakers, which included Attorney Mablean Ephraim, former judge of the FOX TV show Divorce Court; Marva Smith Battle-Bey of 100 Black Women and Vermont-Slauson Economic Development Corporation; and eight-year-old Haelee Strong of Wilders Preparatory Academy Charter School.

“We’re here to take our place in this fight with words. We need to change the way we look at ourselves so that others can change the way that they look at us. Words make people and we are taught that a nation can rise no higher than its woman, so it’s time for us to stand up Black women. It’s time for us to take our rightful place as queens of the planet Earth. It’s time for us to make some noise, not just today, but every day,” Dr. Muhammad stated.

Dr. Muhammad insisted that every day, women reject the derogatory names that they are called, and teach their daughters and grand-daughters the respect that is due to them. “They’ve beaten up on the Black man, and beat up on him, and beat up on him, so now that they think they’ve gotten rid of him, they’re starting with the Black woman, but we are standing up, because we’re not having it!” she asserted.

Ms. Parks said that it was imperative that the Nation of Islam participate in the campaign, and placed an invitational call to Minister Tony Muhammad, Western Region Representative of the Nation of Islam, after hearing him address respect for women during Front Page, a morning talk radio show which airs daily on 103.3-FM/KJLH.

“We wanted the Nation to come with us; be a part of us; help us, and we look up to you guys for your leadership, and most importantly to Min. Tony for what he is doing with young Black men in our city. We want more men to follow him in that path of taking on the ownership of saying ‘Young men, please look around and see where you should be—these are the mothers that brought you here. These are the mothers of your children. These are the women that have always had your back. Please have their backs.’”

Danny Bakewell, publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, commended Ms. Marsh-Mitchell and “Respect Me” organizers for gathering everyone, so that he could say on behalf of his son, the Bakewell men and men throughout the community, “Sisters, we love you. Sisters, we respect you. Sisters, we will not allow you to be disrespected anymore.”

Min. Muhammad said that the men would do anything in their power to show the women that there’s an army of men that will not just respect them, but protect their honor, and added, “What the women have organized themselves to do with the whole Respect Me Campaign is something that I’ve been waiting to see for a long time. To see women rising who have supported us through the 400 years of slavery and the 150 years post-slavery, now it’s time for us as men to support our women.”