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Andrea Jenkins speaks on the value of Black History Month

Andrea Jenkins

Vice President of the Minneapolis City Council Andrea Jenkins spoke at St. Olaf in celebration of Black History Month on Feb. 18. Invited by the Student Government Association (SGA), SGA Task Force on Anti-Racism and Political Awareness Committee, Jenkins shared poetry, stories and advice, and discussed the importance of Black History Month, intersectionality and self-love.

Jenkins is the first openly transgender African-American woman elected to public office in the United States. She is also a playwright, visual artist, poet, writer, spoken word artist, performer and transgender activist.

Tamira Fuentes ’19 set the stage for Jenkins’ talk by quoting Toni Morrison.

“‘Make a difference about something other than yourselves,’” Fuentes said. This quote embodied the message Jenkins shared.

Jenkins began by explaining the enormous accomplishment of her election to the Minneapolis City Council and acknowledged the stolen land and labor upon which the United States was built. It was in this context that she wanted to base the rest of her talk.   

“America wouldn’t be America if not for the contributions of black Americans to this country,” Jenkins said.

Her first poetry reading was a piece entitled “Bad Lady Manifesto” that included a list of women, trans  people and people of color who have been killed because of their identity.

“The amount we love each other is directly proportional to the amount we love ourselves.” – Andrea Jenkins

She went on to recall her first experience with activism during her time in high school when there was only black history week. Her school would not allow the students to put on a black history assembly, and so they had a walk out. She spoke about the importance of Black History Month because “black history is American history,” she said.

Jenkins read another of her personal essays, “Purple,” that touched on current political situations. She wrote the piece right after the most recent presidential election, reflecting on the ways in which America has responded to changes in government. The Women’s March was a large topic in this piece, and Jenkins talked about wearing purple to represent not only women but black voices that are not heard. She urged the audience to pair marches with true political action.

We need to “rewrite the narrative of what is and who is a woman” Jenkins said. Ultimately, through her reading and reflection after “Purple,” she pushed for love to be the focus of movements and change. She talked about expanding what it means to love, challenging even those in the audience.

“What if my transgender people were the embodiment of that love?” she said.

After these powerful readings, Jenkins took questions from the audience, addressing the concerns of students and community members about the political and racial climate.

She spoke about the danger of polarizing identities and the need to make spaces where students can be wholly themselves. Her own identities often become polarized, and she expressed that one should not have to “choose” between being black or transgender, for example.

She ended by addressing tough issues, including discussions between split political groups and racial reparations for past and present oppression. Jenkins did put forth some concrete ways to repay marginalized groups. She discussed guaranteed wages, the legalization of weed and releasing inmates. Jenkins left the audience with an even clearer message of hope, expressing that conversations and change begin with self-love.

“We’ve got to love each other,” Jenkins said. “And the amount we love each other is directly proportional to the amount we love ourselves.”

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