The founders of Women of Color in Solidarity on community, organizing, and sustainability
By Karina Vahitova
In 2016 my friend and choreographer Angelica Tolentino asked me and our friend Rina Espiritu to perform the dance piece we had been working on together at the Women of Color in Solidarity Conference. I had no idea what we were getting into, but that was one of the best days of my life. Cheyenne Wyzzard-Jones and Florcy Romero, the two co-founders of Women of Color in Solidarity, bring together the brightest most passionate and radical minds of today’s generation to be in conversation with and to learn from one another. Whether it’s on their Instagram or at their yearly conference, Cheyenne and Florcy have been working hard to uplift the voices of women of color and to build intersectional bridges towards liberation for Black and Brown communities. I have continued to follow their work since that day at the conference and finally got to ask them a few questions about their lives and work via email.
What is Women of Color in Solidarity and how did you decide to create this project?
Women of Color in Solidarity is an organization that looks to create foundational change that addresses the systems that are not working, specifically for queer trans people of color throughout the world. We do this through storytelling, educational access, and connecting existing radical communities.
Women of Color in Solidarity is an organization that does not believe in a single-issue problem model for social justice. We are a collective of radical educators, healers/brujas, mothers, hood femmes, organizers, and connectors who are dedicated to building various blueprints of community based liberation throughout the world. We go where we are invited to help build.
How has Women of Color in Solidarity changed over the course of its existence?
After four years of creating Women of Color in Solidarity, Co-Founders Cheyenne Wyzzard-Jones and Florcy Romero recently came together to reflect, heal, & recommit to what expansion of the organization will look like. We will be re-launching our new initiatives and goals soon, so be on the lookout!
Cheyenne: I think it is very important for organizers to deliberately dedicate time to reflect on the past work and intentions. We are an organization whose foundation is based on understanding love and friendship as a rooted practice in our work, meaning we will always need to be in practice of learning how we are shifting and changing and how that impacts the collective.
Florcy: Yes to everything Cheyenne has said. I think we also shifted in centering the voices of queer/femmes/genderfluid people of color aka us. Its easier for us to organize around those margins that we live in as well and tbh working with cis hetero men is exhausting.
What challenges have you encountered while building this platform?
Cheyenne: Florcy and I did not come from a business background. Learning how to run an organization logistically while keeping to the heart of this being for the people by the people, meaning at the end of the day this is about a movement towards liberation for Black and Brown people, can be difficult. Also because we do not get paid for this full-time (yet), running this full-time while having to work and be in school became challenging.
Florcy: Not coming from an organizing background that requires money. Aka we learned how to write grants on our own, how to ask for fiscal sponsors since we not a 501 c-3 organization. I think for myself this type of organizing is different. It’s the necessary work that people overlook- the solidarity and the practice of radical love. It’s not as easy for myself because before we would organize without those elements. There wasn’t a desire to practice solidarity when I was younger- we would just organize with other brown/indigenous folks from our hood and we def weren’t talking about queer ness lmaoooo.
Organizing growing up looked different and it was on the basis of survival. So if I wasn’t 10 years old door knocking in the barrio with my family and bestfriend Elsie then our lives would be directly impacted. If we were unable to translate and get signatures and occupy spaces that would mean- displacement, deportation, our schools would shut down etc. So it’s different now because I was so used to organizing on defense as if someone was going to take something from me and now im organizing to add to this global solidarity with other black n brown queer folks who prob feel that way...I guess I feel like im now equipped with resources and the language to articulate this shit and also seeing how all this is interconnected.
As political organizers, what are your thoughts on social media and its various capacities to do both harm and good?
Cheyenne: I do not do social media as well as Florcy lol. I give full credit to Florcy for helping us use social media for our advantage to bring people into our work. I become very concerned that organizing is becoming performative af and that people just want to be in the spotlight without giving actual tangible tools for the liberation of Black and Brown people. Activism can become a part of the non-profit complex that makes it individualistic instead of a collective movement. That scares me. However, I do think that we have seen the good in it with BLM, Standing Rock, #MeToo (Western movements) but alsooo has been a platform where we get information about other dope POC’s around the world who are disrupting their country / community, specially Black and Brown Queer Femmes, who without social media we would never know of the work they have been doing - until maybe they have died and 50 years later we hear of one radical woman who did something good for her community. And even that comes with so much sacrifice to get that one story out.
Florcy: I LOVE social media lmao and sometimes I get upset when people talk shit when organizing occurs there because that shit is lowkey very ableist. I think its a dope way to connect with other people doing the work but I also think about how many stories get left out due to access, the feds watching etc. I think people need to be more careful when posting protest or meet ups via facebook and shit because you also are risking the lives of the vulnerable folks in that setting (and i think a lot about undocumented folks). Anyways im for it, i just think people need to be more hyper aware of who they can be putting at risk and also triggering with reposting things (say no to trauma porn bro!!). Also if you are able (mentally/physically) i think social media in conjunction with connecting with folks on the ground with the land is very powerful too.
Is there any advice that you would give to folks building community using online tools?
Cheyenne: It is not enough to just build your own media (as we know we can’t rely on these corporate media spots to get our truth out). You have to think about what groups of people am I reaching? Are they the people who claim to already be “activists” “organizers” “woke”, etc? How am I going to reach the hood girls who don’t regularly read the “social justice blogs”. How am I going to reach the people in the hood who can’t pay for Wifi? How is my online tool a stepping stone to something larger than me? I am really trying to get people away from being so individualistic, because that is not sustainable.
Florcy: yes what she said (lol)
When I attended your conference in 2017, I was there because I was in a dance piece choreographed by Angelica Tolentino. It was incredible to be amongst so many artist powerhouses that were a part of the program. What role do artists play within your platform?
Cheyenne: We love connecting artists together! Artists are storytellers and we must amp them up to tell our stories. We are going to create more tangible ways to do that, so again stay on the lookout!
Florcy: I think most of the folks in our lives are artists in one way or another. We like to put them on and give them space on here to do so. Whether that be reposting they soundcloud, photography, spoken word, etc. Or having them display their art at our conferences but we are looking for ways to amplify these voices more.
We’re in the work of helping creative people build sustainable lives. What does that term mean to you?
Cheyenne: Sustainable to me equals accessibility. Do I have the resources available - without me having to go through government systems that are policing my life if I go through them - that allow me to live, thrive, and survive in healthy ways? (Housing, food, education, health care, clothing, etc). If not that my life is not sustainable.
Florcy: yeeah what cheyenne said its like all of us talk shit about capitalism but can we live without it? Are we willing to sacrifice? What does that alternative model look like? Can you survive without capitalism? Can you hunt, gather food? Etc. I think some of us are already doing that so its also about connecting with communities already doing this sustainable work with what they got already. Even if that means under this wack ass global capitalistic shit.
What is in Women of Color in Solidarity’s future? How can people best support you and be involved?
We are really looking to expand, 2019 we manifest will be the start of new initiatives! Ways you can support, 1) Throw the coins if you got money! www.wocsolidarity.org/donate and 2) If you would like to be on a volunteer committee for our WOC Annual Conference hit us up! 3) Share our things & tell people about us!
Also email us if you want to get on our listserv email@example.com
Florcy Romero is the co-founder of Women of Color in Solidarity. She dedicates her time to using education for the practice of freedom in ways that are not confined solely to institutions. Her main work has centered on teaching youth from her barrio via self designed curriculums that disrupt white supremacy. She works very closely with other hood femmes to create and collaborate on projects that reflect their personal upbringings, influences and struggles. She believes that hood femmes should be at the center of liberation work that connects them globally with other hood femmes. Her life work focuses on decolonization and healing, undoing generations of trauma. Her knowledge is not just hers but by way of the indigenous women who came before her and passed it on. The healers, the brujas, the Mother Earth protectors you could not kill off.
Cheyenne Wyzzard-Jones is the Co-Founder of Women of Color in Solidarity and Founder of Resistance Education, who identifies as a Queer African American/ Afro Caribbean Black Femme Womanist. Her work focuses on developing radical education as a form of healing in global Black and Brown communities. She works towards a liberation where Black Indigenous queer hood trans femmes are at the center of liberation, specifically using education as her main practice towards freedom. She uses poetry, hip-hop, and other forms of art to create and implement anticolonial black/ muxerista/ transnational/ indigenous feminist curriculum for black and brown youth. Creating spaces for women/femmes/gnc people of color to heal, unlearn to relearn, and create is the continued work her ancestors called her to do. Cheyenne is an educator, writer, sister, healer, and friend.
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