Fatima Mann operates under a simple premise: change doesn’t always come from the top. So when she decided to start a group to advocate for equality in Austin– specifically, equality for black women – she decided to keep it local.
Instead of focusing on national politics, Mann told KUT, activists should focus on empowering their own communities. She said she sees the recent presidential election as a potential catalyst for this type of community action.
“People need to be more involved on a political level, but that starts in the actual community. If nothing else, this election should cause people to be more human – to be more humane. To be willing to go out and change things themselves,” Mann said.
So, Mann, 29, and her friend and fellow activist Kristina Brown, 24, co-founded a new organization this fall called Counter Balance: ATX, which aims to build a community in Austin among black, female activists. The organization sent out its first newsletter yesterday, and is actively recruiting officers and members.
Black women, Mann contends, are often instrumental players in groups like Black Lives Matter and the Austin Justice Coalition, which Mann co-founded two years ago with Chas Moore. But these groups tend to focus solely on police violence against black men.
Mann points to the case of Austinite Breaion King as an example. In a recent video posted on the Counter Balance Facebook page, Mann contends that King’s case received less support from activists and less coverage in the media because she was a black woman, not a black man.
“Women are the reason why communities exist. And there wasn’t an organization in Austin that addressed the black community from a holistic perspective,” Mann said. “We’ve found that people are very receptive to it, because that’s not a niche that has been filled,” Brown added.
Rose Smith, president and founder of Black Women in Business, says she thinks Mann and Brown are on the right track. She says she plans to work with Counter Balance to put on a statewide summit for black women in the spring.
“What Fatima and Kristina are doing will create a sisterhood of support for those who are so busy supporting everyone else,” Smith said, adding she counts herself among those who will benefit from Counter Balance. “We are often out there battling and protesting, standing up for so many people, and, a lot of the time, people don’t realize that we need support, as well.”
Being a racial equality activist today differs significantly from being an activist in the Civil Rights era, according to Smith, whose mother once served as the vice president of the NAACP chapter in Austin.
“What I see now is so much division in those that are supposed to be standing together,” she said. “I believe what Fatima and Kristina are doing is so important because they, just like myself, are trying to encourage community to come out and get to know each other, and start having conversations and find some common ground.”
Connecting activists in Austin is one of the main goals of Counter Balance. Mann and Brown said they plan to partner with existing non-profits on an initiative they are calling “Service In the Heart of Community.” The first event in that series is being held in partnership with Mission Possible and Urban Roots.
Mann and Brown have also planned a series of events called “Push for Peace,” which will be held in February. The first of these will be a retreat for the families of victims of police violence, which will be attended by the mother of David Joseph, an unarmed 17-year-old Austinite who was fatally shot by an Austin Police officer last February, Brown said.
That initiative will also include a fundraiser to establish a scholarship at Huston-Tillotson University to honor Joseph, an endeavor that’s attracted the attention of the university President Colette Pierce Burnette. Pierce Burnette will also co-chair a task force formed by Mayor Adler to address racism here in Austin.
Mann said she is optimistic about the Mayor's latest effort.
"Having a task force is awesome. And being able to say you are looking at an issue is great. But how you are looking at issue and how you're coming up with your solutions is way more important," she said.
Mann said she has been in touch with Dr. Kazique Prince, who is on the task force, to find out how Counter Balance can help inform their work.
"I know there are so many great things that can come out of [the task force] because of who is leading it," Mann said. "I'm eager to see how it will be done."