West Baltimore native Amorous Ebony is glamorously poised and muti-faceted. She is a musician, poet, model, acivist, organizer of Black Womyn Rising, and co-owner of Tightfisted Fashion (2114 N. Charles St. #100), a vintage boutique, performance venue that provides a safe space of unity and connectivity for the Black femme community in Baltimore City. Her dedication to children as a folklore teacher and activist makes her a necessary voice when it comes to understanding of the state and position of Black women and girls in Baltimore. Amorous Ebony spoke to Baltimore Beat about her advocacy background and her knowledge of the need for equality in the community at large.
Jordannah Elizabeth: When was the moment you knew Black feminist activism was a path you wanted to take in life?
Amorous Ebony: The moment I realized it was when I had a dream. I grew up as an organizer and youth activist leader at the Youth Resiliency Institute here in Baltimore, MD. I had been doing organizing work helping to organize youth arts summits, and I was a speaker at The National Rights of Passage Conference. So, I embarked on numerous rights of passages, one in particular was called Golden Bridge, which I have been a part of since 2012. I had been doing all of this work, and one night I had a dream where I was walking down the street, and there was a Black person hanging from a lamp post. Everybody was walking down the street and no one was saying anything. No one was doing anything. And [I said], “What’s wrong with you all? Don’t you see what’s going on? Why aren’t you doing anything? Why aren’t you saying anything?” That was a very pivotal moment for me. I had that dream, woke up and told my mentor about it. She said, “This was the beginning.” I always stuck up for myself about issues and things I believed in but that moment was a breaking point where I realized that I was embarking on my right of passage as a youth activist. It was [also watching] my mom take care of my brother and I with no male support in the house, and seeing all the types of things she had to deal with as a Black woman taking care of two black children. I realized things were not fair for Black women, and wanting to gravitate more towards safe spaces that listened to, honored and supported Black woman.
JE: Can you define Black feminism in the framework of what you do in the community?
AE: In terms of my understanding of feminism, particularly Black feminism and of course, many Black women who would shy away from the term feminism, and gravitate towards the term “womanism.” While I understand that, I absolutely and wholeheartedly stand by the term Black feminism as my foremothers, Audre Lorde, Sonia Sanchez, Toni Morrison and Shirley Chisholm were all Black feminists who were working for and speaking to Black women’s health. For me, because of my framework, I define that as being someone who helps, supports, uplifts and works with Black women. A lot of times I think I am doing things that have already been done. But I am specifically doing work that exists, in my eyes, as the sacred work of the ancestors, carried on. I look at it as the passing of the torch. I do events for Black women’s underserved needs like mental health and Black women as it pertains to beauty standards and ancestral practices and understanding the knowledge that comes with that.
When I think of Black feminists, I think of aunties and momma’s best friends because they were the first kinds of feminists. They were taking care of their nieces and nephews. They may have not had children, but they took care of other people’s children. My grandmother was a feminist. She supported my cousins and my family who didn’t have a place to live. She took anyone in, whether it was a woman or someone else in the family who was dealing with something. But you could always come to grandma’s house. I look at that type of caring for Black women that other Black women do and understand. That very much represents my work. I love to support Black women where they are, and coming to understand where I am is a part of the journey. It’s not about taking others out of their circumstance because I believe radical Black feminism is loving yourself through your mess. We’re in the struggle together.
JE: What, in your opinion, is the state of Black women and girls’ agency in Baltimore City?
AE: It is in a state of emergency because when I think of Black women in Baltimore, I think of Gilmor Homes where the maintenance men were soliciting the women for sex in order to fix their property. Black women have been solicited for all kinds of horrid things. When I think of Black women needing things, there are all kinds of attachments that, not only means that Black women cannot get things without it being transactional, but I also feel like there are numerous exploitators. There are Black men in Baltimore who are in organizations who operate as keepers of Baltimore’s activism scene, yet they exploit and take advantage of Black women. They continue to ignore our needs and our asks. I also think of the young girls that go missing and how the [news] coverage is little to none. I think about how Black women are often silenced in work environments in Baltimore. There are Black women leaders and organizers who create all types of blueprints, and white women and Black men steal their ideas. There’s always a need to police Black women and their bodies, and their image. I think it’s very telling.
JE: What are the most prevalent needs for Black women and girls in Baltimore and also, the United States of America?
AE: That their voice and agency is supported. That they are treated fairly in work environments and taken seriously when accusations of rape and sexual assault are put into play. That they are not viewed as very angry, unmanageable and out of control beings, but that we are taken care of and put in places where we are understood, loved [and around people] who want to see us win. When I think of Black women in Baltimore, I think of all of the Black women who have been wronged, all of the blood in the soil of the earth [that we walk on] that we don’t know. I think of Henrietta Lacks, and the very clear policing, brutal abuse and violence [that] suggests that our bodies are owned. Even in death are we not respected or given the proper care. I think of Henrietta Lacks, in particular, because that is still a story that haunts this city. I feel her energy and every time I walk past Johns Hopkins hospital I think of her.
JE: Can you describe your role in Baltimore Womyn Rising?
AE: I am an organizer of the collective. We formed in 2013 with five of us. We launched a two-day celebration and protest called Black Women and Girls Lives Matter to uplift names like Mya Hall, a trans woman who passed on and Aiyana Stanley Jones, a seven-year-old girl Black girl that was murdered on her couch while she slept. We held the celebration because we wanted to take to the streets and express our freedom. We also held a healing event in which he had free food, yoga, arts and crafts and different performances. We organized Sista Soul Talk events to speak about the state of Black women and we offer resources about how to do this kind of work and to keep in touch. Not only did we want to support Black women and girls, we also wanted to support the community. It has been a beautiful journey. We’re for all things, Black women, for all things, free Black women, radical Black feminists, queer Black women, trans Black women and conforming, non binary [human beings]. I don’t think you can organize for Black women if you don’t represent all Black women. Our collective very much represents all Black women.
JE: As an artist, what was your biggest struggle in creating space for yourself when you were first starting out?
AE: As an artist, I’ve always felt like there has been cliques, groups that lump together. While I understand and respect collectives, I did feel like [I had to] make space for myself, hosting my own events and not asking for permission and waiting for someone’s “yes.” I used the resources that I had and took the chances to do the work because I feel like where there’s a will, there’s a way. So, I’m happy to say no matter what I want to do and how I want to do it, I’ve been able to because I am very steadfast and I am very rigorous and work very hard. I am always pursuing because there are so many big ideas that I have. I do a lot of healing events and a lot of performance events. I love supporting other artists, and I also love to make sure that everyone feels welcome and appreciated. [I feel like] the more I wait, the more time passes by. I don’t want to leave this life knowing that I waited for someone to give me permission.
JE: What inspired you to curate the Say Her Name events?
AE: The attack on Black women has never ended. Every single day we are faced with more and more challenges that threaten our livelihood. There are so many Black women who we do not see in media coverage. There are so many trans Black women who are brutally murdered, and I feel like it is very important to uplift them and say their names. I also feel like it is important to recognize Black transgender women and Black women as a whole before they pass on. Say Her Name is not only to honor Black women who are living but to honor Black women who are not here in the realm. We support to keep their names alive.
JE: What can the Baltimore community do better to uplift all Black women and girls?
AE: It’s very clear that Black women and girls need support from Black men. That is vital. When I say “Black men,” I mean Black men who are very serious about Black freedom. When I speak to Black freedom, I speak to all Black people being free. We need support. We need people to ask what they can do. If you don’t know a trans woman or a Black woman who is doing work, then you should be finding out how to do that. You can come to events. You can search online, you can join emailing lists. But there is no reason to let these very patriarchal concepts and ideas live on. It’s time for our people to step up and learn about who we are and what we do. I think it’s important to listen to Black women and girls and ask what support can be done.