Alicia Walters is the co-founder of Echoing Ida, a national program of Forward Together, that helps amplify the voices of Black women and non-binary people. Inspired by the work of civil rights activist and journalist Ida B. Wells, Walters began Echoing Ida in 2012 to position Black women in media as the experts they are. “In many ways, Black women were at the bottom of the heap – when it came to health, when it came to wealth,” said Walters as she described how the project came about. “And when you turned on the TV or listened to the radio we weren’t being called upon as experts in our own lives.”
Echoing Ida teaches Black women how to hone in on their lived experiences and expertise to become change makers and go-to thought leaders. Echoing Ida writers, or Idas, draw on their distinctive perspectives to provide effective and trusted analysis on issues impacting their communities.
“We know as Black women and non-binary writers we come from a really strong legacy of truth tellers, of freedom fighters, who busted open and exposed issues like Ida B. Wells did with lynching,” said Walters. “We wanted to honor that legacy and also show that it’s not just a legacy, it’s living…There are those of us who continue in this work and are committed to being truth tellers for our communities.”
Fueled by its growing network of more than 25 writers, Echoing Ida has published over 275 articles through more than 65 media outlets across the country. Idas not only publish articles, analysis, and anecdotes; they also present at conferences and provide trainings to other organizations to spread the mission and spirit of truth telling across diverse groups and communities. “This isn’t about exclusivity,” says Walters. “This is about making sure that this legacy is embodied by as many people as possible – of every race, of every gender – to be exposing these hidden truths.”
Digging into the root causes of inequity in the U.S., Walters discussed how many public policies, from education to welfare reform, policing, and sentencing, are based in anti-Black racism and efforts to keep Black communities poor, undereducated, and repressed. By giving voice to these and other vulnerable communities, Idas, and others like them, can not only expose these hidden motives and mechanisms of power – they can identify solutions that serve their communities as well as the common good.
“We miss so much of the story and so much of the solution…when we exclude folks who really live at this intersection of race, gender, income, economic status, immigration status – when we miss those intersections, we miss very real communities that are deeply impacted,” said Walters. “When the solutions come from those places, they actually benefit everyone. We often say when Black people win, everybody wins. And winning is not in terms of this scarcity model. It’s really in terms of what does it take for those who society deems to be at the bottom to actually thrive? What does it mean when Black trans women thrive? What does that open up for everyone else?”
Rather than excluding or marginalizing certain groups socially and economically, communities that draw on their full resources through inclusivity, equal opportunity, and investment can become centers of prosperity rather than struggle. Empowering the hidden voices in these communities to share their truths and expertise can be the first step to actualizing this vision.
While Walters is encouraged by the growing visibility of Black women and non-binary voices in today’s media landscape, she stressed that the challenge remains in translating that increasing (but still unequal) visibility into real influence and power.
“We still have a ways to go when it comes to who our elected officials are, who are people in places of power, what decisions we are actually able to influence, so that [our work] goes beyond punditry. It’s not just about being a talking head; it’s actually about putting forth solutions and having the power and agency to enact those solutions.”
On a personal level, Walters described her day-to-day work, and that of fellow Idas, as a constant struggle against stereotypes, stigmas, and self-doubts – but one that is ultimately validating and even healing. As they negotiate these barriers and fears through their work, Idas can increasingly shift and take control of the narrative for themselves and their communities.
Walters would like to see her fellow Idas, and the advocacy space as a whole, further reframe the narrative around Black women, non-binary people, and other marginalized groups in a way that asserts their humanity and vision rather than defining them through oppression or struggle.
“We’re both uncovering what’s missing from the conversation and also asserting these beautiful narratives of who we are that other people can connect to and feel represented by and breakthrough some of the silencing or isolation or shame or stigma that comes along with that.”
In these ways and others, Echoing Ida is drawing on the strengths and perspectives of Black women and non-binary writers to provide thought leadership in both the policy realm and the cultural realm – all driven by a fundamental commitment to giving voice to hidden truths.
The original Ida would, without a doubt, be proud.
Echoing Ida is a program of national organization, Forward Together. You can learn more about Echoing Ida by visiting their website, echoingida.org, and following them on Twitter. Be sure to join their mailing list to become part of their truth teller network and stay up-to-date on activities and opportunities, including their recruitment of a new cohort of Idas for 2018!
Listen to Alicia Walters and Jhumpa Bhattacharya, Director of Racial Equity and Strategy at the Insight Center, discuss Echoing Ida and the challenges and necessities in bringing to light hidden voices and hidden truths.