Transcript of Keynote Speech by Ashlei Spivey


Wow! This is amazing. I want to start by thanking the organizers of this event. I know it took a lot to pull this off.  I want to thank the people that are here today in not-so-warm temps, and of course my family and friends who always support me.

To be standing here in this moment giving my thoughts on how, we as a community, need to fight injustice and inequity is surreal. I am not a leader. I’m not. I am an everyday person that cares about the community and the people in it. I fail. I do not always get it right; however, I don’t give up.

I want to talk to you about the idea of Be. BE. It’s a verb so it shows action, meaning to exist.

So when I say I Be, it means me, all of me, exists. I BE:
⁃ woman
⁃ Black
⁃ I be black woman
⁃ mom
⁃ Sister
⁃ Friend
⁃ Daughter
⁃ Partner
⁃ Advocate

And All of my identities that I BE, intersect and create the experience I have with the world. I create that narrative. I own that narrative.

We all have the fundamental right to BE.

So, I am not just advocating for straight woman or any other single identity, because that’s not true advocacy. This movement, your movement, needs to look at all intersections of BEING otherwise you are just as oppressive as the systems you stand here wanting to change.

Everyone here, in whatever space you occupy, has the influence to create change. From classrooms, courtrooms to Communities. You are marching today, but your passion and purpose does not stop here. Every day, we have to engage in this work; and You don’t have to be a deemed a leader, or hold a certain position to do so.

This, what I am talking about right now, is not being an ally but rather a partner in the resistance. Allies, they participate enough to feel good about themselves. Allies, they will invest in the movement as long as they aren’t at risk. A partner, however is there to support in the ways YOU need. They don’t hijack the conversation or initiative. They are in it, come hell or high water. They are willing to risk it all because they have equal stake in the game. We need more partners and less allies.

There is a sense of urgency now more than ever to quickly change our social systems. There is no space for bystanders. There is no space for complicity. As Audre Lorde said, “Your silence will not protect you.”

We all have a responsibility to revolutionize the systems that continue to oppress certain communities and NOT just when you are directly affected. We need to understand that there are gaps in access and opportunity based on gender that then compound when you layer in other identities like race and income.

Did you know that in 2015 the medium income for white males was 40k, while the median income for white women was 28k and for black and Hispanic women 21k and less? Just this week, through the work of ACLU and other partners, the Nebraska department of corrections will now offer free tampons and pads to incarcerated women. The disparities are real, and the people living within those identities are in a daily fight for survival.

When I think about my identities and the narratives surrounding them, I shouldn’t be standing in front of you today. I should be in prison, maybe homeless. I shouldn’t be here right now speaking about destroying the systems that said before I was even born, that I couldn’t BE.

See, I grew up in North Omaha. A part of town where people think they can only frequent when the sun is out. A part of town they think is full of crime and savages. A part of town that is systemically destroyed by racism, segregation, and poverty.

My dad was incarcerated most of my life. I can count on two hands the number of times I met him. He spent half of his life in prison and has now transitioned. My mother, a dynamic woman, did what she had to do to provide for me and my sister. I saw her struggle. I saw her struggle as a woman in a male dominated manufacturing field. I saw her struggle as a black person in the healthcare field. I saw her struggle as a black woman in society.

I’ve had concussions and black eyes with no sense of support or help because same-sex intimate partner violence didn’t exist. We were just two women fighting. I’ve been in situations where I’ve felt hopeless and scared, but didn’t want to call the police because I didn’t want to be responsible for another black body in prison.

We have to start having real conversations that go past this moment today, past our last social media post, past group chats and coffee house conversations.

Because We all know a Serena Williams: who had to tell her doctors exactly what to do so she wouldn’t die while giving birth. She is now one of the 150k women to experience serious illness or near-death experiences around pregnancy. And we know for black women the number is 3x higher than white counterparts.

We all know a Chyna Gibson. A woman who identified as transgender who was murdered in the streets of New Orleans.

We all know a Sandra Bland. A woman who died in police custody after being arrested for a simple traffic violation.

We all know a Tarana Burke, the founder of #MeToo. We all know someone, or we are that someone who has said, “Me too.”
The theme of this year’s march revolves around mobilizing more people of color and women into civic engagement. That means getting people to the polls, running for political office; changing who holds positions of power and how people engage. And most importantly it means people from particular communities start making decisions about their community to help build the future that we both want to see

In order to have this type of advocacy and movement where everyone can fully participate, we, have to do a lot of things differently. Since we only have five minutes left and it’s freezing, I will give you three.

1. Remove the binary. There is no such thing as good and bad; Liberal and progressive doesn’t equal good and conservative doesn’t equal bad. Our differences make us who we are. We have to see these differences, celebrate those differences, and acknowledge what oppression comes with these differences. Because It’s not about good or bad but character.

2. You have to lead from where you are. Starting using your positions and privilege to leverage space and create change. 

3. There is no right answer. This work of dismantling oppressive systems is complex, is hard, and is frustrating. It will take coordinated approaches from different angles. For example, the Women’s March has evolved. Last year pink hats were a thing, but we know that excludes trans women Like Chyna. We have to recognize that these issues are adaptive and evolving, as will our approach and knowledge.

My call to action for you today is to first, educate yourselves. Don’t read a blog or see a post on social media and that’s it. We live in a world where decisions are made in 150 characters or less. So, to be successful we have to go outside of the now normalized means for education and do actual research for ourselves. We have to always be learners and students.

Next, find you role in the movement. As Ella Baker said, “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.” Each of you here today has a strength that can be utilized and leveraged to create change.

Lastly, you have to be prepared for loss. If you are truly doing this work, you will give up something. Power. Position. Wealth. Something. But you get your soul back.

I shouldn’t be a success story that’s celebrated. I, my story and others like me, should be the norm. Everyone has the right to Be. To reach their full potential and thrive. To craft and own their narratives.

Before I go I want to dedicate this talk to my mom who left this earth six years ago. She was the strongest human I know. She taught me how to just BE. To BE unapologetic for everything I am and not, even when the world tried to show me otherwise.

So now, I thank you, and let’s March On!