True Story | Tamika Mallory’s life as an activist & Women’s March co-chair

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On this episode of “True Story,” theGrio’s Natasha Alford profiles Tamika Mallory, longtime activist and co-chair of this year’s historic women’s march.

Mallory tells her story about the challenges of leading a political movement, losing her son’s father to gun violence and her ongoing fight after being kicked off an American Airlines flight.

Our interviews were shot in New York at Grio Headquarters and in Detroit at The Women’s Convention.

Tamika Mallory is an activist, organizer, mother and co-chair of the Women’s March. As one of the most visible faces of the Women’s March team, Mallory helped lead the largest single-day protest in U.S. history.

After the election of Donald Trump, one woman’s Facebook post called for a massive women’s protest march went viral. Tamika Mallory soon received an invite to join the Women’s March Co-Chair Team. She was ready to fight, but critics  said that the march couldn’t represent true sisterhood.

“I wasn’t upset with black women particularly for saying, ‘I don’t want to be involved in that…’ One of the issues that I raised is while we say we didn’t want to be involved with the Women’s March because it was the ‘white women’s march,’ I also have to question why some of us haven’t been at the table when it wasn’t the white women’s march. You need to be at the table,” says Mallory.

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Although women had come together to protest Trump’s election under the banner of the Women’s March, that didn’t mean there was universal agreement about the issues at hand.

“While you’re talking about reproductive rights, you must also be talking about reproductive justice. And so we forced those conversations,” Mallory told theGrio. “And it happened over tears…slammed doors… we had to work through a lot.

Activism is in Mallory’s blood. She’s the daughter of two founding members of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN). 

“My mom used to just be like, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do with this girl,” Mallory told theGrio. “We need to like tape her mouth up so she can go to school and like be quiet. But I was always very talkative and very, very opinionated.”

At 15-years-old, she became a NAN staff member and would eventually become the youngest executive director in the organization’s history. But in 2001, Mallory’s life was changed forever when her son’s father, Jason Ryans, was murdered.

“When that first happened, I didn’t really want to talk about it because I didn’t want to shame my family like, ‘Wow. He got shot and killed. First of all, you’re pregnant too young anyway. And then on top of that, now, your baby daddy gets killed. You’re nothin’ but a thug,” says Mallory.

“Those are some of the things that was playing in my head because, I hear our people speak like that about other folks. Then I started finding myself in circles with other activists and I was getting exposed to mothers who had lost their children. And I was saying, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t think there’s anything for me to be embarrassed about.’ America’s got some explaining to do about why this is happening to so many young black men.”

Mallory found her voice in the movement and felt more inspiration from raising her son Tarique, who is now a freshman at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.

“As my son started to get older and my eyes were open, I started to become more and more engaged in the movement because his life depended on it as far as I was concerned,” says Mallory.”

In October, Mallory was removed from an American Airlines flight after a seating dispute with a gate agent and a pilot.

“I know that discrimination exists… I fight it everyday,” Mallory told theGrio.” But when faced with it in a way that someone takes agency over your body, it is very, very humiliating and very painful.”

Since the incident on American Airlines, Mallory has rallied other black women to speak out about their airline experiences and the N.A.A.C.P. issued a travel advisory for any black passengers using the airline.

“It’s not an airline issue. It’s a black folks must be treated properly when we spend our 1.3 trillion dollars,” Mallory told theGrio.

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Just nine months after the historic Women’s March, Mallory and her co-chairs hosted the Reclaiming Our Time Women’s Convention in Detroit, Michigan.

“It just represents everything that women want to express right now,” Mallory told theGrio. “It’s our time.”

The conference brought together more than 4,000 women and supporters to plan and organize politically.

“No one thought nine months later that we could come back with a conference of this magnitude,” Mallory told theGrio. “The real measure is going to be watching how this plays out in their local communities.

“We hope that we have more women who will leave here saying, ‘I’m ready to go and do it on my own. I don’t need to get behind a man in my community. I actually can run myself.’ Hopefully my voice has in some way changed a few people. And if you can change one, you’ve done something.”

Watch bonus clips from our interview with Tamika Mallory below: