I Be Black Girl: Empowering the community and weathering the pandemic


Liam Al-Hindi

Photo courtesy of I Be Black Girl.

In the middle of this pandemic, we’re all being told to stay at home, to distance ourselves, to isolate and shelter in place. And while this keeps us safe on an individual level, it leaves us vulnerable to becoming even more divided than we were before. What this means is that organizations that focus on community building have steep challenges to overcome.

One such organization, I Be Black Girl (IBBG), has not only adapted to the pandemic, but is trying to make the absolute best out of a horrible situation. IBBG is an Omaha-based collective focused on connecting and empowering black women and girls.

“If you identify as a black woman or girl, whatever that means…then you are a part of the collective,” said Ashlei Spivey, founder of IBBG. “We want to leverage all of the voices, experiences and narratives around being a black woman or girl to co-create the space that we have.”

Several weeks ago, Spivey hosted a Zoom conference to talk about the collective and its goals, touching particularly on what community means right now.

“The answers live in community, and for such a long time, community has been done ‘to’ instead of ‘with,’” Spivey said.

IBBG has three approaches that it uses: “Grow, Connect and Give.” But connection is difficult these days.

“We’re really aligning ourselves and adjusting based on how we keep our community safe now,” Spivey said.

Spivey said that many IBBG members are business owners. Businesses have been struggling as the debate about what is essential continues, and in response, IBBG has put together a collection of resources so that these business owners can access government aid.

“We’re trying to think of innovative ways that we can still be engaged during this period,” Spivey said. “We can adjust, but it’s really about how do we take this time to really elevate necessary conversations like racial and gender inequities, especially during times of crisis. We can adjust. We’re in a really good position as an organization.”

Spivey went on to talk about how black communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. In Chicago alone, black residents make up half of all cases and about 70% of deaths from the disease, according to The Verge.

“We’re going to be partnering and giving funds to the women that are currently incarcerated in York,” Spivey said. “As folks are incarcerated, they’re also not able to call loved ones, and they’re not able to receive up-to-date information about the pandemic, as well as access things like soap, sanitizer and those things. We’re going to donate money so that those things can be purchased and given to folks that are currently incarcerated.”

Spivey and IBBG’s focus has been varied and comprehensive, from research projects to media development, providing people with resources to empower people using many different narratives.

“Our shift is focused on how we can support people where they are and make sure that people have the awareness and the tools to access things that they need,” Spivey said. “What do you need to protect yourself during this time? It’s okay just to survive. It’s okay to say that you need support. This is the time for us to really come together as a community, as partners, to make sure that we can survive.”