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Black Women's Lives Matter: The African American 490 Challenge

This nonprofit is raising money to test every remaining rape kit in Detroit and bring women the justice they deserve.

When my daughter was younger, I was full of the special concerns every mother shares when raising or mentoring an African-American girl.

I tried my best to buoy her body image and self-esteem. I supported her studies so she would graduate from high school and have the opportunity to go to college to pursue her dreams. I helped her navigate the politics of Black women's hair. I tried to help her manage money and men and tried to show her how to put more emphasis on her brains than her bod.

But here's a concern that none of us want to have to prepare our daughters for: the possibility of rape. It's a topic I rarely discussed, except for in coded language like, "Be safe," or "Make sure you watch your surroundings," or "If you are uncomfortable on a date, call me any time, no questions asked."

Now I know that, as a village, not addressing the issue of rape with our girls is a critical mistake. Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System to monitor health-risk behaviors that contribute to death and disability among young people. One of those factors is dating violence. In 2013, (the latest year for which results are available), it surveyed about 2,790 Michigan high schoolers, asking: In the past 12 months, how many of you have experienced dating violence one or more times? That included kissing, touching or being physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to by someone they were dating or going out with.

Remarkably, almost 20 percent of ninth-grade girls said they have been victims of dating violence (and about 12 percent of 10th-12th graders). That's right. At only 15 years old, one in five girls had already experienced dating violence, including rape.

This statistic was brought home when Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy decried the backlog of untested rape kits in Detroit. A March 2015 Michigan State University study of about 1,500 of the untested kits revealed that 81 percent of the victims are African-American and 21 percent of the victims are under the age of 16.

At 16 or younger, our girls should be thinking about school dances or football games or going to concerts, not wondering if they will be assaulted again by the person who got away with raping them the first time. Perhaps the perpetrator is a classmate that they have to face every day or a stranger whose face haunts them every night.

What are we saying to our girls when we don't even respect their lives enough to bring their attackers to justice?

That's why when I was approached by my friends Kim Trent, Darci McConnell and Maureen Stapleton to join a core group of Black women to raise money to get Detroit's remaining rape kits tested, I didn't think twice about saying "yes." The initiative, called the African American 490 Challenge, aims to raise at least $600,000. That's the amount of money that's needed to test the remaining 1,341 rape kits, which cost $490 each to process.

The African American 490 Challenge is an offshoot of Enough SAID (Enough Sexual Assault in Detroit), a project of the Michigan Women's Foundation which heeded Worthy's call for donations to back in 2014. The two projects are meeting the same objective, but the African American 490 Challenge has special significance for me.

More than 70 years ago, before she became the "Mother of Civil Rights," Rosa Parks made her mark as an activist for the human rights of Black rape victims. The women's stories were not validated, and their attackers, often White, were never charged. She championed their cases and fought to bring the rapists to justice.

Her little-known fight on behalf of rape victims was chronicled in At the Dark End of the Street by Danielle L. McGuire.

"African-American women reclaimed their bodies and their humanity by testifying about their assaults," writes McGuire. "(They) loudly resisted what Martin Luther King Jr. called the 'thingification' of their humanity. Decades before radical feminists in the Women's Movement urged rape survivors to 'speak out,' African American women's public protests galvanized local, national and even international outrage."

Today, for the sake of our African-American mothers, sisters and especially our daughters, we raise our voices in outrage again. The world needs to know that Black women's lives matter, too.

To donate to African American 490 Challenge, visit CrowdrRise.com/AfricanAmerican490Challenge. Learn more at AA490Challenge.org.

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