When groups of well-intentioned Black Americans travel to Brazil to learn about the people and culture, I am not the first person you want to trot out. But because of my years living here, building community, and experiencing Brazil outside of the tourist vibe—I am obligated to tell the truth to as many people as possible. If you travel here and leave thinking this place is a paradise to mark off on your bucket list, you have been fooled. Brazil is the center of the Black Diaspora and the systematic racism endured by this majority Black population quintessentially links our destinies.
The consistent exploitation of political and natural racial “science” is an ongoing distraction that ironically keeps us distracted from a prominent and undeniable fact. Since the abolishment of slavery in the United States (1865-ish) and Brazil (1888-ish), Black people have yet to receive the rights and privileges as full citizens. Naturally, atonement and reparations for slavery are fantasies in these states.
Today, in the majority Black country of Brazil, there is an astonishing lack of representation in government. The city where I live, Salvador, is over 80% Black and has never had a Black mayor in its history.
Black Americans know from our own history the burden of not truly being represented in the place that our ancestors died building and protecting. Unfortunately, this connection is most often missed during encounters between our communities. Due to the factors listed above, Afro-Brazilians rarely travel outside of the country. These encounters usually happen in Brazil, where they are mostly remembered as being emblematic of the confusing crossroads of racial/class power dynamics.
But that’s for another day.
I prefer to focus on solutions to the problem. As a graduate student myself, I am using my resources to bring a small group of Afro-Brazilian leaders to the United States to teach about the State of Black Brazil. The program called the Lélia Gonzalez Fellowship, brings a diverse group of artists, scholars, and activists to the U.S. to engage in dialogue with communities around the country.
The events are co-created between the host groups in the United States (educational, cultural, and community institutions) and will cover important subjects like, women’s health, mutual aid, political action, family, LGBTQ, media activism, etc..)
Our primary goal is to begin building an international network of intersectional, community-oriented, and working class-oriented movements. This first step, through the Gonzalez Fellowship, allows communities across the United States to learn about the reality of Black Brazilians from their own voices.
The tour will include an exhibition of art and lectures from the Atlantic Archives. We will also be documenting the fellowship trip and producing a film and textbook to share our lessons with others.
Who was Lelia Gonzalez?
Lélia Gonzalez was a philosopher, anthropologist, teacher, writer, intellectual, Black activist and feminist. She was born on February 1, 1935, in the city of Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. Gonzalez was the daughter of a maid of indigenous origin and a Black man who was a railway worker.
Her life’s work focused on the idea of “Black protagonism,” particularly for Black women in post-colonial societies like Brazil and the United States. Her ideas on Black power and feminism in Brazil have influenced multiple generations of scholars and activists. Most notably, she sparked the formation of several important organizations in the Brazilian Black Movement, including the Research Institute of Black Cultures, the Unified Black Movement (MNU) at the national level, and the Nzinga Collective of Black Women.
Angela Davis, who is a very popular reference in Brazil for Black Women’s political movements, lectures multiple times a year at universities and community organizations nationwide. Frequently, Davis remarks to the public about the importance of knowing the work of Gonzalez:
“I feel like I’m being chosen to represent black feminism. But why here in Brazil do you need to look for this reference in the United States? I think I learned more from Lélia Gonzalez than you will learn from me.”
She and Gonzalez met once in 1994 at a conference in Baltimore, one of the few times Afro-Brazilian activists traveled to the United States during that period.
We use this photo from her personal archives as an important symbol of the importance of Black unity.
We are following in Lelia’s footsteps and bringing the voice of Black Brazil to the United States. This is a very difficult task to do as an independent organization. We’ve only been able to get this far through the support of our sister organization, SpiritHouse in Durham, NC.
SpiritHouse is a multigenerational Black women-led cultural organizing tribe with a rich legacy of using art, culture, and media to support the empowerment and transformation of communities most impacted by racism, poverty, gender inequity, criminalization, and incarceration.
Supporting our mission through fundraising is The Imperative Fund. This innovative fund is founded and led by a duo of Black social investment professionals who want to change the landscape of giving throughout the Black diaspora.
The Imperative is solely focused on promoting the “Wealth, Health and Connectedness of Black people.” In 2019, Founders Alexandra Bastien and Ade Oguntoye began their goal to establish a permanently endowed fund to make strategic investments that improve wealth and health while increasing the social and economic ties of Black people globally.
With this international network of support, the Lelia Gonzalez fellows are just a few steps away from making history as the first group of its kind to represent Brazil in the United States.
If you or your organization would like to join our network and collaborate, start by following us on Instagram:
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