Allyson Gilbert, left, and Ashley Rhoden stand together at Public Square Park in Nashville during the Women’s March.

By Ashley Benkarski

NASHVILLE, TN — Hundreds braved the fickle winter weather Jan. 19 to rally in solidarity with the third Women’s March in DC with messages of equality, empowerment and justice.

Though there was no marching involved, attendees gathered at Public Square Park to listen to live music and speakers from organizations such as Planned Parenthood and Black Lives Matter–Nashville, among others. Minutes away, Gov. Bill Lee was celebrating his inauguration—something not lost on event volunteer Allyson Gilbert. “We are choosing to be at this end of the street than at that end of the street giving them any of our energy,” she said. “We’re giving ourselves energy even though we’re standing in the rain doing it. We are exerting our energy towards a more positive thought process.”

The event was organized by Power Together TN, a coalition of groups advocating for issues including  equal pay, reproductive rights,  protection against sexual assault, and awareness of the wide range of policies and other societal issues that disproportionately affect black women. 

One major concern is the disparity of incarceration rates between blacks and whites. The NAACP’s statistics concerning race, gender, and incarceration rates are harrowing— African-Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of their white counterparts, with black women being imprisoned twice as much as white women. 

Asked about the motivation to help, Gilbert and fellow volunteer Ashley Rhoden exclaimed, “Everything!” 

“For me especially, just living life as a black woman, in a nutshell,” Rhoden said. “You know, there’s a thousand other things that go along with that. Just my existence is enough for me to want to do something.”  

As for advice for Gov. Lee, Rhoden and Gilbert spoke from experience. “Hire people of color,” Rhoden said, noting the power of diversity and representation. “You’re able to look from different points of view, and maybe just by having people that are more unlike yourself you might be able to bridge the gap between the Women’s March and what [Lee’s] doing.” 

Gilbert, pointing out the relationship between employment and education, said the preparation of young adults to enter today’s changing workforce should be a priority for Lee. “As a person who went to school to be a teacher, I would appreciate him putting more thought and emphasis on the education and curriculum that we teach to our children,” she said. 

Rhoden’s call for the representation of black women in leadership positions is slowly being answered. Deborah Reed won her bid for Chair of the Tipton County Democratic Party, and Sen. Brenda Gilmore was elected to her position in Tennessee State Senate District 19 last Aug. And Zulfat Suara, President of Tennessee Women Political Caucus, announced her candidacy for Metro Council At-Large as she spoke onstage at the rally. “I am running because I believe in a Nashville that is for all,” she said. The election for metro councilmembers will take place Aug. 1.