BORDC is proud to recognize Elsa Lakew in Washington, DC with its April 2015 Patriot award. Elsa hails from Silver Springs, FL, but attends Howard University in DC, where she has been actively organizing with the Black Lives Matter movement since the announcement last November that no one would face prosecution for the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Else joined with other students that very night and marched with a larger local movement to the White House, demanding justice.
Elsa’s activism centers on working with LGBTQ communities and black communities to advance civil rights. While the Black Lives Matter movement raises issues of obvious interest to the black community, she also says that we need to work intersectionally across concerned communities, making sure that black folks in the LGBTQ community are especially recognized for their multiple vectors of marginalization.
Elsa has found that one of the most rewarding parts about working with the Black Lives Matter movement has been seeing her peers get involved and empowered. Referring to a recent student action on campus, she said that “just being in the room during the planning…seeing students so fired up and hearing from older folks who had been working in Ferguson, was a real highlight.”
The first action for which Elsa took responsibility was on New Years Day, when she organized a “die-in” at a suburban mall outside Washington in solidarity with activists in NYC, Ferguson and elsewhere. Wanting not for “Black Lives Matter” to be simply a slogan easily forgotten when the protests died down, she suggests focusing on community conversations at the local level.
Elsa cites her mother as her major source of influence. As a first generation Ethiopian immigrant, she and her siblings were expected to be doctors or lawyers, but her mother helped her follow an independent path. Elsa also cites Erika Totten and Princess Black, local leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement. She says, “Seeing these women continue to fight – their persistence is admirable.”