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Dr. Gay letter of support contributing authors from left to right: Jamila Taylor, Jacquelyn Howard, LaNesha DeBardelaben, and Persephone Gary. Photo by Nicole Anderson, TailorMade Productions
Raven Taylor
Published: 16 January 2024

SEATTLE – Following the resignation of Dr. Gay from her position as Harvard University President, Black women across Washington State, in an act of solidarity, are speaking out in support. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, they delivered a letter addressed to Dr. Gay that has gained momentum and gathered more than 300 signatures from other Black women and the number of signatures continues to grow. Dr. Gay is the first person of color and only the second woman in Harvard University's 386-year history to serve as president. However, her tenure as president is the shortest in the school's history. Her departure comes after mounting pressure.

“Dr. Gay's resignation is disheartening and prompts a call to action among Black women. We recognize that we need to galvanize and collectively support one another. Black women in leadership often lack needed support from their internal organizations which makes the journey of leadership tedious and fraught with stumbling blocks,” said LaNesha DeBardelaben, one of the letter’s originators.

Dr. Gay’s resignation comes only six months after being installed as president in July of 2023. The impact this resignation has had on Black women in the workplace, specifically, those in leadership, is profound.

“Black women have always worked to support their families and communities. And many times we were required to take care of others before taking care of ourselves,” notes Jacquelyn Howard, a retired global corporate executive.

As a breast cancer survivor, she has become a strong community advocate for health and well-being for Black women and girls. “As Black women, the impact of racism and sexism in the workplace has truly weathered us over generations and has contributed to well-documented health issues and trauma. These issues have literally shortened our lives. Standing in support and uplifting other Black women is our call to action. We need to know that we are cared for, seen and respected. We need to be alive and well for the future. This letter represents support for Dr. Gay and for all those who are not given the appreciation and support they very much deserve.”

“So many Black women in Washington state and across the country know all too well what it feels like to work in spaces without the necessary resources or support from colleagues to help us achieve our mutual success. We know how it feels to be more than qualified for the position and have to fight endless racism, misogyny, bigotry, microaggressions and outright discrimination at nearly every juncture,” said Washington State Representative Jamila Taylor, one of the letter’s originators.

Signatures include many elected officials, public figures, and Black women from all walks of life. It also includes women across the state who are in support but remain unlisted due to their profession or personal preference. Black women can continue to sign the letter as a display of their ongoing support for Black women HERE.

“This letter is also for every Black woman who has been marginalized and or bullied in professional spaces and we have many notable signers and supporters, ” said Persephone Gary, a contributing author of the letter. “Every woman who has signed is a worthy voice and able to speak to Dr. Gay’s plight because as Black women we experience the same disenfranchisement whether we are university presidents or unionized workers, whether we are order takers or policymakers. This letter is important, it’s a display of solidarity from Black women to Black women. This isn't just about a moment and what happened to Dr. Gay, we are mobilizing for a movement to address the ongoing systemic attacks on Black women’s success, livelihood, and psychological safety in the workplace,” stated Gary.

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