If Keshia Sexton could plan a COVID 19-free Black History Month observance, it wouldn’t happen in the United States where the holiday originated in 1926, the brainchild of iconic African-American historian Carter G. Woodson. It would happen in another country – a country where she could learn about the global Black experience like Jamaica, Nigeria, or Panama.
“I can see drum circles. I can see people dancing. I can hear music and laughter. I see joy,” she says. Sexton sees Black people building relationships during Black History Month. In her mind’s eye, the atmosphere is global, true to the idea of the African diaspora and Pan-Africanism isn’t only welcome, it’s embraced.
There are many who say they no longer see a space for Black History Month at all. But Sexton disagrees.
She wants to see Black History observances happen in February and in every other month of the year! Her kind of historical embrace is 24-7-365. In many ways, that is what Sexton sees as part of the beauty of her position as the Deputy Organizing Director of Mothers Out Front. Her journey to this work has been a journey for justice, love and liberation.
Keshia Sexton was born and raised in Los Angeles County, California and grew up in the cocoon of the Black and Brown community. At a very young age, she began to notice that her peers were being taken away from the community by police overreach, over-incarceration, and police violence. She also began to notice that while her school was over-policed, it was under-resourced. She studied for a semester at a school in another community and saw troubling disparities.
So, at 16, Sexton started asking questions. “I also decided that I wanted to have six children — all boys, because that’s who was being taken from us – even though it turned out that I have had no children at all.”
What remains, however, is true love for Blackness and Black people, especially those who find themselves in the crosshairs of injustice.
Sexton graduated from California State University Dominguez Hills with a degree in Africana Studies. She traveled the world; touring and meeting people in the Caribbean and in African countries like Morocco and Rwanda. And her search for self amid the diaspora grew. Within a global context, she says, Black people can more freely explore themselves. “It’s not just about the United States.”
Still, her work has taken form here. She served as Director of Organizing for the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, helping create parks, gardens and recreational spaces in under-resourced communities occupied by people of color. She has served as Senior Field Representative for United States Congress member Rep. Karen Bass, and has also worked as a part time professor in the Social Work program at her alma mater. These are the experiences that she brings to the job she began in 2019; that of serving with Mothers Out Front.
“I’m an accidental environmentalist,” she says.
As far as job description goes, Sexton resources and advises organizing managers who support on-the-ground members and leaders in five states, including California, Colorado and Massachusetts. But she sees her duties as higher-ordered. She brings intentional mindfulness about centering equity, calling-in diverse voices, and fashioning campaigns that enable vulnerable communities to be healthier and safer; to thrive and have long life.
“What this movement is attempting to do now is to improve the lived experiences of people as it relates to environmental action and climate justice; supporting people of color, Black and people of African descent communities.”
Rosemary Lytle, Frontline Communications Consultant for Mothers Out Front, is a columnist who worked in newspaper journalism for nearly 20 years.