Madam Nselaa Ward on Her Experience with Black Lives Matter
Some people know Madam Nselaa Ward as the former notorious attorney during Black Lives Matter who defied the system or one of the top female slam poets in the world or the professional troublemaker for the National Organization for Women, the largest women's organization in the world. But people that have heard her speak in person know that this wasn't always her story. Before she became Nselaa Ward Juris Doctor, she was Caramel the sex worker. When you hear her speak live, she tells an addictive story of resilience and how you can be your own superhero even when the world thinks you're a villain. People have seen her on TLC's reality TV show She's in Charge and on CNN, C-SPAN, BET and the stage of the March for Women's Lives, the largest march in the history of the US at its time.
Here is an excerpt from our interview with Nselaa.
Passionistas: What's the one thing you're most passionate about?
Nselaa: The one thing that I'm most passionate about is helping disenfranchised communities get economic justice. Economic justice is something that I'm really, really, really passionate about. I've always believed that the revolution was financial. I think that race, gender and class, it comes in a little bit later, but I think that the bottom line is really making sure that all communities have economic justice.
Passionistas: So, tell us how you got involved in the Black Lives Matter movement and what your work has involved.
Nselaa: I feel like I've been involved in Black Lives Matter movement of my life. In all actuality. It just became a hashtag in 2012. I remember the police coming in our house, when I was younger, when I was seven or eight years old. So it's been always something that has been really, really important to me, to make sure that I stood up for, there was one particular time in the latter part of my teenage years where, I remember my mother had this police encounter in a car where she was stopped. And I remember growing up with my mom, when she would go [to buy crack cocaine], sometimes she would take me with her.
I would be in the backseat and she was like, okay, you have to make sure that you're looking out for the police in case anything happened because they might try to hurt me if something happens. And I never believed that when I was really, really young in the beginning, I was like, why was the police shot hurt you? Right. But I would just be a lookout, looking around, see police would come up behind us. But there was one time when I became a teenager that we were actually stopped by police. And I remember the police dragged her out of the car. Crack cocaine has this very distinct smell to it. And I'm assuming that he could smell the crack cocaine that was in the air, even though he couldn't see it.
He kept saying, I know you have it in the car. I know you have it in the car. And she was like, Oh, I don't know what you're talking about. And he ended up dragging her out the car and what happened is she, she ended up, she swallowed it so that he couldn't find it, but he was choking her to try to get her to spit the crack cocaine up so that he could have it as evidence. That's something that replays in my head, even as an adult, when I started handling my cases in law. I remember how he treated my mother.
One of the analogies that I heard is that this situation that's going on with the Black Lives Matter movement and America finally waking up to everything that's happening is like telling your mother your whole life that your father was abusing you, constantly telling your mother, Hey, you know, daddy is hurting me. I don't want to be left by myself. And your mom is constantly like, daddy's not, what are you talking about? You must've did something for him to work. You, you must've did something for him to treat you like that. So it's like constantly telling your mom that your dad is hurting you and he never believed you all your life. And then all of a sudden, your mom one day comes to you and says, you know what, I'm sorry, I see what dad has been doing to you now. And I'm so sad that I didn't step in early, what can I do to fix it?
So, when I was dealing with a lot of my Black Lives Matter cases, the world judges, prosecutors everywhere, constantly feeling like you were making up stuff. They were constantly implying that there was something that we were lying about, that we weren't telling them that created the incident that happened.
But I remember I saw visions of what was happening to my mother. So even if the stories were really way out there, like I still had this natural feeling like, you know what, this probably did happen because I've seen it happen before. So, I always believed them because I felt like if we just keep pushing one day, mom was going to realize that we're totally truth. And she's going to tell daddy to stop. So that what got me into it.
Passionistas: What do you want people who don't understand it to know about Black Lives Matter?
Nselaa: Things that I want people to really keep in their hearts, is that a lot of times, the biggest question that we see is that people are asking, does protests really work? Does protest really get the results that we're looking for? And one of the things you said earlier, was I'm sorry that there's not more movement. I'm sorry that we're not completely there, but we're getting there the biggest benefit to protesting and demonstrations, people feel like it has to be the most immediate thing. What we see like within the first year, they're looking for some type of reactions, some type of response within that first 12 months. And I would say probably about 25% of the benefits of protesting and demonstrations and civil disobedience may happen within that first 12 months or so, for example, previously prior to these, this Black Lives Matter, but even prior to 2020 the majority of America didn't feel like police brutality — when I say majority, at least 51% — didn't feel like party's police brutality was issue. Now 76% of America believes that police brutality is an issue.
They believe that people that racism is a problem. The majority of America didn't have a problem with all the Confederate statutes that were around. It was like, oh, that's history. That's just showing that we're from where we come from. Right now, over 51% and saying that these Confederate statues need to be removed. Right. That's the immediate benefit that we see, that what happens in that first 12 months, but the largest benefit that we get about protests and demonstrations is that it slowly changes the mindset of people over time. So, we might not see the results of it happening immediately within that first 12 months. But we see it in generations to come.
What it does is that it challenges the infrastructure of power when we protest. When people see that there are people in the masses that are saying that something is wrong. The thing that it does is it all of a sudden tells the public, okay, this power that we have been recognizing for so long is losing legitimacy, because power is based on legitimacy. People have to believe the power is legitimate in order to follow the laws and the rules. But when you see that the majority of the people, all of a sudden are saying that something is wrong, it challenges that legitimacy and it slowly changes people's mindset. And that they're the way that they think over time. So that the people that traditionally thought that nothing was wrong eventually they're coming over to your side.
The people that knew something was wrong, but just felt like nobody was ever going to do it. Do anything about it. All of a sudden, they're saying, you know what, well, maybe I should stand up. Like that. Sometimes oppression and discrimination is normalized so much. And I can say this, even in my own personal experience, sometimes it gets normalized so much that you all of a sudden, starting to think, well, there's nothing we can do about that. So, I'm not going to complain about it anymore. It is what it is. So, even the people that are being abused, stop working to change it. But when they start to see other people setting up and saying, no, this has happened to me and I'm going to be counted, and this is wrong. All of a sudden it clicks, wait a minute.There is something that we can do about it.
So, it's changing the people that experienced it. It changes the people that don't experience it. And it changes the political officials because they see, I gotta do something about this, or I might lose my legitimacy moving forward. So, there is change that's happening with protesting demonstrations and civil disobedience. And just because we don't see it tomorrow or today doesn't mean that it's not happening. So just keep pushing, keep moving forward, keep going at it, even if it's not changing for us, change it for the people that's coming up.
Passionistas: What do you think as allies is the most important thing for us to be doing?
Nselaa: The biggest thing I would say is listen, learn and leap. That's something that's really, really big, listen, learn and leap, because the conversation is going to constantly change. One thing that I see happening in media a lot is that, people are going to get mad at people that did something, 60 years ago, 50 years ago, that wasn't racist back then, but it might be racist today. I don't necessarily always think that's fair to say that they're a bad person today because things are going to change over time. So the first thing is, listen, listening to the change in conversation because it's going to change within the months, within the weeks, within the years and be willing to adapt to whatever those changes are because we're all learning together.
So, listening to the changes, learning from it, which is where the adaptation comes. And we've been like being okay. Sometimes we're going to make mistakes. We're all going to make some mistakes, even as a black female, I'm going to make mistakes. We have a conversation that we do regularly with different states around the country called “White Women, Can We Talk?” One of the biggest things that I learned just in this process for example, I used to constantly, when I see a white man come into the room, it historically has brought me a lot of anxiety. Like I would start to feel fear, especially if you see a white man in a truck, you start to feel like something is bad is going to happen.
And a lot of it originally happened just because I didn't really have a lot of exposure. I didn't have a lot of experiences in relationship with white men, especially white, Southern men. I didn't have a lot of experiences with them. And I realized as I started to practice law, and when I started working in business architecture, I have more exposure to white men. So over time I didn't see them as a threat as much anymore, but that was just based on my experience and exposure and over the conversations of “White Women, Can We Talk?” I realized that a lot of times a lot of the people we're having conversations with, they don't have experiences and exposure to different communities and different cultures. So, when you don't have that experience or exposure, all you have is the stories that we see on the media, the stories that we see on TV, the stories that we see, her neighbors talk about.
And sometimes those are stories that are based on fear, but if we start building relationships and conversations and experience new relationships, conversations, and experience, then we can change that narrative together. So, when we do “White Women, Can We Talk?” we just ask each other, all the questions that we always wanted to know in an open form, without judgment, just being able to get to know each other and creating new experiences so that we don't have to base on old experiences anymore. So, I'm gonna say, listen, learn, and then leap have experienced leap into it. If you see somebody that doesn't look like you or doesn't have the same experience, be willing to leap and create a new experience with them and make mistakes. And then just try again, like, hey, I made a mistake. Let me get ready to try again.
Listen to Madam Nselaa Ward’s complete interview here.
Learn more about Nselaa’s work at NiNavaFirm.