A Letter to Ella Baker

The Ella Baker Center is named after civil rights activist Ella Baker. Today is not only her birthday but also the day she died, 27 years ago. If still alive, she would be turning 102 today.

I chose to remember Ms. Ella Baker by writing her a letter, sharing what I admire most about her and asking for her advice.

Dear Ms. Ella Baker,

I want to start this letter by telling you that you were one badass activist.

Not only were you badass but your spirit and work provides a positive role model for organizers, especially womyn organizers.

It seems that the stories that your grandparents told you of slave revolts and tragedies that they experienced led you on the path of humanitarian activism and social justice. You graduated as valedictorian in 1927 from Shaw University at the age of 24.

I am currently 24, a womyn, and an activist… but definitely not valedictorian. I can’t imagine what college was like back then especially for a Black womyn, and graduating valedictorian…WOW, I already see that your style was to show people that you were to be taken seriously, and I like it!

After college you joined the NAACP and eventually became President of the New York branch. Your presidency is something to be applauded. You used your position of power to make the organization stronger with your advocacy of decentralization.

The ideals of grassroots activism that you used while with the NAACP set the blueprint for one of the biggest movements in our history, the Civil Rights movement.

I am beginning to ask what was a movement without the participation of Ms. Ella Baker? You being you, you joined the Civil Rights Movement while it was still young and began working alongside the much-celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. You worked behind the scenes of the movement and like many womyn have not been recognized or given your due credit.

You yourself explained, “You didn’t see me on the television, you didn’t see news stories about me. The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces or put together pieces out of which I hoped organization might come. My theory is, strong people don’t need strong leaders.”

And I couldn’t agree more. Your outspoken personality along with your egalitarian ideals make you a timeless role model for activists, and for that I want to thank you.

With that being said, I would really appreciate you insight on what I consider a pressing issue in the US: How do we reconnect the people with their political consciousness?

I know there is no simple answer, I just have no idea where to start. It seems that people don’t even know about the rights they are losing. The people need a wake-up call, I just don’t know what it sounds like.

Thank you again Ms. Baker for your time and commitment in fighting for an egalitarian society, law, and government. You work is inspirational and will continue to live on and inspire.

In Solidarity,

Caitlin Seandel

What do you think Ella Baker would’ve made of the world today? What would you ask her if you could? Please share in the comments!