The Activist: Brittany Packnett

Brittany Packnett doesn’t mince words when asked if mainstream culture is finally giving props to Black women.

“Black women are not a trend. Congratulations to folks who finally noticed how dope we are,” she says. “But we have forever been cradling civilizations.”

She’s the vice president of national community alliances with Teach for America, but in her spare time, Packnett also manages to be both a writer and activist. In 2014, she became one of the faces of the Black Lives Matter movement, thanks to her work organizing the Ferguson protest; a year later, she cofounded the police reform effort Campaign Zero with other activists, including DeRay McKesson.

Packnett’s work focuses on building alliances in communities of color that are impacted by economic inequality. And beyond the administrative and logistical headaches that come with enforcing that type of systemic change, she deals with plenty more challenges.

“The more Black women disrupt the status quo, the more it makes people deeply uncomfortable,” Packnett says. But, she adds, her mother — who was widowed at 40, got her PhD at 50, and became an ordained minister at 60 — gifted her an important mantra that keeps her going: “Defy expectations.”

And the activist is just getting started. Packnett recently signed with Mic.com as a video social justice and culture contributor, and she still actively coordinates protests, events, and campaigns. Though she points out there is much more work to be done, she also has an important reminder for Black women.

“We can’t always be in the business of sacrificing ourselves for other people,” she says. “I’m hoping that we will not allow our self-care to just be a trend.”

Black Is The New Black is Refinery29’s celebration of 20 Black women who kicked down doors in their fields this past year. Black women who are reminding the world that we are not a trend or “a moment.” We’re here — and we’ve been here. Check out the full list.

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