(photo Legal Defense Fund: http://www.naacpldf.org/press-release/tribute-cassandra-q-butts-former-ldf-assistant-counsel)
With each of our dead, we mourn the loss of a piece of ourselves and with each of our raped we mourn the loss of a piece of our souls. On this day, August 2, 2016, exactly three short months since Black women across identities and around the country lifted their voices in testimony, while bearing witness to the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Sexual Assault in the United States, we take this act of remembrance. We name Cassandra Butts, lawyer, policy expert, Senior Advisor to the US Mission to the United Nations, former Deputy White House Counsel and a nominee to the ambassadorship to the Bahamas, who died after a brief illness on May 25, 2016. She was just 50 years old.
To us Cassandra Butts will always be remembered as a way-maker, women’s rights advocate and the visionary pioneer who opened the doors for Black women and girls, trans women, survivors of sexual violence and reproductive violation in the U.S. so they could stand within the walls of the United Nations both to speak their truths and exert their full rights.
We name Cassandra Butts and honor her memory as we have honored her memory in our hearts and in our speaking over the past three months. We knew her as the sister at the UN who affirmed our belief that the God given right to freedom and the right to live and breathe should not, does not, nor will it ever exclude Black women. We knew her as the sister who understood that Black women had a longing for justice and recognition.
We, at Black Women’s Blueprint, knew Cassandra as the sister who understood us when we asserted that there was a need to denounce the daily rapes of Black girls and Black women, expose State sponsored violence, denounce the invisibility which is almost complete and the relegation of Black women’s experiences to the extreme borders, the margins and the background of human rights and civil rights concerns.
We cannot tell her today, face to face how significant a role she played in ensuring that people of African descent and the UN itself were on the right side of Black women’s history. However, as we mark the three-month anniversary of the U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Sexual Assault, we want to tell our communities about Cassandra Butts.
By making a way out of no way, after years of requests and letters and phone calls by Black Women’s Blueprint to over one-hundred permanent country missions to the UN and to the UN itself, Cassandra Butts affirmed that Black women in America--lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, gender fluid, gender nonconforming people should no longer remain unnamed in critical debates on racism. She understood it, as we spoke it, that there needed to be a calling out about the gendered ways in which racism is perpetuated in the U.S. We name Cassandra Butts and celebrate her because by unlocking the door to the UN, she celebrated us. She celebrated and honored our very existence.
To us Cassandra Butts will always live in our memory and in our hearts as the extraordinary, brave and brilliantly strategic woman who opened the doors for Black women and girls, trans women and survivors of sexual violence and reproductive violation in the U.S. This profound demonstration of leadership and sisterhood drove home our message during a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in April of 2016, that we had the right to stand at the United Nations to speak of truth, justice, healing and reconciliation as we lived and envisioned them in our everyday lives.