3 Powerful Black Women Who Made History Share Experiences with Violence and Abuse

revised from 2/22/16

Dorothy Dandridge

When the Beyhive stings, it is in part because they are tired of losing talented Black women to racism.  

Women like, Dorothy Dandridge.  But for racism, she would have had a career on par with Ava Gardner and Marilyn Monroe. 

I first discovered this beautiful woman in middle school. 

 
It was either Ebony or Essence magazine that had done a feature story on her. That year, I just couldn’t stop researching her and archiving through her art, and her pain.


Dorothy Dandridge was the first African-American actress nominated for an Oscar for her performance in the 1954 film Carmen Jones. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in Porgy and Bess.

Dorothy Dandridge was a triple threat.  She was a singer, dancer, and an actor.

In 1955 she appeared on the cover of Life magazine and was received around the world as if she were royalty.  But here in the states, she had to enter through the back door like all of the rest of the colored people. 

When she took a swim in the pool at a luxury hotel where she was entertaining people, they drained the entire pool

As a child, Dorothy performed on stage as part of a dancing and singing trio with called The Dandridge Sisters.  The group performed at the Cotton Club with the likes of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

Unfortunately, during her childhood, Dorothy also suffered through sexual abuse at the hands of her mother’s live-in lesbian partner.  Like many Survivors, her adult partnerships had elements of power and control.

Want to know more?  
✭Introducing Dorothy Dandridge film featuring Oscar-winning Halle Berry.  Berry has also won praise for her work with domestic violence victims. 

 
Sandra “Pepa” Denton
 

Salt N Pepa is the pioneering 3 member, Grammy-winning group comprised of 
Cheryl “Salt” James
Deidra “DJ Spinderella” James, and 
Sandy “Pepa” Denton.

They also won MTV video music awards and are the 2nd Annual VH1 Hip Hop Honors Honoree.

As a member of Salt-n-Pepa  Sandy “Pepa” Denton served us some of the best Hip Hop anthems of all time.

Their hits were danceable yet empowering. 

Salt n Pepa preached self-care while we were getting our groove on.

We had every right to be sexy and it was nobody’s business.

And when you found a good man, you could hook up with your other girls (EnVogue) and sing it to the whole world.

Man! We felt like Women!
Jamaican-born Sandy “Pepa” Denton penned Let’s Talk About Pep. In it, she openly discussed her experience with domestic violence. Personally, I loved this.
 
When I am alone doing awareness campaigns this happens:

Some strong, empowered sophisticated appearing women will walk up to me. 

She will look over my materials, might even throw me a nice compliment about my “little” speech, “cute” table,  or something. 

Then, she with her, “my life is perfect always has been, and always will be self” will say this:
 “You know those men know the type of women to mess with”. 

Well, Sandra “Pepa” Denton is tough, empowered, beautiful, not the type to be trifled with, successful, business woman, etc. etc. etc.

They aren’t 100% inaccurate. 
There are risk factors and vulnerabilities. Nevertheless, domestic violence can happen to anyone who dares to fall in love.

I always had a high level of respect for Pep.  After, what she dared to reveal and the story she told, my level of respect for her just escalated. 
 
Lessons were learned.
 
Pam Grier

My SHERO!

Now I wrote include her here as part of black history month.

Respectfully, I need to make it clear that Pam Grier considers herself multiracial. Because she is.  

She is; Black, Cheyenne Indian, Hispanic, Chinese, and Filipino.

I adore her!

Personal Influence
I have adored her since I was a little girl.

She is the reason that I announce my name the way that I do.  
In her films, she would announce her name as if it was a statement. An unquestionable fact. 
 
I do that now out of habit. When I was in college, my white history professor was taking attendance.  I said it just like the other students.

He mocked my name.  
He challenged the spelling.  
Was it “correct”?

He wondered aloud why my parents chose to spell it that way.  
The classroom of predominately white students laughed and enjoyed his “teasing”. I will never forget it. 

I grew proud of my “different” name.
Started saying it like Pam Grier did in all of her movies. 
Like she was saying it and putting an exclamation point at the end. My name is an announcement.  

I still might that now, without thinking even. 
But not like Pam Grier.
No one does anything like Pam Grier.

Lights, Camera, Action!
The late Roger Ebert was a fan of her acting.  (I know. Who isn’t?)
But he and I share a similar sentiment.

Pam Grier could easily just be an attractive actress.
Just go on and be gorgeous on film.
Yet, she puts so much physicality, emotion, and work into her characters.

That is why I was surprised to read about her history with sexual violence.  Having a history of sexual violence takes so much work to regain authentic comfort with your body.  So reading about her experiences was a surprise.
 
When Pam Grier published a book, I checked to see if it was on the shelf every single week.

In, Foxy: My Life in Three ActsI learned that she was raped by two boys when she was a child.  She also writes about another experience with rape years later, while on a date. 
 
I couldn’t agree with her more when she says:

 “It took so long to deal with the pain of that,” she says, “You try to deal with it, but you never really get over it,” she adds. “And not just me; my family endured so much guilt and anger that something like that happened to me.”[1]

Epilogue

Unfortunately, Dorothy Dandridge died at the age of 42.  But she fought a good fight. She was as resilient as she was beautiful.
 
Sandy Pepa Denton continues to empower. She is still giving lessons and advice.  She is a leader and teacher in every way that matters.
 
Pam Grier continues to WORK.  Not only that, she is still prioritizing healing. Reminding many of us who have had the misfortune of encountering trauma that we must make healing a priority for a lifetime.
I am thankful to each of these women and to everyone that loved them right. 


Tonya GJ Prince
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Tonya GJ Prince

Tonya is a Social Justice Info Expert with over 23 years experience. She holds a BS in Organizational Management & Development. Her cat MiaBelle is her co-writer.
Tonya GJ Prince
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