Created in 2018, Our Black Girls website focuses on the stories of missing black girls and women. ourblackgirls.com/Screenshot by NPR Hide the caption
ourblackgirls.com/Screenshot by NPR
ourblackgirls.com/Screenshot by NPR
Tens of thousands of black girls and women go missing every year. Last year there were almost 100,000. But their cases barely make national headlines.
A journalist in California is doing anything to change that by telling as many of her stories as possible – and hopefully helping them get the justice they deserve.
Our Black Girls focus on the often untold stories of black girls and women who have been missing under mysterious circumstances or, in some cases, found dead. Launched in 2018 by journalist and activist Erika Marie Rivers, the website is a one-woman show: Rivers spends her nights searching through missing persons databases, archived news material, old articles, and whatever other information she can find about those stories put together. And she does all of this according to her job.
Rivers, 39, has worked in entertainment journalism for more than a decade. For her regular job at a music news website, she works an evening shift from 4 p.m. to midnight – but her nights don’t end here. After she finishes her first job, she dives in her second, often working late into the night on stories for Our Black Girls.
Rivers has published an article roughly every other day since the site was launched three years ago. It’s a busy schedule, but she’s sticking to it because, as she explains, she could easily have been one of those missing girls and women. Anyone could.
Erika Marie Rivers, a journalist in California who founded Our Black Girls, spends her personal time researching and writing down the stories of missing black women and girls so they are not forgotten. Erika Marie Rivers hide caption
Erika Marie Rivers
In so many of the stories Rivers writes about, victims “walk down the street or go to the store or ‘they’ll be right back’ and just disappear,” she says. “That can happen to me at any time.”
“And I know there are a lot of stories like this about girls and women who look like me, so why don’t I see them as often as everything else? And then it became, why am I waiting for someone? otherwise pick up this banner when I’m the one who has a passion for it? “
There are other blogs and organizations that focus on missing blacks, but Rivers says, “I can do it, that’s the point.”
Each post on Rivers’ website tells the story of how a black girl or woman went missing – and offers a fuller picture of who she is and how much she is loved, based on information from friends and family.
Sometimes the families of the victims turn to Rivers to express their gratitude after seeing the post. they are often frustrated by the inaction of their local police force and are just grateful that someone somewhere noticed and taken care of it.
Other people get in touch because they’re surprised they’ve never heard of a case, even though it happened right in their town.
On one occasion, Rivers wrote about a man who murdered an entire family, and the daughter of a woman who was killed by the same man in another incident reached out to her in hopes of telling her mother’s story as well.
Rivers hopes that the publication of these stories will rekindle interest and that authorities will be forced to look around again.
“I don’t just want to be the newest person to write about these girls and these women,” she says. “I want your story or this chapter to end, whether we find out what happened, whether someone got justice, whatever it is.”
The media ignore missing black and indigenous women
Black girls and women are missing at high rates, but this is not reflected in the reporting of missing persons. In 2020, according to the National Crime Information Center, 90,333 or nearly 34% of the 268,884 girls and women reported missing were black. Meanwhile, black girls and women make up only about 15% of the US female population, according to census data. In contrast, white girls and women – including those who identify as Hispanic American – made up only 59% of the missing, while they made up 75% of the total female population.
Given these numbers, the disproportionate media attention to missing white girls and women is glaring. The term, often referred to as “Missing White Woman Syndrome,” last made headlines when MSNBC host Joy Reid spoke about the Gabby Petito case. Petito was reported missing after her boyfriend returned from an overland trip without her; Her case garnered nationwide coverage, but it also highlighted the harsh reality that people in other demographics don’t get the same amount of attention when they go missing.
Authorities met in Wyoming to search for Petito and found her remains in a national park. In the same state, more than 400 indigenous girls and women were missing between 2011 and fall 2020, according to a state report. Indigenous peoples accounted for 21% of the murder victims in Wyoming between 2000 and 2020, despite making up less than 3% of the state’s population, and Indigenous women who were killed received the lowest media coverage at just 18% compared to 51%. of white murder victims who were on the news, according to the report.
To be clear, Rivers explains, it is not about soliciting more attention or “competing” with whites – it is about giving other groups the same attention as white victims and honoring their lives in the same way will.
“I’m talking about bringing the investigation up to date with what’s already going on,” she explains. “And I think if we bring that awareness, especially when it comes to indigenous women and black women, and we say, hey, we exist too. That doesn’t mean you stop looking for that white woman for our women as you do for everyone else and make sure that the energy you put into one case is the same energy you put into another. “
You can support efforts to find the missing
Rivers isn’t the only one trying to highlight these cases. Two black women founded the Black and Missing Foundation in 2008 to raise awareness of the thousands of blacks who go missing in the United States every day. And podcasts like Crime Noir, Black Girl Gone, and Black Girl Missing work tirelessly to honor those stories as well.
There is power in community building. “We really are our sister’s keepers,” says Rivers.
For others who want to be part of the solution, Rivers recommends keeping up-to-date on what is happening, especially within your own community, and sharing the information you see. This can mean retweeted a missing person report or share it on Facebook. Contact your local news organizations and law enforcement agencies and ask for updates.
You can also support those who get the job through blogs and podcasts, as well as Instagram accounts and Facebook groups that keep people updated on the cases of missing black girls and women.
However, Rivers cautions against turning someone’s real tragedy into sensation – a pervasive risk in the real crime community.
Remember, “these were real people with families and with hopes, dreams and goals,” she says. “These are real people who laughed, cried, smiled and didn’t expect not to see tomorrow, didn’t expect them to disappear from the face of the earth. And I want to make sure they are respected and honored.”
Every post on Our Black Girls ends the same way: “She is our sister and her life matters.” And you have to remember that.