Talking to activist and innovator Malia Lazu on the phone for the first time is akin to conversing with an old friend. Her personality is big and warm and her conversation is peppered with threads of altruism and a great big dash of hope.
The black, Puerto-Rican and Italian Emerson College Alum is the executive director and co-founder of Future Boston Alliance, an organization that advocates and supports the progressive and cultural growth of the city. One June 14, she will make an appearance on an all-female keynote panel at the 9th Annual Blueprint Conference for Girls organized by the Boston Chapter of the National Alumnae Association of Spelman College. This year’s theme #BlackGirlsMatter is in line with the nation’s highly publicized racial unrest that has culminated in the deaths of several black men and women by police. But the deaths and/or abuse of young black women doesn’t generate the same response as those of black men. Streets aren’t filled with thousands of protestors all over the nation when a black woman is raped or killed by police. The Washington Post reported on a rally that never materialized due to lack of participation over the death of Natasha McKenna who, after several days in a coma, died after being stunned multiple times with a Taser by cops. Rekia Boyd was shot to death by an off duty officer in Chicago and her death failed to stir the country’s interest like the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner or Trayvon Martin.
The women behind the Blueprint Conference want to show the more than 130 girls that registered for the conference that they do matter and that they are loved. For two days, conference participants will be surrounded by educators, activists and other students reinforcing this message through workshops, activities and lectures. Recently, Lazu—who has been profiled by The Boston Globe and Boston Magazine and has managed campaigns for Grammy Award-winner and civil-rights Activist Harry Belafonte and novelist Walter Mosley—took some time to share her thoughts on leadership, activism and why conferences like these matter.
How did you get involved in activism?
I was born an activist. I think we all have our path and activism has always been my path. I have a picture of me in diapers that says I’m a mini feminist. I grew up in a predominately conservative Catholic family. My white mother bought me the biography of Malcolm X and thought it was important that we know that we could make a difference.
When did you know that you were a leader?
Do I know that? (laughing). I think everyone’s a leader. That’s not false humility. I really believe that. I’ve been blessed enough to be around awesome leaders and I was blessed with a lot of skills. I’ve always been doing what I do, but it wasn’t until I did enough spiritual work that I understood the impact of the work on other people’s lives and to be appreciative of that.
Why do think conferences like this matter?
First of all, I think that the reason they matter is because we have to look in each other’s eyes, hug one another and hold each other’s hands. We have to break bread together. If we’re going to build successful lives, we have to do it together. The more we get together the more we can build. The more we share energy with one another, the stronger we’ll be.
I believe in lioness cultures. You should have more women around you than men. Sisterhood is so important.
What are you hoping to share with the girls?
One of the things I have been wrestling with is, how we see our role in society. We are creators. Some of us will be matriarchal creators with bearing children, but we women have all this matriarchal energy. There aren’t a lot of women that I see that have chosen lives similar to mine. It’s hard for women to be comfortable with not needing a husband and not needing children. My mother was a feminist. She never pressured me. She respected my life. It’s important that we give our girls the space to make choices.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Oh my gosh, there’s so much! I think the best advice I received was to be a duck not a sponge. I learned it in one of those youth programs. Sponges soak everything up. Water just runs off a duck’s back. That’s how you want to be. You can’t hold on to it.