What It Means to be a Black or Brown Woman in America

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The 2023 IAM (Indian Association of Minnesota) Board kicked off their first event of the year in celebration of Women’s History Month, on Friday, March 10, at the Hammel Community Center. The event: an interactive panel discussion on the topic of what it means to be a Black or Brown woman in America.


It was a full house! The room was set up with round tables draped with table cloths and fresh flowers arranged beautifully as center pieces. There were feminine and tasteful touches, for example, colorful, soft sarees arranged in a way to provide a vibrant background where the panelists would sit. A fun and uplifting arrangement of mini flower cupcakes looked too beautiful to eat on a side table, assortment of colorful and fizzy beverages to satisfy every palette was on hand, and as is always the case with an Indian event, big buffet tables with delicious food signaled a delectable dinner to be enjoyed later.


A large cross section of the Indian community as well as several non-Indians supported this event with their attendance as did many Board members, their spouses, their children, and several interns. 


The event kicked off with a happy hour with non-alcoholic beverages and tasty snacks. What a great way to mingle, break the ice, and get ready for the dynamite panel of speakers. The event started on time and our esteemed guests presented their thoughts on the evening’s topic: “What It Means to be a Black or Brown Woman in America.”

Come, let’s meet the panelists:


Sumbal Mahmud is an attorney, passionate about human rights and the rule of law. As an attorney, she has worked as an Administrative Law Judge in the Department of Human Services.


Seema G. Pothini is an author, educator, and fierce advocate for removing barriers for the BIPOC and other underrepresented groups. She consults nationally on anti-racism and diversity issues and serves as president of the board for the National Association of Multicultural Education, MN Chapter


Coventry Cowens is the co-founder of the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum & Gallery and has worked as an assistant director of multicultural programs and services at a Twin Cities university.


Sahar Zaman is an award-winning political newscaster and journalist. She is credited with raising issues of national importance concerning citizens' rights and security in her daily prime-time shows.


The panelists’ warm invitation to comment and participate as well as to ask questions got many from the audience to share their experiences and ask great questions.

Below are some of the takeaways from each panelist:

Sumbal Mahmud started out her presentation by reminding us that our way was paved by brave Native Indians and Black Americans, and we now could find our voice if we wish, because of the painstaking work that has been done by these groups already. 

She also offered an interesting and important perspective that we first must strengthen our support for each other within individual ethnic group and be kind to one other. That will consequently enable us to be a strong and united force and tackle other issues that we face as a minority race.


Seema Pothini started her presentation by asking some provocative questions: Have you ever shortened your name? Have you ever justified an event thinking that it could have been worse? There were lots of shows of hands. She started off by recognizing and honoring her mother. We heard how her strong and brave mother pulled through and provided for the family when her husband, (Seema’s father), became disabled after a work accident. A big takeaway from Pothini was that if things are uncomfortable, speak up and hold people accountable. Or you can exit a conversation to make a non-verbal statement that would go across. Moreover, her main point was that stand up not only for yourself but for another person too when needed.


Coventry Cowens encouraged people to go a safe personal space when dealing with confusing and stressful thoughts. Whether it be gardening, music, reading or whatever, she encourages everyone to carve out that safe personal space that can bring solace and comfort. Cowens presented on some African American women who are showcased in the African American Heritage Museum & Gallery and also reminded everyone that entrance is free. Go and check it out. 


Sahar Zaman brought up a great point in her recorded presentation and that is trolling and cyberbullying. This, she said has reached epidemic proportions and it’s as if some people have made it their full time job. It’s distressing and she brought laser focus to the issue. People get bold behind a computer as it provides that anonymity and is bringing out the worst in some people. Social media platforms provide some tools to combat trolling, but it is also the responsibility of all of us to report it when we witness it.

Cowens, Mahmud and Pothini unanimously agreed that we need to actively seek out allies and build a strong unified front. They offered too that sometimes if it’s too difficult to make a statement that could seem confrontational, we can say things like “Ouch” that would definitely convey unacceptance of what just occurred and it’s also a gentler way of standing up.


The night was a success and very uplifting. We need more events like this, and we can with your support.


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