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‘We are Harriet!’: Marchers call for attention to missing Black women at Tubman’s birthday celebration

Honking horns and loudspeaker chants to the tune of “We Are Family” echoed down 79th Street Thursday morning, as marchers celebrated the birthday of abolitionist Harriet Tubman and called for increased attention to local Black women and girls who are missing.

“We are Har-ri-et! I got all my sisters with me!” called out Steven Davis, a Morgan Park community leader, throughout a 2.22 mile walk down the road in Tubman’s honor.

The mood among the dozen marchers, nearly all women, was festive as they raised fists and danced. But it was underscored by a somber mission: Raising awareness for Black women and girls who have gone missing in the city, many of their cases unresolved.

The marchers started with a larger group under a portrait of Kierra Coles, a postal worker who went missing in 2018, when she was 26 years old and three months pregnant. They called for Chicagoans and Chicago police to continue looking for missing women, including Coles.

Coles’ mother, Karen Phillips, spoke at the rally and said it was heartbreaking to continue life without her daughter, wondering whether she is safe.

“It’s like a routine I have to go through, to keep myself together from not breaking down or just totally losing my mind,” Phillips said. “It’s hard to wonder when you go from seeing your child every day to not seeing her in almost three years.”

Coles’ portrait, smiling over the corner of East 79th Street and South Prairie Avenue in Chatham, was the first public mural completed for Still Searching, an art and film project dedicated to missing women, said muralist Damon Lamar Reed.

“Keep searching,” Reed said at the rally. “We want to be the voice to the voiceless.”

The Cook County sheriff’s office started a project last year to focus on dozens of unsolved, long-term disappearances, including Coles.

Rallygoers included representatives from youth advocacy organization Pink Lemons and woman-led construction company Pink Hard Hatz. Delece Williams, founder of youth community organization Kidz Korna, organized the march.

Others, such as Linda Griffin, a cleaning services business owner who lives near the South Side rally site, came upon the event accidentally.

Griffin said she passes Coles’ portrait every morning while walking her Shih Tzu, Winter, and prays for the missing woman. She joined the march to support the postal worker and Tubman, who she had recently been reading about, she said.

The local grandmother held the rally’s microphone in one hand and Winter’s leash in the other as she danced east down the right lane of 79th, with “We are Family” blasting from the speakers in front of her.

The group occupied a lane of 79th from South Prairie to South Vincennes avenues and back, but most drivers seemed to support the march. Drivers honked consistently when Davis asked for their support of Tubman or the missing women.

“There’s always been a plan to not elevate and uplift, encourage or support African people, which is ironic and awful because African people built this country,” said marcher Afrika Porter.

The activist said she was trying to set an example for her two sons and grandson to “always be on the right side of history.”

“Everything is about seeking justice and elevating people that are doing great things in the community,” Porter said.

After the march ended, Williams expressed hope for the future.

There was “so much love as we were walking down the street, with the little bit that we had, so I can imagine if we do more of this ... we can really bring the violence and everything else down,” Williams said.

She also briefly spoke to Rita Daniels, a descendant of Tubman, on a phone call over speakers in front of marchers. Daniels asked the group to support the founding of the Harriet Tubman Learning Center in Georgia.

“It’s our job to step up to the plate and help our young children,” she said.

oolander@chicagotribune.com