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Sabiyha Prince

In this intimate conversation with DC social justice advocate Sabiyha Price, we learn her motivations for the work she’s been doing for decades. She recalls being exposed to the struggle for racial equality as a child looking at photographs from Life Magazine, and becoming socially activated. She also recalls being kicked out of her home at the age of 21 and experiencing housing insecurity. Sabiyha also feels strongly about sexism and harassment in the workplace and has stood up against it.
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Sabiyha Prince

Speaker 1 (00:01):

Alright, today is Thursday, May 9th, 2024. It’s 5:48 PM and I’m here with the one and only Sophia Prince. Okay. If I just at the top of our interview could get your year of birth, where you were born, when do you move to DC if that’s applicable, and then your full name. 

Speaker 2 (00:24):

Okay. My name is Sabia Robin Prince. I was born March 15th, 1959, which makes me 65. And I was born in Washington Hospital Center. I’m a native Washingtonian. Okay, 

Speaker 1 (00:37):

Wonderful, wonderful. So to start us off, is there an ancestor or a woman that has inspired you to take the path that you’re on today? 

Speaker 2 (00:47):

Certainly, I hope it’s okay that it’s a family member and not necessarily someone in the movement. Yeah, absolutely, because definitely movement people, but I would say before even movements, I think my inclination to do that comes from family. My grandmother on my mom’s side, and really all of my grandparents, they were all uneducated. They all had fourth grade educations and they came from the south and they were just very scrappy. I would say my grandmother, my maternal grandmother, very scrappy, passed that down to her kids. And I think my brother and I inherited that. I don’t think we inherited it biologically, but just maybe it was the energy and the example that they set. My grandmother and grandfather put their three daughters through college, and again, they were very uneducated. So just that drive and that motivation, that recognition that this is something that’s very important. 

Speaker 2 (01:42):

And people would ask my grandfather, why are you spending money on these girls? They’re just girls. And he thought their education was very valuable because he thought they were valuable. So I think that’s an ethos that maybe I inherited or embraced. Certainly growing up in the sixties and seventies, there was so much popping off all the time. You couldn’t be disengaged. We are very much TV people, so we were always looking at tv, always knowing what was going on. Always had all the magazines coming in life, look, Newsweek, time Essence, jet Ebony, et cetera. So it was a world of information and I think they set that up for us too, and that’s very inspiring. 

Speaker 1 (02:23):

Was there a particular thing you remember reading or seeing that stood out to you or stand out to you now sort of looking back? 

Speaker 2 (02:31):

Oh gosh, yes. A lot. Not necessarily related to housing, but the fight for racial justice because again, it seemed like every other week somebody was getting assassinated and look, life Magazine, very, very visual. It’s all about the visuals. And I can remember one photograph that shook me was of a boy who had been shot in Newark and he’s laying out on the dirty, greasy street, and his body was very, he was alive, he was looking at the camera, but his body was very distorted. And so I probably was about nine or 10, and that had a huge impact on me. I mean, it frightened me. It made me afraid to be in front of the windows during the uprisings, and it just was a very jarring image. And I think that stayed with me. I don’t know what it did to me, big picture, but I was a very sensitive, dramatic kid and it definitely kind of blew my mind and made me feel a certain way. 

Speaker 1 (03:38):

So of course you’re familiar with the work of Etta Mae Horn. I’m wondering how did the work that Etta Horn, did her story of activism resonate with the challenges maybe that you’re facing in the present moment or that you have over the years? 

Speaker 2 (03:54):

Definitely housing insecurity. I don’t talk about it a lot, but it was a part of my life. I was kicked out of my home. I converted to Islam when I was 21 and experienced a lot of insecurity at that point. It makes you very vulnerable to different forces, the vagaries of who’s around you. And I spent, it’s a small stint in public housing in Poughkeepsie, New York, and then I came back and experienced more housing insecurity in DC when I was able to come back. So vulnerability is something that resonates with me. Housing vulnerability is something that resonates with me as well on a personal level. And I guess for Etta Mae Horn, of course, her activism, it covers a lot of ground because I mean, it’s basically, I mean, I know her accomplishments with the National Welfare Rights Organization, but she was a caring person who cared about her local community, the people that were around her, and she was an organizer and all that. And that’s very powerful. I appreciate organizing and the distinction between organizing and activism, that is you’re building relationships and you’re motivating and trying to bring people together for a goal. And that’s powerful. I’ve been lucky to meet and learn from other organizers, and that would be the other set of people that I admire outside of my family are the housing organizers that I’ve met, the people that are coming together for people’s wellbeing, and that’s what she did. Yeah. 

Speaker 1 (05:37):

I’m wondering if you can just for the record, share a bit about the work that you do. 

Speaker 2 (05:43):

Sure. Well, I mean, I’ve been a member of Empower DC since 2004, pretty early. And I met and Linda Leaks, I looked them up, I found out about their work. I was writing my second book then, and I thought, oh yeah, these are people I need to talk to. And as soon as I met them, it just resonated with me, the work that they were doing. So I became a member from Power dc. I joined the public property campaign. That was something that really, I was like, this is me. I was doing my work, my book on gentrification. So that really resonated with me. So I’ve been a member, I’ve been a part of different campaigns within Empower. I chaired the board one time and now I’m chairing it again. I try to come to as many meetings as I possibly can. I dislike being in community, so I just use my voice however I can. I’m a visual artist. My work tends to be political, not always, but often. And I use my art to convey messages. I use my writing, whatever I can do. It’s kind of small stuff, just kind of being a part of and maybe donating some money here and there. 

Speaker 1 (07:06):

Well, I would be remiss if I did not draw out of you that you were also the director of Barry Farm Community Land and Justice. 

Speaker 2 (07:13):

Oh, yeah, yeah, 

Speaker 2 (07:16):

Yeah. So that’s been a huge contribution. I’ve been super pleased to be a part of this project. And for me, again, this is my passion. It is about people. So the opportunity to work on that film was because of a friendship that I established with my co-director, Samuel George. He interviewed me because of another film he did called Go-Go City, which also deals with the theme of gentrification. That’s how we met and we hit it off. And then the idea came up to do this film. I can forget who originated with probably Perza. And then we were like, Hey, maybe he would be interested in this, and kind of pitched it to him. So yeah, the arts is very powerful. I’ve written two books, numerous journal articles. I always say this film is beyond anything I’ve ever done academically. It’s just way more powerful. I feel really good about it. I feel I want to continue in this path of sharing messages through the arts. You can just read so many more people than a jargon filled journal article that only a bunch of eggheads are going to read, whatever. 

Speaker 1 (08:19):

Yeah, that’s fair. That’s fair. And I think one of the things I’ve appreciated about the film is that in a lot of ways it is the preeminent resource on Barry Farm’s history, on the history of Etta Horn and so many other 

Speaker 2 (08:35):

Historical things, preeminent. What about all the book 

Speaker 1 (08:40):

Say among some of the preeminent sources? 

Speaker 2 (08:44):

Well, we did miss a few things. We didn’t have the Goodman League and we didn’t have Howard University, and that was all structural and related to scheduling and stuff. But yeah, I’m proud of it. I think it’s pretty dope. Yeah, 

Speaker 1 (08:55):

It’s a really good film. It’s a really good film. I’m wondering now if you recall a moment in your life where you felt called to step into the movement and sort of lend your talents and ability 

Speaker 2 (09:11):

Specific moments? 

Speaker 1 (09:12):

Yeah. 

Speaker 2 (09:14):

Well, I mean, and you’re talking about the housing, this particular anything. Anything. 

Speaker 2 (09:20):

Let’s see, my first, I’ve always been like this. My mom took us to protests. My mother took my brother to a protest when they were putting water hoses on black folks down south, and I wasn’t even born yet. So that’s what I was born into. He tells the story about holding my mom’s hand and going on this protest, and he looked at her and said, are they going to put fire hoses on us? She said, no, they’re not. So that’s what I was born into. So I can’t remember a moment. I just remember that moment when, see, I’m of the generation where we were Negroes and then we became black. 

Speaker 1 (09:59):

So 

Speaker 2 (10:01):

I remember that. I remember the idea of black being negative and not being a good thing to be, and then it became a thing. 

Speaker 1 (10:09):

Can you speak to that? What was that movie like? 

Speaker 2 (10:12):

I mean, it’s deep, but it’s a moment of a lot of self doubt, a little bit of self hate. You don’t see black people on tv. If you can imagine, everything was lily white, all the women, all the men. So when we had crushes on people, which you tend to as a little kid, your cisgender girl, I always had a crush on Superman and Johnny Quest and Paul McCartney. And I can remember when the Jackson five came out, it was like a game changer. And of course the black is beautiful movement and we were changing our names and we were wearing afros and stuff. And that’s a huge transition from somebody. If you call somebody black, that is an insult. That means that you are black and ugly. And that’s how people would wield that as a weapon. You black such and such from that to black is beautiful. That is profound. That’s a 180. But we were here for it. We were here for it. And I’ve been here for it ever since. I stopped straightening my hair when I was 19. We had African names I converted to Islam in 1981. I mean, that’s been my trajectory from the moment that I understood our struggle and what we’ve been through at that moment. I was just all in nothing, been all in ever since. 

Speaker 1 (11:43):

It’s an interesting moment that I personally am fascinated with. 

Speaker 2 (11:46):

Yeah, because weird, I guess you probably couldn’t even imagine that. No, and it’s all, a lot of respectability involved in that because certainly people like Sidney Poitier was very symbolic of that time. And of course there were so many others. But just when you think visually about this sort of the negro, the upstanding, the being accredited to your race and all that stuff, all that stuff was stuff that we grew up with. And then when I found out about Malcolm X, it was over. It was over at that point. I was like, this brother and James Baldwin, these were the books that we were reading very early. I was reading this stuff, I’m like 12 years old. All kind of inappropriate things going on in those books. I didn’t necessarily understand, but it was just in the ether, it was just in the air. It’s impactful. 

Speaker 1 (12:44):

Definitely a different era for sure. 

Speaker 2 (12:46):

It is crazy to come to grips with the fact that, damn, I’m that old that I was in a whole other era. I mean, were black and white tv, so no comment. 

Speaker 1 (12:58):

Look, I grew up watching black and white tv. 

Speaker 2 (13:01):

Okay, I don’t understand that. 

Speaker 1 (13:03):

No, we had a old little TV box and it had little knobs you had pulling. So I recall, I’m wondering, given the sort of venue we’re at, if you can reflect on how events like this more broadly, how film can help raise awareness about the issues that affect our communities. 

Speaker 2 (13:31):

Well, how can film raise awareness? I mean, it’s all about access. It’s all about access, and you have a visual element, so it’s going to hold people’s attention. And again, it’s accessible to everyone regardless of your reading level or your interest in history and scholarship. It’s very engaging. It’s a wonderful way to engage people. You’re engaging people visually and in terms of audio. You have music, you have voices, and so the senses are enticed and engaged to go on this journey with you. And that’s pretty dope. 

Speaker 1 (14:10):

As we come to a close here, I’m wondering if you can reflect on a challenge you faced in movements and how you’ve overcome 

Speaker 2 (14:23):

Challenge in movements. Well, I would say, yeah, I couldn’t imagine some challenges. I can remember some challenges that I had back in the anti-apartheid movement, which I was a part of that I think two things. One is the culture. Personality can be very problematic, and I’ve seen that in action. I’ve seen people who have a lot of status and maybe battling with other people for or for attention, which is outside of the issues at hand, but more ego driven. So you see some of that. You see people that are more ego driven than concern for the people, and that can be very detrimental to movements. And how do you handle that? 

Speaker 2 (15:13):

I guess in the times that I faced that, I was in a subordinate position, so I wasn’t in a position to do anything about it. I can remember Jesse Jackson and Ted Kennedy were arguing over who was going to speak first at this anti apartheid rally. And the organizers were like, oh, what are we going to do? These two powerful men, we don’t know how to navigate that. And that wasn’t my problem. So I know for me, I’m not impressed. So I tend to stay away from people like that. Sexism, I would say sexism is another issue. Predatory behavior in the part of men. I can think of some people whose names I will not mention, people admire them, someone just admire mentioned them to me two weeks ago, my friend blah, blah. And I was like, who? I met your friend? In my mind, I’m thinking he was two seconds in the door and asking about who is she with? 

Speaker 2 (16:05):

Is she with somebody just trying to get whatever. And so that’s a huge issue. Sexism is a big issue in movements, and I experienced it even more recently with some of the work I’ve done. People with big egos, people that don’t want to listen to women, people who create a hostile work environment for women. And how do I deal with that at this point? I have no patience. I’m an adult now. I’m not a 20-year-old, not a 30-year-old. So the way that I deal with it is I put people in check real quick. I will let you know you are not that important. You have no power over me, and please do not step to me. Whatever the infraction was, don’t do it again. I remember those were my exact words to a particular coworker who stepped to me very inappropriately. And if I was a man, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have done that. 

Speaker 2 (16:57):

So yeah, just being strong and being confident. Again, once you reach your sixties and your fifties, like, please, please, all the patience runs out. It’s done. It’s done. But also what do you have to be afraid of? And I’ve got a solid family. I know who I am, I’m confident, and I treat people with respect. So I expect the same thing back. And if you come in correct, then we’re going to have problems. And the person has no power over you. It makes it a lot easier. But for a lot of people, they can’t do that either of your age or your subordinate position. I’m completely independent. I don’t work for anybody. So I can say yes, no or whatever to anybody, please. I don’t have a problem doing it. Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for spending some time with me this evening. Appreciate you. Enjoy the event. Yes. What time is it? Do I still have time? I’m going to start.

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