Ella's Song:
We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest Until It Comes

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Song performed a cappella by Heather Day, Jenny McIntosh and Marina Skumanich.

Lyrics and music by Bernice Johnson Reagon
Sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock, Based on the words of Ella Baker

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes 

Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons 

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes 

That which touches me most is that I had a chance to work with people
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me 

To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail
And if I can but shed some light as they carry us through the gale 

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes 

Struggling myself don’t mean a whole lot, I’ve come to realize
That teaching others to stand up and fight is the only way my struggle survives 

I’m a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard
At times I can be quite difficult, I’ll bow to no man’s word 

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes 

Not needing to clutch for power, not needing the light just to shine on me
I need to be one in the number as we stand against tyranny 

The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on
Is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm 

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes 

Reflection on Ella's Song

by Heather Day

Ella’s Song is a freedom song. Written by Bernice Reagon and performed a cappella by the group she founded in 1973, Sweet Honey in the Rock, the song honors the activist Ella Baker. A hero of the civil rights movement, Baker played critical roles in building collective power for racial and economic justice in the southern United States. She led many successful organizing drives working with the NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and many other organizations, with a special appreciation for nurturing young peoples’ roles in movements for human rights. Bernice Reagon is a living legend herself, whose legacy includes bringing a cappella freedom songs to the center of movement-building.
Singing is a way I connect that was disrupted by the pandemic. This disconnection meant not being able to gather anymore in person with my friends and fellow CAGJ comrades Jenny and Marina, with whom I sang Ella’s Song in the recording. It has been exciting to discover new ways of making music together, without really being together. Yet all musicians yearn for in-person music making to re-become who we really are. I’ve felt heartsick without that collective experience, my best form of therapy.
This song has particular significance for me as it represents a legacy that has seen seismic shifts since George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin one year ago to the day I write these words. The year 2020 will always be remembered as a critical turning point in consciousness raising and mobilization, thanks to the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets and used every possible avenue to build the Black Lives Matter movement into such a critical force for change.
It was painful to mostly witness the movement explode from home. As someone with a compromised immune system and just a year out from cancer treatment, I had too many Covid-related fears to partake in many street protests in 2020. It hurt my heart to not be there, and I was triggered watching the police brutality live-streamed late at night, my heart racing from a place that saw similar events unfold in 1999 during the WTO mobilizations. I felt rage at the police and Seattle Mayor, and awe and gratitude for everyone participating and putting their lives on the line, particularly BIPOC organizers who even experimented with what freedom looks like in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, including by farming in Cal Anderson Park.
The Food Sovereignty movement is my home, and I am grateful to be part of this meaning-making that is our 3rd Zine. In this year of disconnect, CAGJ has brought powerful online connection with a worldwide community with whom I collaborate. This year has taught me to always bring song along when we gather to organize, and take to the streets! It helps create the joy we need to feel to keep fighting for freedom until we win.

Learn More

Portrait of Heather
Portrait of Jenny
Portrait of Marina

Heather Day (she/her), Jenny McIntosh (she/her), & Marina Skumanich (she/her)

Heather, Jenny and Marina sing together whenever they can. They believe that joy and justice, music and marching, and singing and solidarity all go hand-in-hand.  For their day jobs, Heather is CAGJ’s Director, and a co-founder. Jenny is Operations Manager at the Tenants Union of Washington State, and Marina works to improve drought prediction and response at NOAA.