First National M4BL Convention a Beacon of Hope

The Movement for Black Lives poster hung on upper level balcony of the Student Center

The Movement for Black Lives banner hung on upper level balcony of the Student Center.

I attended the first national Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) Convening in Cleveland, Ohio and return to say that the movement is alive and strong. This past weekend’s events called into memory our Black elders and youth, our LGB, Queer, and Trans brothers and sisters, and all others whose lives were taken along the way as we struggle for the right to Black humanity. The movement breathes because we breathe, and we work, and we sacrifice.

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Attendees celebrate after taking time to heal together on the Student Center Atrium. Healer [center right] cleanses the space with burning sage [out of frame] as she dances.

That said, revolutionary work is being done because M4BL was a huge success. Nearly one thousand beautiful Black faces showed up in downtown Cleveland for the weekend of July 24th to find community and collectively re-imagine the future of Black society. Culture, organizing, healing, and imagining were some of the focal points of the broad range of activities available for attendees. I had the pleasure of participating in dialogues on Black workers, self-determination through food justice and agriculture, anti-Blackness, and a panel discussion with four ex-Panthers.

What was profound for me at this Convening was the power that emanated from the space, brought on by the union of passionate Black individuals across generations. I felt this energy from my very first session, “#BlackWorkersMatter: The State of Black Worker Organizing in the U.S.”  The fact of our very presence, a collective of black people organizing together when our communities are so often divided, was a sentiment that I heard many in the room echo. Panelist Kimberly Freeman Brown took a moment to publicly acknowledge the intergenerational space, a rarity in her work as a labor organizer, and let the feeling simmer for a while before beginning. One woman exclaimed in a small group discussion that she was experiencing culture shock, seeing so many young people in a space organized around the labor movement.

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Packed classroom full of intergenerational organizers at the Black Workers Matter dialogue.

What made this workshop so powerful, and this held true for the Conference as a whole, was the collective memory generated by the display of ages in the room. We had elders who were more closely touched by the labors of the 20th century civil rights movement, retired union workers, veteran leaders, students, educators, young community leadership, and laborers themselves. Each of us brought our own segment of the Black existential condition from which we came. The result was a lively and impassioned discussion about the kind of labor movement we need to enable economic justice and ensure the health of Black communities. Our conversations were cut short in the interest of time, but we had built up so much momentum that most stuck around to build connections with other community organizers and share experiences. What happened in the #BlackWorkersMatter session was not a rarity. Each of my four sessions, as well as those I observed in passing was pulsing with that same creative, productive energy that will be essential in our next strides towards liberation.

Attendees work together to install activist textile art between organizer sessions.

Attendees work together to install activist textile art between organizer sessions.

A moment ago I mentioned that the Convening was a place where “collective memory” arose. Collective memory refers to a people’s understanding of the world and themselves throughout time as formed by the group’s constituents. The refusal of Black collective memory by White supremacist colonial power has been laden in the fabric of global societies since the origins of the African Diaspora. Our people have been systematically enslaved, colonized, sterilized, incarcerated, mis-educated, and murdered. Our children are born targets for law enforcement and government agencies like Foster Care. Black society is entangled in a world of social deaths that prevent our masses from attaining the cohesion and stability necessary to reconstruct that collective memory which has been withheld from us. With a revived collective memory, we may learn to know and love ourselves as ourselves and not through the lens of Whiteness.

Ex-Panthers [left to right ]Ashanti Alston, Pam Hannah, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, and Hank Jones reflect on Black liberation's past and present movements.

Ex-Panthers [left to right ]Ashanti Alston, Pam Hannah, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, and Hank Jones reflect on Black liberation’s past and present movements.

So, when I say that was an essence of collective memory at M4BL, I foresaw a future of opportunity for our communities to grow and heal as we work across generations in solidarity. When I attended the panel led by former Black Panthers Ashanti Alston, Pam Hannah, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, and Hank Jones (San Francisco 8), they expressed to us that they were not certain they would live to see “the movement” live like this again. This nod from our elders in the struggle is a sign that we have “connected the dots” throughout our history and are on the path to building something great.

M4BL was as educational as it was inspiring, and it reminded me of the need for Black Studies programming in communities. What better way to build collective memory than to educate the masses about Black history, culture, and ideology? When the Black Panther Party was still active, one could not be granted general membership until they had completed a political education class. In their Ten-Point Program, a declaration of ideals, the Panthers wrote, “We believe in an educational system that will give our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else.” The Panthers were active in one of the nation’s peak moments of Black resistance, and they knew that education would be vital the integrity of their struggle. The M4BL Convening was a step towards this reality, as organizers shared their understanding of the Black condition. Black Studies programming with be another step towards the reification of our humanity.

On the closing of the second day of M4BL, after hearing words from the families of our recently slain, trans activist Miss Major, and other community organizers, we entered into a chant. Together we repeated, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” We shouted this aloud a few times and on our last round, Kendrick Lamar’s Alright began to play on the auditorium speakers. The crowd burst into celebration. While there is much work to do, I left Cleveland excited for what is to come. I am hopeful and optimistic, because in time, I know “We gon’ be alright.”

A child runs through a large circle of attendees performing a ritual of healing and solidarity.

A child runs through a large circle of attendees performing a ritual of healing and solidarity.

by Rhyston Mays
rhyston.m@progressivepupil.org

STOP and FLY

St. Edmonds Tenants of Chicago Protesting for Better Housing Conditions. Image Courtesy of STOP.

St. Edmonds Tenants of Chicago Protesting for Better Housing Conditions. Image Courtesy of STOP.

STOP and FLY are two grassroots organizations bringing together residents from the Southside of Chicago to fight back against injustice. In an area that is known for its lower-income residents and higher crime rates, it is important for the community to empower themselves and demonstrate for their needs.

Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) brings the community together and has two focuses: mental health and housing. STOP tries to erase the stigma of mental illness and mental health services. While doing so, the organization rallies for the right to healthcare. One example of the Southside residents’ effort was the continuous petitioning for a trauma center in their area so people could receive needed the medical care. Through cooperation with different tenant associations, STOP advocates to improve housing in the neighborhood. The Housing Justice Program also works with subsidized housing councils in order to liaise for their stakeholders’ rights.
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What does Activism do?

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Happy Black August!

AFROPUNK and Progressive Pupil are co-curating Activism Row: an interactive, inspirational and informative experience to be featured at AFROPUNK Fest 2014 (August 23 and 24 at Commodore Barry Park, Brooklyn). Activism Row’s goals are to facilitate voter registration, inform youth about civic participation opportunities and to encourage the festival’s multicultural audience to envision themselves making a difference. Highlighting social justice as a work of art, Activism Row shows activism lives today in communities of color.

Today, Activism Row launched an Indigegogo campaign to raise funds for the costs associated with producing the festival, which include staff, signage and programs.  You can support this effort by making a tax-deductible contribution and sharing the link (http://igg.me/at/AFROPUNKActivismRow14) with your friends, family and colleagues. Rock star perks are available for your generosity including VIP passes to the festival, which features D’Angelo and Meshell Ndegeocello, a chance to get on stage and more.

Activism Row features local non-profits that advance racial equality by solving urgent community problems such as violence, mass incarceration and HIV/AIDS. In addition, voter registration will be available. On-line and in person, Activism Row will provide AFROPUNK’s audience—who are predominately youth—the empowering opportunity to see themselves as agents of social change. By showing #ActivismLives, this exciting exhibition reveals that the best time for social change is NOW!

I hope to see you later this month at AFROPUNK FEST.  If you have suggestions for organizations that should participate in Activism Row, please share at facebook.com/ProgressivePupil.

In solidarity,

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Robin J. Hayes, PhD

Principal Organizer

Instagram @robinjhayes

progressivepupil.org

facebook.com/progressivepupil

twitter.com/@PPupil

The Problems Are So Big. What Can I Do?

A young girl at a demonstration for the release of Nelson Mandela circa the 1960s. Photo courtesy of the ANC archives.

A young girl at a demonstration for the release of Nelson Mandela circa the 1960s. Photo courtesy of the ANC archives.

I am optimistic that we can create change because I meet so many people from different walks of life who ask me the same question: “What can I do?” Because they know I’m a Black studies professor and documentary filmmaker, many airplane seatmates, taxi drivers, the owner of the bodega around the corner, my friends who work in advertising and corporate law and other everyday people I encounter share their profound concerns about racial inequality with me. I don’t need to convince them that violence is causing a crisis in Black communities around the world, that there is not enough educational opportunity and health care access or that our prison system is unjust. They are well aware that the world needs to change, yet these same intelligent and capable folks are rarely involved in any organization that is trying to make a difference. They often ask me, “Robin, the problems are so big. What can I do?”

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See Yourself Clearly

Faces and Phases Exhibition.  South African lesbian artist Zanele Muholi. Courtesy of artnews.org

Faces and Phases Exhibition. South African lesbian artist Zanele Muholi. Courtesy of artnews.org

Is your nonprofit organizing an empowering local event? Is a neighborhood gallery or community-based museum exhibiting your art? Are you an independent filmmaker, writer or musician creating work that inspires and excites? Share your creativity and political action with us so we can share it with the world. Email community@progressivepupil.org a photo or video clip with a few words about your event, art exhibition or current project so that you and other progressive pupils can see your work clearly on our blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Commencements

Congratulations to our interns Rebecca Alvy and Alexis Hancock for earning their Master’s in Management from The New School.

Congratulations to our former interns Rebecca Alvy and Alexis Hancock for earning their Master’s in Management from The New School.

¡Viva Class of 2013! Progressive Pupil celebrates the achievements of graduates who are fighting for racial equality and human rights. Their diplomas and tassels symbolize the aspirations of many young people to learn and improve — aspirations that too few are able to fulfill. After the understandable euphoria of commencement settles into the reality of work life (or the reality of searching for work), I hope this cohort continues their commitment to making this dream possible for others.

At my own school’s commencement ceremony this year, I was reminded of the true value of an education. I watched with my fellow professors as each student grinned with anticipation of hearing their name, proudly shook the Dean’s hand and triumphantly posed with their degrees for a personal crowd of supporters who cheered and demanded poses for a camera. Afterward, my colleagues and I met our students’ parents, partners, aunts and cousins and for the first time connected faces to the life experiences students brought to our classrooms.

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What Do You Think?

Girl reading comic book in newsstand, c. 1940–1945. Photograph by Charles “Teenie” Harris courtesy of Eyes on Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Museum of Art

Girl reading comic book in newsstand, c. 1940–1945. Photograph by Charles “Teenie” Harris courtesy of Eyes on Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Museum of Art.

This blog along with Progressive Pupil’s social media, internship program and the documentary Black and Cuba are all how we fulfill our goal to make Black studies for everybody and encourage participation in grassroots organizations. We want to help you be informed, empowered and supported.

Your input is essential to our success. Any Black studies questions you’d like us to answer? Any issues or organizations you want to see more of? Want us to spread the word about your great nonprofit or activist collective? Would you like to share your art, poetry or upcoming film? Get in touch with us so we can share what you need. You can reach us in the comments section of this post or by emailing us at vedan.a@progressivepupil.org. You can also let us know what you think on Facebook or Twitter. We’re already excited to hear from you!

Making it Home

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Photo courtesy of Global Fund for Women and Josh Warren-White.

In the United States – whether we are aware of it or not – domestic workers play a huge role in most of our lives. Some of us had nannies growing up, have relatives that work as in-home caretakers for elderly people, or babysat our way through college. Furthermore, 47 percent of Americans have used or would consider using household cleaning help. In any case, we know that these types of jobs require the employer to put the people and things they care about the most into the hands of another person. And yet, until recently, domestic workers had very few rights. While they work tirelessly to maintain homes and care for loved ones, they struggle to support their own families – living on low wages and often no health care. How is it possible that the basic rights of a group – totaling 1.8 million in the United States – could be disregarded for so many years?

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Fighting for a DREAM

Supporters of the DREAM Act rallied in Fresno, California on November 19, 2010. Photo courtesy of Mike Rhodes.

Supporters of the DREAM Act rallied in Fresno, California on November 19, 2010. Photo courtesy of Mike Rhodes.

Take a moment and imagine yourself at your dream college or university. You have worked extremely hard to get yourself to where you stand and are about to graduate. Your adviser, parents, close family and friends all commend you on your successes but there is one dilemma. You will have earned this degree with excellent grades and exceptional knowledge but you are undocumented, which will prevent you from joining the workforce.

Thousands of undocumented students graduate from high schools and colleges every year with hopes of a decent future. Their ineligibility to legally work and receive financial aid stalls, diverts and derails their educational and economic trajectories, often bringing their dreams, successes and ambitions to a screeching halt. Perhaps even more terrifying, these youth are fearful that they will be deported at any time to an unfamiliar country that most of them left when they were infants.

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Request Lines are Open

Don Cheadle, as legendary Washington DC activist and radio DJ Petey Greene in the 2007 film Talk to To Me.

Your voice is important and powerful. We want you to be heard. Want us to spread the word about your great nonprofit or activist collective? Any Black studies questions you’d like us to answer?  Would you like Progressive Pupil to share your art, poetry or upcoming film screening? Our request lines are always open.

Get in touch so we can share more of what you need on the Progressive Pupil’s blog and social media. You can reach us by leaving a comment or by emailing us at progressivepupil@beautifulmes.com. You can also let us know what you think on Facebook or Twitter.

We are excited to hear from you. Your input is essential to our success.