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

Black Resistance Screening: The New Black

The New Black’ is a touching documentary about the gay marriage movement and the fight over civil rights within the African American community in Maryland. The film gives insight into the lives of the activists, families and the church, on both sides of the movement, to legalize gay marriage. The movie also focuses on homophobia within the Black community and the church, as well as the Christian right wing’s plan to take advantage of this phenomenon (in order to move forward with an anti-gay political agenda). The New Black takes viewers to the kitchen tables and tells the story of the fight to win marriage equality, focusing on the main characters of the documentary.
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Icon: Bola De Nieve

The song in this video is an AfroCuban lullaby called “Drume Negrita.” In the song, an AfroCuban mother is trying to sing her baby daughter to sleep. She tells her baby that if she goes to sleep, she’ll buy her a new crib with a cap on it and a bell. I heard this song a lot growing up; when my father was feeling especially nostalgic for home he would sing “Drume Negrita” to himself. In an effort to connect his kids to their culture, he would share little bits of information about the song with us from time to time to help us understand its cultural significance. Like the fact that pronunciation in the song was bit different from standard Spanish because it was sung in an AfroCuban dialect—so “Duermes” turned into “Drume.”

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Looking for Langston

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The man on the right is Ben Ellison, Langston Hughes, and the man on the right is his boyfriend Mathew Baidoo. From the movie “Looking for Langston,” 1989.

Is freedom merely enough? That was a question for most Black people in the United States in 19th and 20th centuries. Harlem had become the destination for most African Americans in the early 1900s. They were looking to find a way to achieve equality and civil rights. With a stronger community in Harlem, Black residents started a movement in 1910 to fight for their American rights. Uniquely, this movement was inspired by various works by Black artists: Three Plays for a Negro Theater, Claude McKay’s If We Must Die, poems by Langston Hughes, and others.

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LGBT Activists in Africa

Image courtesy of timestilve.co

Image courtesy of timestilve.co

I recently listened to an interview about Eliot Elisofon’s exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. Elisofon was a photojournalist for LIFE Magazine and major influence on America’s view of life in Africa. Contrary to much of the reporting on Africa, during his time, Elisofon chose to photograph a more positive reality of the life of Africans. He again came to mind when I was considering how discouraging it can be to discover that many internet search results for activists for LGBT rights in Africa end up being biographies about fearless leaders whose lives have ended in brutal murder, such as Ugandan activist and teacher, David Kato Kisule. As did Elisofon with his photography, I am hoping to highlight a few activists who, despite the risk of being ostracized, attacked and jailed, continue to be vocal in the fight for LGBT rights in Africa.

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Affirming Churches, LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent, and The New Black

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The issue of gay marriage and more broadly – LGBTQ rights – has been strongly debated in state and federal politics.  And though this has been a hot topic at the White House, it is even more controversial in our churches, mosques, synagogues, and places of worship.

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Struggles of The Women of Brewster Place

The Women of Brewster Place miniseries cover. Photo courtesy of imdb.com

The Women of Brewster Place miniseries cover. Photo courtesy of imdb.com

The 1989 miniseries, The Women of Brewster Place, artfully captures the struggles of women as their stories weave together on Brewster Place. Although shown on television more than twenty years ago, the challenges faced by the characters reinforce the need for continued action today.

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