Nas joins a growing list of black celebrities and figures like Kevin Hart and Henry Louis Gates Jr. in ensuring black history and causes are getting the attention it deserves. For Black History Month, the New York rapper is using his clothing brand HSTRY to aid in black children's development. The brand launched an exclusive line of dashikis with the phrase, "Black Don't Crack" to support the cause. He is also taking a queue from the Black Panthers and James Brown with the quotes, "Say It Loud" and "I’m Black And I’m Proud" on graphic tees and sweatshirts. Malcolm X inspired hats are also part of the line. Part of proceeds from sales will go to the National Black Child Development Institute. According to the organization's website, "the Institute is one of the only national organizations dedicated exclusively to the success and well-being of black children." The group "serves as a national resource agency providing programs, publications, advocacy and trainings related to early childhood care and education; health and wellness; literacy and family engagement."About the collection, Nas told The Huffington Post, "This collection is about turning things around and instilling positivity. Celebrating being black in a loud and fun way." He continued, "Taking a much-needed moment to be proud of the achievements we have made, our colorful culture, black royalty and excellence from the past, present, and future."The collection also features a pro-black series of popular cartoon characters like Bart Simpson and Charlie Brown. Take a look at some of the line:Photos: HSTRYLoving Blavity’s content? Sign up for our...
"Our voices weren't heard last night, but that doesn't mean we are silent." That's how Morgan's email closed. When my friend and fellow member of the black Washington University community that coined the very term 'Blavity,' sent those words, that's all I could think about. Choosing to keep being our loud, boisterous, bold, unapologetic black selves takes on a different meaning when the first black president hands the keys to the White House to a man supported by the KKK. The threat is different. The risk is greater. Our voices now carry with them additional responsibility and additional propensity to bring harm to the speaker.
But we know silence is not an option. Not now, not ever. Silence was never an option for those of us who know oppression. Sister Zora made sure we knew it: "When you are silent about your pain, they can kill you and say you enjoyed it." If we don't share our suffering and our joy truthfully and from our own mouths, we allow others to craft our narrative and define us. Worse yet, those same people will carve out the outcomes they deem appropriate for us. When we don't have a clear say and exert our innate power over how our neighborhoods are policed, how our homes are zoned, or how are children are educated, we end up dead with folks saying we enjoyed it.
We have within us the creativity, the talent and the capacity to tell our stories accurately and to voice the expectations and solutions we wish to see in our community. One election doesn't silence that. One (maybe) president-elect doesn't undermine that. The power to define our future is not something I am willing to give away, no matter who occupies the Oval Office.
What is necessary now is disciplined, organized thought and action about exactly how we make ourselves heard. Now is the time to keep making our unbridled passion meet thoughtful strategy and unencumbered imagination about what's possible. The fight of the past two years was not new, but engaged a great many of us in brand new ways. During those years, we have spent time waging real moral battles against our potential demise and gaining traction around the world. I propose that we have also, in these past two years, been prepared for this very moment. With every organizer, activist, poet, artist, candidate, leader or builder born or grown in the past two years, we have surrounding us an army fully trained and prepared to wage the battle in new ways. We are more ready than ever to continue a provocative protest movement. We are more ready than ever to run slates of progressive candidates who legislate on our issues with us in mind. We are more ready than ever to place more minds at critical decision making tables and more thought leadership into academia.
We are the ones we've been waiting for — silence isn't an option.
So, how do we best make our voices heard? How do we speak up in ways that will both disrupt the status quo and orchestrate the change we seek?
There's nothing worse than someone who's loud and wrong. We've all been there — you don't have to be embarrassed. But when you know better, do better.
This movement must protect the lives of *all* black people — and we are wise to stand in solidarity with other oppressed people around the world. Not just because we have strength in numbers, but because it is the moral choice. That means staying informed on what it means to build inclusive movements, reading up on the histories and steeping ourselves in the cultures of communities that intersect with and stand next to ours. (Real talk: We lose if this movement is only for cisgendered straight black men and we lose if the movement demonizes them, too. Looking at you, Twitter.)
We should know the police violence stats in Cleveland just as well as we know the affects of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Native lands and American water drinkers. When you choose to use your voice, be sure to be informed, speak the truth, and think ahead about the potential of using your platform to build rather than destroy.
Because our voices matter, we have to target them to the places and use them in ways that allow us to maximize our impact. Taking an Anti-Trump protest to the White House when he doesn't yet live there may not be the best move. Organizing drum circles around the banks and corporations that benefit from the pipeline is provocative in truly profound ways. Organizing is a discipline: What most of us see in the street is the result of thoughtful planning, strategic effort and community engagement.
If you aren't yet trained in the skill, that's ok. The good news about the past two years — or rather, the entire history of being black in America — is that lots of people have been doing this for a bit and are always looking to add to the number. Join a protest for an organization you trust and see how you can be involved in supporting the next one. Learn by doing and make sure that the organizations or individuals you engage with truly share your values. As you learn essential skills, you'll continue to equip yourself with the ability to move whenever the moment calls for it.
Be a voice at every level
Should Trump enter the White House (a victory many of us have not yet conceded — looking at you, popular vote and electoral college), the work of the next four years will be just as much about mitigating harm as it is about ensuring we still make progress. Much of that can happen at the state level, local level, and in working with career appointees at various federal agencies.
Many of the issues you may have with police violence are about your municipality’s policies. Are their policies public? Is there citizen oversight? What does the union contract look like? Do they have public meetings? Research these questions and others like them, then take action. Show up at those meetings with a clear policy agenda and bring your coalition with you. Be a thorn in the side of your public servants. After all, they derive their power from us. You're the boss.
Be passionate and strategic
We have to dream radically and act purposefully. This is why protest and policy work hand in hand: Protest creates crisis-and policy brings solutions. Sheer passion alone won’t win the change we seek, nor will meek policy proposals with no power behind them. Be as diverse in your approach as we are as a people. My friend Kayla Reed, a brilliant organizer from Ferguson, led a street shut down by chanting and playing street games with hundreds of our protest family and families from the neighborhood willing to join in. Imagine the consternation of those who'd like us to open the street when they saw protestors playing hopscotch and jacks and two black millennials teaching a white grandmother to double Dutch? It was a brilliant strategy that brought out joy, passion, and even a few more folks to the cause. From there, she has organized local educational brunches on ballot initiatives affecting black folks, assembled one-of-a-kind debates for critical civic positions where real people asked real questions, supported campaigns for activists who successfully ran for office, and unites everyday with other struggles in solidarity. Like Kayla, imagine what's possible and then take the deliberate, creative and international steps to get there.
We will never be silent — that’s just not who we are. So let's stand up. Let's keep choosing to be our loud, boisterous, bold, unapologetic black selves. Most importantly — let's win.
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Community is a very important concept that brings us together as people. It describes an experience that is so common and so natural to us as humans that we rarely take notice toward its definition, nor do we analyze what it truly means. It can be described as a place of common values, a system or a network.
Community is a vital part of our lives, and in so many ways, it creates, molds and shapes us into the people we are today. It's so complex, but the main (and certainly the most important) part of a community is the people. We long for connection with others almost like a fundamental part of our human existence. These shared experiences unite us as one and can also be instruments for social change. What makes our communities great are the efforts put forth by the people who reside in it, those who get involved and those who participate when it matters most. We need to give back.
So, we asked Blavity's Creative Society to share 21 ways to get involved and to make a difference in your community:
2. Volunteer your time (onebrick, NY Cares, Street Project, hospitals, seniors)
3. Shop locally
4. Supporting local small businesses
5. Donate materials (food, clothes, etc.) to local schools and shelters
6. Local book drive to provide schools with proficient libraries/improve literacy
7. Highway cleanup
8. Start a neighborhood community group around a sport or even just for a cookout or potluck. This helps with building and maintaining relationships for strong communities.
9. Serve/prepare food at homeless shelter
10. Organize your own event
11. Mentor (iMentor, ANY, BBBS, Minds Matter)
12. Invest time and research into local politics
13. Volunteer as a coach or activity supervisor for after-school programs at local public schools
14. Organize weekend programs for youth
15. Participate in philanthropic sport clubs or recreational leagues
16. Utilize connections with local politicians to address issues directly in communities now that we can pinpoint them with the help of social media.
17. Get connected in young professional or city organizations
18. Volunteer at your local community garden as well as utilize the fruits and vegetables as a local market (if grown correctly/organically)
19. Learn & teach financial literacy
20. Invest in neighborhood spaces with local home/business/asset ownership (can organize a group from the community)
21. Join or start a neighborhood watch program
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Exploring your identity is one of the most essential components to being content with yourself. There are a variety of ways to embrace one's identities, whether they be on a personal or national level. American Stanzas: 2006-2016 with Rachel Eliza Griffiths, a poetry exhibition exploring just that, opens Friday at Poets House in New York.
The project explores how race, activism and art itself intersect, subjects that couldn't be more timely. She explores various black identities and the spaces they live within.
American Stanzas consists of mixed media work, video and even Griffith's Cave Canem fellowship portraits from the past decade. Some poets featured include Amiri Baraka, Toi Derricotte, Carl Phillips, Mahogany Browne, Morgan Parker, Terrance Hayes and more.
Rachel Eliza Griffiths, the artist behind the exhibit, has work featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. She's Brooklyn-based and focuses on both poetry and visual art. And Poets House is a poetry library that's open to the public 5-days-a-week, hosting poetry events, craft talks, master classes, community workshops and more.
Whether you want inspiration or just want to celebrate being black in America through art appreciation, grab a friend and check out the exhibit between now and Feb. 18, 2017. Support black art!
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Nielsen released a report full of data regarding black millennials today, and you should probably read it. It analyzes how we interact with technology, social media, television, the entertainment industry and unique spending habits.
TL:DR; We’re leading the cultural charge and using technology and representation to break barriers and create new opportunities.
Check out some of the major takeaways below:
African-American millennials are 14 percent of the total millennial population in the U.S. and 25% of the total black population
91% of black people own smartphones -- and we’re the second-largest multicultural group regarding smartphone ownership. Social networking sites are a major tool for interacting with our peers, staying in tune with news and entertainment and yes, even social justice. That being said, 55% of black millennials spend at least one hour per day on social networking sites, which is 6% higher than all millennials.
We watch about 12.5 more hour of tv per week than the overall number for millennials, coming in at nearly 33 hours (both live and recorded television). And when watching TV, we want to see celebrities who look like us and come from similar backgrounds.
Four of the top network TV shows among African-American millennials (Empire, Scandal, Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta 5 and How to Get Away With Murder) have black creators, co-creators or executive producers and black casts or leading characters.
Black women are leading the charge in education, holding 65% of bachelor’s degrees, 70% of master’s degrees and 64% of doctorate degrees awarded to black Americans.
And 70.9% of African-American recent high school graduates enrolled in college (compared to 67.3% of white recent high school graduates) according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Black millennials have $162 billion in buying power, and the black population in general had $1.2 trillion in 2015, projected to hit $1.4 trillion by 2020.
Black households with income less than $25k dropped from 43% to 37% between 2004 and 2014. In that same time period, the number of black households with $50-75k increased 18% (compared to 2% of total U.S.) and with $100k+ increased 95% (compared to 66% of total population).
And we’re purposeful with where we spend our money. More than half of African-Americans would pay extra for a product that is consistent with an image we want to convey, 38% expect the brands we buy from to support the social causes we care about, and 45% will share our opinions online after purchasing a product or service.
62% of African-Americans buy based on quality, 77% will stick to a brand we like and 66% will buy from a company we already trust, even if the price is higher. But we won’t ignore a good deal. 70% of African-Americans agree that store brands can be just as effective as name-brand products, so brands shouldn’t assume we’ll buy their product off of brand loyalty alone.
And black entrepreneurship is thriving, too. Businesses owned by black women make up 59% of all black businesses, a 67% increase since 2007.
Our power in the future
The election is coming up, and as seen in the 2012 election, African-Americans had the highest voter registration and turnout of any demographic in the U.S. This is why black voters are so important for candidates to address and listen to.
Overall, African-Americans are the most optimistic segment about the future. 49% believe the U.S. is headed in the right direction, but we also recognize and are vocal about the work that still needs to be done. We want housing, quality healthcare, childcare, college and healthy food — all of which we want to be affordable.
And this optimism and determination shows on a personal level too. 73% of black millennials have a goal to make it to the top of their profession, and 48% of black millennials strive for high social status.
Check out these stats and get even more info about how lit you really are in the full report, available here.
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Whether it’s Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, Beyoncé performing “Formation” at the Super Bowl, or the widespread demonstrations and conversations centered around the black experience in America, the collective consciousness of being black is a more common topic of conversation than ever. Evident as early as May 2015, EBONY magazine asked “Are We Witnessing the Emergence of A Black Spring?“
Today, we look for positive representation, up-to-date dialogue and cultural pride not only in our social circles, but in the mainstream. All media; television, movies, music, books, fashion and even our classrooms are elements of our life we want to connect with our blackness. It’s not enough to watch a funny movie — we want a funny movie that resonates with our experience and uplifts our communities by providing opportunities for black actors and employing talented people of color behind-the-scenes, too. Just take Ava DuVernay’s flawless display of an #InclusiveCrew on the set of Queen Sugar. Or how about Donald Glover’s Atlanta? These projects are backed by and tailored to an authentic black experience. And we love it.
And who can blame us? It’s not like staying silent and giving in to the status quo has done us any good. This year alone, we’ve seen the murders of Terence Crutcher, Keith Lamont Scott and so many more. For most of us, it hurts to check the news each morning. And with the presidential candidates set up the way they are, there’s not an aspect of our daily lives that doesn’t remind us why these protests, pushes for representation and open dialogues are necessary. But through both the tragedies we’ve endured and the incredible progress we’ve made, one positive has come of it all — our unity. The communities we form after both hard times and huge successes are incredible. And within these communities is where we need to create opportunities to continue to uplift the diaspora. Rather than wait on opportunities to be presented to us, it’s important to invest in ourselves and each other.
So although our collective consciousness might look different from the civil rights movement and fights for equality in the past, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t just as important. The technology and ease of communication we see nowadays allows us to spread our message and have more frequent and specific conversations that bring the right people together to help move us forward.
We’ve already seen a rise in people openly and pointedly supporting and promoting black creatives, buying from black-owned businesses, etc. It’s incredible to see the impact our community can have when we come together, uplift each other’s voices and support our narratives.
There’s a misconception that supporting black businesses is limiting, but that’s simply not true. Just like the variety we demand in other areas of our life, there are so many brands providing exactly what you’re looking for. Do you want books written by black authors that present characters you can relate to and embrace the Blerd culture you love? They’re out there!
Are you tired of sacrificing conscious shopping to get the fashion looks that you want? There’s a solution out there for that, too. Founded in January of this year, BLKR is an online marketplace selling high quality, forward-thinking fashion. At its core, the brand cares about three things: The look, the quality and the message. And really, shouldn’t that be the focus of every brand we support? We want to put our money where it can make an impact. Which brands are worried about providing us with what we want, making it of the highest quality, testing their materials and supporting the causes that mean something to us on a personal level? Those are the ones we should support.
For example, BLKR reinvests in black business and tech startups. As a brand, they hold the broader goal of using money to create opportunity in the black community.
Sure, it’s easy to chase after what’s trendy or pick up whatever’s trending on Instagram, but that’s not really what this generation is about. We haven’t been silent about the violence against our community by those hired to protect us. We haven’t been quiet about cultural appropriation and erasure. We haven’t been quiet about the systemic racism that keeps our history out of classrooms. And we shouldn’t be complacent about where we spend our money. As a purchasing block, we spend $1.1 trillion a year. The next level of the Black Spring is to spend our money where it counts.
Preorder is live on BLKR now. Check it out at blkr.us!
This post is sponsored by BLKR.
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Colin Kaepernick is putting his money where his activism is. The 49ers quarterback who came into the spotlight by not standing during the national anthem in protest of police brutality, is donating $1 million to communities in need.
On Thursday night after the 49ers' preseason finale against the Chargers, Kaepernick made the announcement. He stated that he plans to donate the first $1 million he earns to charities that help communities in need.
"I've been very blessed to be in this position and to be able to make the kind of money I do," Kaepernick said, "And I have to help these people. I have to help these communities. It's not right that they're not put in a position to succeed or given those opportunities to succeed."
This move is perhaps one of the best ones Kaepernick could've made. When he first protested, people tried to belittle him by critiquing his dedication to activism because he's a well-paid athlete. Now, he's backing his actions with funding.
But the critiques against his identity didn't end there. They also questioned his blackness, but on Thursday night, Kaepernick came out with the fro.
Black Twitter showed support with #KapSoBlack.
@MoreandAgain started the trending topic and the rest of Black Twitter chimed in.
Bruh. Kap's fro. . . . #KapSoBlack he got a diamond in the back, sunroof top, digging the scene with the gangsta lean. Woohoooooooo.
— Cocky McSwagsalot (@MoreAndAgain) September 2, 2016
Because with a fro like that...
#KapSoBlack he sent in a letter saying he'll only stand if they change the anthem to 'knuck if you buck'
— でじことdex digital (@dexdigi) September 2, 2016
#KapSoBlack the only anthem he's standing up for is the International Player's Anthem. pic.twitter.com/1uzAYPFkpS
— Ashley Christina (@_itsashleyc_) September 2, 2016
Many just want to braid it.
#KapSoBlack Rachel Dolezal wanna braid his hair & have his babies. pic.twitter.com/vJkfb8Ov52
— britni danielle (@BritniDWrites) September 2, 2016
#KapSoBlack I just wanna sit him between my legs and part his hair and rub some Murrays in it pic.twitter.com/SxNIALYV8m
— Glowing Keyblade (@Tinytay19) September 2, 2016
And some people are convinced he'a from another era.
#KapSoBlack there will be a Soul Train scramble during half time. pic.twitter.com/nGrd7bC3Zr
— WhatFreshHellisThis? (@LisaBolekaja) September 2, 2016
#KapSoBlack this is how he arrives to practice. pic.twitter.com/9Rjw0hrx76
— Leon Mormont (@mrthompson) September 2, 2016
But this one took us out.
#kapsoblack Kris Jenner is on the phone with his publicist RIGHT NOW, arranging a date for Kourtney .
— Grace Blackleaf (@unicorninkk) September 2, 2016
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Athletes taking a political stance against something is absolutely nothing new. Times being what they are, it's no surprise that we're witnessing more and more athletes show their activism by protesting in revolutionized ways.
Most recently, Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the 49ers and Myke Tavarres, rookie linebacker for the Eagles, have opted not to stand during the national anthem in response to America's treatment of minorities.
"We've got an issue in this country in this day and age, and I feel like somebody needs to step up and we all need to step up," Tavarres said to ESPN. "We've got that right. There's just a lot going on that people don't want to talk about, and I feel like us as athletes, we're looked at as role models. And I feel like with Colin Kaepernick, he's doing a great job for standing up in what he believes in, and most people may not like that, but that's his opinion, he's entitled to it, and I respect him for doing it." Tavarres later decided to stand for the anthem.
What Kaepernick is standing for is a form of protest just like Tommie Smith and John Carlos holding up their fists at the 1968 Olympics and Muhammad Ali denouncing the Vietnam War.
One famous black athlete, in particular, wrote about his feelings on the national anthem, and that athlete is none other than America's great baseball legend, Jackie Robinson.
In his autobiography I Never Had it Made, published shortly after his death in 1972, Robinson wrote the following excerpt:
"There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made."
Kaepernick lives in a world different from the world Robinson, Smith, Carlos and Ali grew up in. This is not to compare them and say that all of them are they same. They are not. However, the actions of protests are rooted in controversy, and anytime someone goes against the mainstream or does something that is unpopular, you better believe the media clapback will ensue.
After Ali's passing earlier this year, people across the nation revered the beloved champion for what he stood for, and he deserved every drop of that reverence. Yet certain people seemed to forget why Ali protested the war in the first place or that he was vilified by the media as well. The vilification was oh so real. He was one of the most hated public figures in America. And at the time of Ali's stance, many other athletes and public figures viewed him as being too radical, including Jackie Robinson.
You may agree or disagree with Kaepernick's decision, but this is how he chooses to protest, and his protest is peaceful. The situation is layered, but Kaepernick's actions shouldn't be taken at face value. People in protest are rarely ever popular in the mainstream at the time they are protesting, but at the end of the day, Colin Kaepernick isn't fazed about it.
Robinson and Ali were also unbothered. History is making a loud statment about black athletes and their relationship with America...again. We hear you.
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We all know race is a hot button topic. From national news to contemporary music to social media timelines, the conversation is seemingly impossible to ignore. But apparently that's not the case for everyone. According to a recent Pew Research Study, 67 percent of white social media users say they never post or share posts about race on their timelines.
This might not come as a surprise as conventional etiquette tends to shy from public discussions about hot button, passion-inducing topics like politics, race and religion. And for those who don't have to deal with the daily stresses of racism, talking about race can feel daunting or overwhelming.
Conversely, the study reveals that black users are less likely to skirt the conversation. According to the Pew Study, "Some 28% of black social media users say at least some of the things they share or post on social networking sites are about race or race relations, including 8% who say this applies to most of their posts." And only 42 percent of black social media users said that they never post or share posts about race on their timelines.
Aside from being personally impacted by race and racism, for black people, social media has been a powerful political tool. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have played a major role in exposing blatant instances of racism and injustice that permeate our lives. Movements including Black Lives Matter have mobilized using social media, but according to this research study, we might be preaching to the choir.
What do you think of the study? Let us know in the comments below!
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The hymn "We Shall Overcome" is a staple for providing inspiration and hope within our community. But when we sing "We shall overcome, we shall overcome someday," when is "someday?" A group of celebrities teamed up with filmmaker Tommy Oliver for the #SomedayIsToday campaign, hosted on Campaign Zero's website, to ask and answer that very question.
In the video above, Hosea Chanchez, Affion Crockett, Michael Ealy, Kimberly Elise, Keisha Epps, Meagan Good, Luis Guzman, Aja Naomi King, Boris Kodjoe, Nicole Ari Parker, Kendrick Sampson, Tika Sumpter, Larenz Tate, Marlon Wayans and Rutina Wesley read some of the historic lyrics before asking, "when is someday?"
A statement at the end of the video reads, "We have been fighting against systemic racism, wrongful incarceration and police brutality for longer than most of us have been alive."
The campaign is hosted on Campaign Zero's website. It is an organization that believes "we can live in a world where the police don't kill people," and has actionable plans and policy solutions to get us to that point.
Johnetta Elzie is a protestor and organizer from St. Louis and a member of the Campaign Zero planning team. In a statement to Blavity, Elzie says:
"I'm just extremely happy to know that this many black celebrities are aware of the police violence in our community. And are willing to use their visibility, privilege and gifts to help spread awareness. Representation matters on all fronts. Campaign Zero is glad we were able to partner with such amazing people."
And even more celebrities are down with the cause, as showcased in this quick video below:
Visit www.WhenIsSomeday.com to find out more and see how you can help.
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Blavity sat down with Charlene Carruthers, the national director of BYP100. Carruthers is a black, queer feminist community organizer and writer with more than 12 years of experience in racial justice, feminist and youth leadership development movement work.
Blavity: Tell us about yourself, your history with organizing and why you decided to join BYP100
Charlene Carruthers: I was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago, in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. Which was, when I was growing up, [a] mostly Mexican American and Mexican immigrant neighborhood. My family was one of the few black families that lived in the neighborhood, if not the only black family at that time, so from a very early age my parents emphasized two things. One, we had to get a good education and two, that we should respect people no matter who they were.
However, the reality around us and the context in which we lived was counter to what my parents were pushing. It was growing up here that taught me what power over folks lives could look like, and what power over black folks lives specifically looked like. So I carry those understandings with me in the organizing work that I do. I've been an activist and an organizer now for over 12 years and have had the opportunity to organize across communities and across issues ranging from immigrant rights to reproductive justice, general civil rights and racial justice issues as well.
In 2013 I was a participant and on a small planning committee and I met Cathy Cohen shortly after I moved back home. I was living in NYC at the time and I realized that [I'd] never organized in the place I grew up in and it was necessary for me to learn the landscape here in Chicago. So I met Cathy Cohen, the founder of the Black Youth Project, after a group of young black folks here said that they wanted to have a national convening. She had the resources for it and hosted a convention of 100 black activists from across the country. We were then tasked with thinking about black liberation work beyond electoral politics, especially in the aftermath of the election of the first black president.
That Saturday night we were going to have a social event and that's when we learned of the George Zimmerman verdict. I do believe very firmly that had we not been gathered that particular weekend, BYP100 would not exist — not the way it exists today or at all perhaps. I came into this convening not with the intention of starting an organization, but I was with other people who made a decision in the moment to do something collectively moving forward.
NOW: BYP100 Durham Chapter joins other community groups and residents including SONG and the #Sayhername Durham Collective in a large action protesting the abuse of the institution of policing. ‘Durham Rally Against Police Terror’ is a continuation of the ‘Durham Beyond Policing’ campaign and demonstration amidst the national actions calling out the violence of police in our communities. BYP100 joins hundreds of Durham residents outside of the Chapel Hill Street Durham Police Department as we gather to call for a swift divestment from the police and oppose Durham City Council’s vote to move forward with a new $71 million police headquarters. Photo via @DurhamBeyondPolicing #FreedomNow #FundBlackFutures
A photo posted by BYP 100 (@byp100) on Jul 21, 2016 at 3:59pm PDT
B: One of my favorite parts about BYP100 is that you make holistic energy a central part to your organizing. Talk to us more about why using a love and culture-centered approach is necessary.
CC: Our core value comes out of how we started. There was a lot of singing, a lot of chanting, particularly by folks who work and live out in Oakland. Really using holistic energy is a broader manifestation of who we are as black people. No matter where we are in the world, black folks celebrate through song, through raising our voices, through creativity, its an opportunity for us to channel our energy and to build ourselves up not just as individuals, but as a collective. Every movement has their song. For us, it is absolutely crucial. We are whole people. We are not just people who care about campaigns and issues. We are folks with history,, with traumas with ideas, I think that value in our work and how it shows up allows us to embody ourselves as whole human beings.
B: A part of your mission that I really appreciate is where it states "members must be committed to building a black politic in a black queer, feminist/womanist positive space." What are your thoughts on how imperative this is to black liberation?
CC: Fannie Lou Hamer once said "nobody is free until everybody is free." I carry that with me in everything that I do. In our organization, we push ourselves to actually embody that. To put up or show up in the work that we do. As much as it sounds great, it is difficult to put into practice. We oftentimes fall short. Our values are aspirational and it requires us to work at it and practice. We cannot do the work of black liberation that leaves out our people. Developing a habit that is based in radical inclusivity and one that follows in a legacy of black feminist and black queer organizing that existed before many of us were even alive is essential to us doing work that's meaningful.
The #NOLA chapter of #BYP100 just finished a #FundBlackFutures action in front of the courthouse for the #FightFor15 National #DayOfAction. We're currently marching to NOPD headquarters then to Sheriff Gusmans office to let them know our message - we want larger investment in economic opportunities for New Orleans, not in our policing and incarceration. People who have been criminalized and incarcerated face some of the largest barriers to accessing jobs with living wages. As the incarceration capital of the world and a city which sees large revenues from tourism, New Orleans stands at the intersection of mass criminalization and economic disinvestment in the local community. Join us at 5:30pm at Congo Square for our last action of the day with #FightFor15 and allies as we demand a living wage for New Orleanians as well as a divestment from policing and incarceration as strategies to make our communities safer
A photo posted by BYP 100 (@byp100) on Apr 14, 2016 at 11:24am PDT
B: Tell us more about the Agenda to Build Black Futures and why Economic Justice is a major staple of your mission?
CC: We don't separate economic justice from racial justice. Neither is possible without the other. We know that while policing institutions continue to receive resources to fund their pensions, our people are also not receiving the resources needed to have quality public schools, good jobs, and comprehensive healthcare. And so we found ourselves at a place where we were getting involved with the Fight for 15 and we were clear that we needed to play a role in expanding the conversation of what was at stake in this movement.
So we initiated what ended up being a yearlong process of developing our economic justice policy platform, the Agenda to Build Black Futures. It didn't even have a name until we had an action to shut down the opening of the international Chief of Police Conference that was held in October of 2015. There were 14,000 chief of police and their staffers from around the world, and BYP100, along with other local organizations, led a mass direct action and civil disobedience that involved more than 100 ppl and resulted in more than 60 arrests that day. That was the first time we articulated very clearly that we wanted to defund the police and divest in policing and invest in black futures, and that's where the agenda to build black futures came from. It crystalized once we were in a direct action space and required us to figure out very simply what it is that we want and how we were going to get there. And one way to get there is to by defunding and divesting from policing institutions in America and investing in black communities.
A photo posted by BYP 100 (@byp100) on Jul 20, 2016 at 11:15am PDT
B: How do you and members of BYP100 stay dedicated and motivated to work toward justice?
CC: This is a long protractive struggle that we're engaged in. We're not the first to do it and we're not the last to engage in this work. For me and other folks, we see that not just our lives, but the lives of the people we love are on the line and that we have a level of responsibility and a level of commitment to do something about it. I can't speak for everyone and why they do the work and continue to do the work, but what i've seen is that there's a deep love for a black folks, and belief that something else is possible and that we can play a role in making that something else a reality for our folks.
For some folks, including myself, organizing is a process of self-care. It allows me to have a place where the rage that I feel and the anger that I feel to not be held in community but be channelled into work that moves us forward. This doesn't mean that we don't get depressed, it doesn't mean that we don't live with anxiety. I have lived with both at different moments, and it doesn't mean that we're always 100% "lets do this," but for many of us, we come back to it because it's our commitment to ourselves.
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I live somewhere in the space between optimist and cynic. I've accumulated enough life experience to understand the rules by which society operates and still have sufficient hopefulness to really believe in our collective ability to change those rules if they aren't working. The only thing that validates social norms at any given moment is the willingness of the majority to participate.
Think about this — amongst a whole host of other antiquated absurdities, spousal abuse was totally acceptable just a few decades ago. Of course patriarchy is still real and domestic abuse still happens today, but not with the same wink and "atta boy" nod that it once had. What changed? A critical mass of the population changed their way of thinking. Once this happened, laws, attitudes and social agendas soon followed. Today, most people abhor the idea of domestic abuse, and I am confident that one day society will feign similar contempt over the blatant racial injustices so prevalent today.
Culture is constantly shifting, but never without the persistent nudge of courageous individuals who are bold enough to challenge the existing state of things. I am grateful for the Alicia Garzas, Jose Antonio Vargas, and Deray McKessons of the world. The movement requires work at every level.
Some people were raised to be socially conscious and others are just stepping into their awareness. Some have the fortitude to push from within established structures while others are best equipped to apply pressure from the outside. There are levels to this, but no matter where you fall on the activist spectrum, you have the capacity to effect change within your realm of influence.
If you feel that you are being nudged toward the work of social activism, here are a few things you can expect as you take your first baby steps down this path:
The wake-up call
1.You're really REALLY bothered
The first indication that you may be on the path toward activism is a keen sensitivity to the injustices all around you. No one enjoys oppression, but some people are able to deal with it or ignore it. You're not one of them. No matter how hard you try to adjust and accommodate the reality of pervasive injustice, you can't seem to wrap your head around quietly accepting social inferiority as your birth right.
2. You're tired
Keep your head down, focus on yourself and never, under any circumstances, mention race. You've been black your whole life, you know the rules. You understand that assimilation is your best chance at survival, but you've become increasingly weary of playing by these rules. You're starting to realize that the game is rigged.
3. You've had enough
Enough is enough! The injustice is so flagrant, so in-your-face disrespectful, you have to do something. At this point, the inner torment of being passive has officially outweighed the social consequence of working toward change.
4. The social bullying
So, let me get this straight...I can mourn terrorist attacks in Paris and be outraged about the inhumane treatment of animals, but if I express any level of discomfort regarding matters of racial injustice, it's a problem? This twisted logic is maddening and certifiably insane. Racism is real and the stiff societal consequences for demanding social justice is designed to intimidate you into inaction. Let no one convince you that advocating for justice is somehow wrong.
5. The opposition from within
The nature of oppression is so insidious that the oppressed are often its greatest defenders. Sometimes the most resistance will come from within. Whether or not everyone is in agreement with your activism, they will still enjoy the benefits of the progress for which you are pushing.
6. Internal conflict
You are going to go through periods of fatigue. The consequence of consciousness is real, but understand that whether you're advocating, marching, mentoring or using your art, progress is being made.
Set your strategy
7. Collect data
You don't need a case study to tell you what discrimination feels like, but institutions do. Trust your gut but gather your evidence.
8. Stick to the point
When it comes to presenting your case for change, be strategic in your approach. Don't be swayed by non-related arguments or diversionary tactics. Stick to the issue at hand.
9. Maintain perspective
With so much of your time and energy focused on what's wrong in the world, it can be easy to become overwhelmed and even depressed. The fact is that even with all the societal ills we're faced with, 80 percent of the worlds population would gladly switch places with you. Be sure to set aside dedicated time to count your blessings and focus on all the good in your life.
Although the concept of being woke and socially conscious is sexy at the moment, the actual work is far from glamorous. If you're feeling compelled to take action, don't be afraid to take baby steps and start where you are.
The transition into adulthood isn’t an easy one. Navigating relationships, managing workplace politics, hitting those milestones on schedule— don’t be fooled, no one knows what they’re doing. There will be all kinds of fumbles, blunders and awkward missteps along the way. If you’re constantly wondering to yourself, “Am I doing this right?” Welcome. This is just the place for you.
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