Representatives of the Black Lives Matter organization and audience members chanted “We have nothing to lose but our chains!” at a panel discussion on Tuesday evening. The Africana Studies Department hosted the event, where audience members asked questions that pertained to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The panelists — Arielle Newton, Autumn Marie and Kei Williams — represented the New York City chapter of the Black Lives Matter organization. The organization was formed after the death of Trayvon Martin and grew after the Ferguson protests. Newton explained that the network is the structural component of the larger Black Lives Matter movement, and although the organization is decentralized and does not have a specific leader, it is structured.
Newton is a community organizer with the chapter, as well as founder and editor-in-chief of the digital platform Black Millennials.
“It’s important that we have our voices heard in a way that makes the most sense for us and we do so with no apologies, no exceptions, or no anything that someone else may say or may place confines and stereotypes on us,” Newton said. “We can speak for ourselves, and I welcome that.”
For the Black Lives Matter organization, Newton fosters relationships in communities and analyzes the structural component of the network.
Marie, a public relations and marketing professional, explained that her role is to bridge the generational gaps in the black power movement. Marie worked as an activist in the areas of police brutality, political prisoners, education justice, prison abolition and reproductive justice. Marie commended the students of Stony Brook University for their formation of an African Student Union.
The panelists noted that the organization forms an inclusive space. This includes people who are LGBTQ, Afro-Latino, women and others of African diaspora.
Kei Williams identifies as queer and transmasculine.
“My work is committed to capturing the movement from the perspective of a queer individual, a trans individual, as well as someone who deals with mental illness as a black person,” Williams said.
Williams has a background in graphic design, social justice and web design and operates the Twitter account for the BLM organization, and also creates its flyers and memes.
The panelists cleared up several misconceptions concerning the movement. Marie said that although some people only recently joined, the movement did not just appear; rather, it is a continuation of decades of work. Marie also noted that the movement is not only “Twitter activism,” but there are people working in communities.
Additionally, the panelists responded to the claim that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” conveys racism. Newton explained that popular historical accounts only portray the movement as the liberation of heterosexual, cisgendered men. However, historically, the movement has included women and LGBTQ individuals.
“‘All Lives Matter’ is inappropriate,” Newton said. “It’s racist, and it’s a way to distract from the issue at hand.”
“All lives matter when black lives matter,” Marie added.
Williams noted that the intention of the movement is to be disruptive, which heightens awareness of the issues and brings change. Williams said that someone who is white does not have to feel comfortable when faced with the issues.
“We will not have sympathy for any white tears,” Williams said.
The panelists discussed the upcoming election and the candidates’ move to engage the network.
“Our network has not endorsed and will not endorse a presidential candidate,” Williams said.
Williams explained that black people have to settle for whoever is running, even though they do not fully acquaint themselves with the community and the issues. Williams also commented that black people were negatively affected under the Clinton administration due to the “Three Strikes Law” and other laws that led to the mass incarceration of black people. Williams also said that the candidates only use black people as talking points.
“If a president were to get me free, those eight years have passed,” Newton added.
Marie said that it is preferable for black people to understand local elections and to make sure that their rights are protected when they vote and afterwards. Additionally, Marie, who worked in the entertainment industry, explained the effectiveness of celebrities. She said that the organizers make the issue a hot topic, so that celebrities will have to speak on it and do their part in the movement.
For those who consider being a part of the movement, Newton pointed out that it is a lot of work. However, anyone can reach out to them and start a local chapter.