“Movement for Black Lives Convening”: An Oasis of Solidarity and Healing

“I wonder what happen to the peace and togetherness ‘black fists’ raised in the air but us youngsters don’t care” For over 2 years now this quote was the first thing you saw when you clicked on my Twitter and Instagram profile and it was exactly how I felt about my generation.

The quote comes from “Ghetto Theme,” a song by Mac Mall that was released in 93’. The song spoke of the need to return to unity in inner cities where in the early 1990’s gang warfare and police brutality reached a plateau. But since the black power movement in the early 70s came to an end, we haven’t seen a unification of our people fighting for black liberation and equity for all.

The video for Mac Mall’s “Ghetto Theme” was shoe by Tupac

There have been flashes, especially in the past couple of years that showed our generation could be different, the unlawful murders of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Eric Garner for example were met with resistance and the beginning of the a grassroots movement called #BlackLivesMatter.

The Movement for Black Lives Convening took place a week ago in Cleveland, Ohio. It was hosted by #BlackLivesMatter, BYP100, Ferguson Action, Cleveland Action, Million Hoodies, and the Ohio Student Association. They provided transportation, shelter, and food.

On the morning of the first day of the conference, I strolled out of my dorm with a map and a puzzled look on my face. Luckily I ran into a woman who introduced herself as Elle, she was happy to see a new face and we enjoyed a pleasant convo until she had to really get moving, as she was one of the opening speakers of the conference. She showed me where the convening would begin, after that first interaction I knew this was a space where I belonged.

#WheresKentavious? Hint: I’m wearing an orange dashiki

During breakfast I took an open seat next to a group that had all met on the bus that came from New York. Davon, Jordan, Tarik and Margaret, we discussed our work and what led us to Cleveland. This group went on to become my friends as we spent the rest of the trip together. We all came solo, not knowing what to expect and it’s great that we were able to bond and leave as a collective with shared goals and passions.

We looked over the list of workshops that all sounded amazing, I finally decided I would attend the “Let Your Motto be Resistance: Why folks are saying #WeWillShootBack” workshop hosted by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.

Photo: Laylah Amatullah Barrayn

Let Your Motto Be Resistance’s goal is to ground the people’s resistance to police and state violence by building Black Self Defense Networks and Copwatch Networks and have expanding discussions about community defense beyond armed self defense struggle and how to prepare and build self determination.

The opening ceremony gave us a chance to heal and let go of all the anger built up from all the recent police killings of our people. It seems like almost everyday a new story of an unarmed black person being killed by police surfaces. We often don’t get a moment to just heal from this trauma.

To my left I was holding hands with a brotha’ from Compton, to my right a brotha’ from Brooklyn. All of us finally coming to grips with our emotions about the state sponsored violence we as a people continue to face. All of us letting out tears as family members spoke of the horrors police had done to their loved ones.

Speakers included Tracy Martin, father of Trayvon Martin; Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Amberly Carter, cousin of Emmett Till Uncle Bobby, uncle of Oscar Grant and more — all sharing their stories. Their words were ones of strength and sorrow. The audience began singing: “I pray for you, you pray for me. I love you, I need you to survive.” This period really gave us time to feel, we cried and embraced one-another. We smiled and we turned-up when Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” blasted out of the auditorium speakers. (The unofficial song of the movement)

Uncle Bobby, uncle of Oscar Grant, who was murdered by a Bay Area transit cop, shares a word with Michael Brown, Sr M4BL Photo: Laylah Amatullah Barrayn

After the opening ceremony, it was time to choose the next workshop. I chose “(RE) Education of the Negro: Developing Political Education Programs for Black Communities”. In this workshop, we discussed the process to create, expand, and sustain political education programs for Black communities across the country.

Finally it was time for the nightcap, the M4BL Kick off Party was held at The Vault in downtown Cleveland strictly for M4BL members. I squeezed through the dancing crowds nearly spilling my drink with every step. Luckily there was a nice vault style ventilated room to escape the high energy for a bit. The DJ played hip-hop, African beat, and freestyle the whole night.

Everything was going smoothly until the DJ abruptly stopped the music and announced, “a trans-person was being kicked out for using the ‘wrong’ bathroom.” As the crowd began to boo she declared, “It’s time for us to go.” Once outside we began chanting and singing, moving the party outside creating an inclusive space for our black trans and non-conforming comrades. Our love and unity was on full display, one of the biggest differences from prior black liberation movements is that this movement was intersectional, and I love it!

The next day I woke up a little late, but just in time for the first workshop. “WE WHO BELIEVE IN FREEDOM COINTELPRO 101 & US POLITICAL PRISONERS: When We Fight Back & The State Strikes Back”. Former political prisoners, family members of political prisoners and others targeted by COINTELPRO discussed the tactics used by COINTELPRO and how the government continues to target activists today.

With Ramona Africa, only remaining survivor from the Philadelphia PD bombing of the Move House

Chills ran up my spine when Ramona Africa gave her first hand account the day Philadelphia police bombed the Move House. Meeting her and listening to her was a surreal experience, I had to ask for a photo! Their words also made me think about the government monitoring of #BlackLivesMatters activists that had recently been confirmed. This is something we all need to be aware of, as they will try tactics to discredit the movement.

After a very nutritious lunch, “Towards a Black Feminist Future: Co-creating a National Black Feminist Strategy” was the next workshop I decided to attend. “Strategy, demands, issues, and opportunities+Black feminist brilliance= Co-creation of a National Black Feminist Agenda.” This was an intensely awesome workshop that made me face my privilege as a cis heterosexual black male. I also added a few great books to my list for reading.

I missed the last day’s early workshops but caught the convening closing ceremony. The youth drumming circle was amazing and the convening ended the same way it began with our unofficial theme song, Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” After that it was time to say goodbye to the new friends I had made and prepare for the journey home. I was on my way out of my dorm when my colleagues began to chant and demand the release of a fourteen year old that was just violently arrested under the notion that he was intoxicated.

I quickly dropped my bags and joined my people. We were united and demanded his immediate release. With my phone I was able to capture the unnecessary act from Sgt. Robert Schwab’s use of pepper spray. I captured both times he sprayed us and was lucky to only get some in my mouth. My collogues on the front line were hit directly in their eyes and screamed in excruciating pain as they hit the floor, others saw this and rushed to buy milk and water to sooth the protesters that were hit.

I wiped my tears away and headed back to the front line, we held the line after the attack and refused to back down in the face of terror. This powerful showing of unity and organization is what lead to the freeing of the boy; we are powerful when we stick together! I was contacted by many outlets wanting the right to play my video after it went viral on social media, I was humbled that I was able to expose the police terror communities of color have routinely come to experience.

That weekend was truly a life-affirming experience for me. I was pessimistic about my generation but now I see that they share my passion for an intersectional society free of patriarchy, white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia and an economic system that values profits over people. We the #BlackLivesMatters generation will make this a reality.

My twitter bio now reads, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” — Assata Shakur

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