“What does it mean to be black?” a student asks from the back of Crill Performance Hall Tuesday night.
This question was among many asked at the follow-up Faith and Ferguson event. The last one was hosted in November. The theme of the November event was to open conversation about current events, namely the Michael Brown shooting and the Eric Garner case.
Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot by white police officer, Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, Missouri Aug. 9. Eric Garner, a 43 year-old black man who had asthma and heart disease among other ailments, was placed in an illegal chokehold by white police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, in Staten Island, New York on July 17.
At this event, the focus turned to defining the Black Lives Matter movement and delineating areas of tension and concern for the African American community.
About 80 people filled the performance hall to discuss the #BlackLivesMatter movement with five panelists: Lei-Chala Wilson, Mark Jones, Linda Beail, Brisa Johnson and Ebanezare Tadale.
Tadale said many African Americans have internalized racism trying to figure out their identity, but that this question has no one answer.
“There is not a typical, token black person,” he said.
Johnson said that she initially tried to distance herself from stereotypes of what being African American meant.
“I used to say I’m not like those people,” Johnson said. “But when you don’t see yourself in other people, that’s when you have those identity issues. When we discover that we’re alike more than different,…it starts those conversations.”
Taylor Rivers, a senior international studies major, facilitated the conversation with Jeffrey Carr, chief diversity officer at PLNU.
Lorren Comeaux, a senior and the president of the BSU, said she asked the panelists to speak to the Black Lives Matter movement and where to go from here against institutionalized racism.
Tadale started off the event with an admittance.
“Obviously, I’m a black person so I care,” he said. “The Black Lives Matter slogan or hashtag or whatever you want to call it is for me a badge or just a celebration in and of itself.”
Ebanezare Tadale, senior sociology major and communication minor, is the vice president of the Black Student Union at PLNU. He said that this movement speaks to a general feeling of misrepresentation as a black person in the United States and helps him to see himself anew.
“It’s hard to describe to people who might not know that feeling but when I hear the Black Lives Matter movement, it makes me want to stand up straight and support myself mostly, to tell myself that I matter in this culture,” Tadale said. “A lot of times we might not see that where there’s the misrepresentation in media or the way our history is taught in school or through the judicial system and the legal system. There are just so many avenues where we feel like the African American community is dismissed or belittled.”
Brisa Johnson, a student at PLNU, is the founder of She is Soul, a music, arts and poetry collective to empower women and community outreach coordinator at United Domestic Workers. To her, the movement is a cry for help and a plea for equality, something that has been a long time coming.
“The African American community has in a sense become complacent to the way things are, and we’re so used to the brutality, so used to the racism, so used to the injustice, that we are just trying to instead of teaching our boys necessarily their rights, we’re teaching our children how to protect themselves from it,” Johnson said.
She continued that this can’t be an African American issue alone, but an effort in community among every race, gender, background and religion, to see this as a human issue.
Mark Jones, the president of the San Diego Black Student Justice Coalition and a student at SDSU, said he was asked by a reporter to give advice to children about how to deal with police. Even though he doesn’t have any himself, he struggled with what to say.
“I can’t answer that question because I don’t know what to tell them,” Jones said. “If they put their hands up, they get shot, if they’re going for their license, they might get shot, if they say something off the wall like most kids do when they face someone of authority, they might get shot. So when I think of Black Lives Matter, it’s more than a cry to me. It’s our fight to force the matter into the rest of America’s minds that our lives as black individuals are just as important as that white person or that person that has some type of privilege.”
Jones said the problem is that the problem may have started with Ferguson but has continued since the civil rights movement.
“We got civil rights but we never really got human rights. So, yes, civil rights, laws were changed, but minds weren’t changed,” Jones said. “And so we still have this issue of hating people because of color, hating people because they’re different.
Lei-Chala Wilson, immediate past president of the San Diego NAACPrecently retired from San Diego County Public Defender’s Office, asserted that this movement is reinforcing what African Americans have been saying all along.
“I think now, people are waking up,” Wilson said. “Black Lives Matter is something easy for people to remember, and now they’re starting to say, you know what, this is not just their imagination.”
Linda Beail, a professor of political science and director of the Margaret Stevenson Center for Women’s Studies at PLNU, said she, as a social scientist, should reflect and ask questions about statistics with disproportionate differences and wonder why she doesn’t have to have conversations with her children that others do.
“I think we’ve got racism, the story we tell about it, wrong, where we think there has to be this really explicit bigotry and malice and hatred. A lot of us in the past generation have grown up thinking skin color shouldn’t matter so much, right, and maybe it shouldn’t, but it still does. Being naive about the power race still holds and trying to pretend it away is a problem…We need to take more responsibility and realize that it is part of our community and that black lives do matter.”
Kathleen Bolamba, a senior exercise science major, said this event took her struggle with her identity at PLNU and opened her eyes to other things that are going on in San Diego.
“I feel empowered go out there and educate, inform. I myself have this internal struggle of my own identity and what that looks like being a black American,” she said. “This panel opened my eyes to a lot of different things going on.”
One of those things was California Penal Code 182.5, which states that active gang members can be charged by crimes committed by other members, even if uninvolved. Jones said that this could mean that if standing next to a gang member or interacting with one in the neighborhood he lives in, could make him a contact, unbeknownst to him, to the police. He said to dismantle the law, for starters, it took a march and in the future, it will take students.
“Your voice is so important. Our assembly members had no idea this was going on. It took anger to get them involved,” Jones said.