Black Lives Matter leaders meet virtually with UGA University Union

Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors (bottom) spoke to Marqes Dexter (top left) and Janaya Khan (top right) in a webinar hosted by the University Union on Tuesday. (Photo/Sarah Henry)

Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors and international BLM ambassador Janaya Khan sat down for a webinar hosted by the University of Georgia's University Union on Tuesday. The event was organized by Union Speaks Director Bushra Huque and moderated by Marques Dexter, a graduate assistant in the Office of Institutional Diversity.

“This should be a topic that needs to be covered to not only show support to the Black community but to also educate the students that go here about the movement itself,” Huque said about why she organized the event.

She also touched on the university’s struggle with its racist past, particularly its buildings named after racist figures and slave owners. The Baldwin Hall controversy has also drawn criticism to the university after slave remains were discovered during construction.

Dexter posed questions to Cullors and Khan about the meaning of the movement, what it’s like to be a part of it and the future ahead.

That future, according to Cullors, includes an ongoing shift toward the Black Lives Matter organization as a philanthropic institution. By the end of the year, Cullors said she expects to move $12.5 million to official BLM chapters and 20 other Black-led organizations.

Dexter: So first up, what does it mean to say “Black Lives Matter”?

Khan: I'll tell you when I first heard the three words together, “Black Lives Matter” as someone who sort of idolized and studied the Black Panther Party… I thought I wanted something toothier. There was something in the vulnerability of those three words that I actually had to come to terms with... so when I hear and feel the words “Black Lives Matter,” it is a reminder that we are living in a kind of colonial imagination...We are in a belief system. This is not just about a president. It's not just about this administration. And it's not just about a set of policies, it is a belief system. We are operating within one and we need one to counter it because revolution isn't just the ending of something, it's the beginning of something new. And so Black Lives Matter is an offering, too. It is a kind of belief system to combat the one that we're in. It is an affirmation and a declaration of life...We are out of necessity, the defenders of the dead and the liberators of the living. That's what so many of us have been called to become so that we don't have to be alone in our pain anymore. But pain may have been the thing that brought us all together. But love, love is what brings us back. And that is what those three words mean to me.

Cullors: I don't know what to add to that. I think that was beautifully said. I think as someone who has helped, you know, amplify the term “Black Lives Matter”... It is really about getting to the heart of how we are going to liberate, not just Black people, but humanity. “Black Lives Matter” is not just a fight that's happening inside this country. It's a planetary fight... I think Black Lives Matter is, you know, really calling for a philosophical shift, and how we understand ourselves in relationship to each other, but also in relationship to the world.

Dexter: We've noticed the collective power of people and the impact they can have on the movement. I wonder if you can discuss about how it has grown from just this Western United States movement... how that collective power, that collective coalition building has impacted the work?

Khan: America doesn't exist in a bubble. And its foreign policy shapes experiences of Black people all over the world alone, and countries across the West, and really everywhere, have their own legacies and histories of a kind of racism that targets Black people, that targets darker skinned people, that targets native people and indigenous populations. So, you know, and we know that the kinds of, what, military training, weaponry, etc. these things, I mean, countries across the West share these tools, they share tear gas, they share trainings... the companies in America send these kinds of weapons and weaponry all over the world. So it's a global fight whether we want to look at it as that or not. What I do know is Black people being liberated here in America...would be something very powerful. It doesn't necessarily mean freedom for any Black people anywhere else. And so it really is, when it comes to the experience of Blackness and especially those of us who are part of a diasporic experience, really was a matter of where the ship stopped.

Cullors: White supremacy is a global phenomenon. And anti-Black racism is a global phenomenon. And so that our work as we are considering who we are, what we do, and what we're challenging, we must consider also the challenge against the global right... It's why Black Lives Matter exists in Canada and the United Kingdom. It's why it existed in Brazil. Why it's used in Australia. It's why it's used in Amsterdam...I think it's also important that we aren't just talking about the global impacts of white supremacy on Black communities...We can talk about communities across the globe who are being impacted by very similar evils, and I think those kinds of conversations become really, really important as we continue to politicize ourselves around how we are ultimately trying to create a new system that works for all of us.

Dexter: What can our non-Black peers do to make an impact to join the movement?

Cullors: One very simple thing is [to] follow the leadership of skilled, smart, strategic Black people that are leading movements, whether it's locally, nationally or internationally...Number two, I always tell people, what are you most passionate about, what are you feeling most excited about, follow that thread and then join an organization. What you're doing cannot be done alone in solitude behind your phone or behind your iPad or computer or laptop. Join something, be a part of something...  It's really important that people don't just stay focused, or aren't just sort of present when the cameras are here...We need you to show up for us when it's not popular, when they are turning their backs against us, that's when we need you the most. So that's how people can be involved and stay involved.

Dexter: So let's switch over to our Black students, faculty and staff who are here, who are trying to navigate these times, especially now we have this pandemic and everything going on with the election, what advice would you give them on just trying to exist and thrive?

Khan: Each and every one of us, I don't care where you come from, or how you grew up or where... We have two things, an incredible amount of pain, and in us, we have purpose. And the bridge between these two things is power. We have to move through, I think, our pain, because we spent so much of our lives turning away from it...You look up at the ceiling, maybe it’s after a day of work, you're stressed out about an exam or you're stressed out about our existential crisis we’re experiencing, whatever it is... and you [think] to yourself, “is this all there is?” And really what you're asking yourself is, “is this all that I am?” and I promise you this: if you have the question, then you already have the answer. There is so much more to you. There's so much more in you than what you were told. And the point of being here, while we're here, is to find out what that purpose, what that living, what that being alive means to you, and you get to decide...This is bigger than a job, it's bigger than activism, it's the work of being alive...but your job is to not to make people see the light. It's not your job, your job is to just be the light...So all to say all that depths that you feel, all of you out there, the depths of your despair, I promise it's just a glimpse into the possibility of the power that you hold within you, just a glimpse. And the way forward is through that pain that you feel, is just waiting for that bridge to power to get you to your purpose. And if you feel that tension, that means that everything that you need is there. It can be hard, and it will be and it will hurt, but it's always worth it because you're always worth it.

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