January 29, 2015

 

By Charlene Muhammad

and Dezarae Muhammad 

LAWT Contributing Writers

 

Approximately 700 college students convened the 12th annual Afrikan Black Coalition’s 2015 Conference at the University of California Irvine from Jan. 16-18.

 

The Afrikan Black Coalition, a system-wide collective of Black students who attend the University of California, works on issues affecting them and their communities.  Their efforts center primarily around their yearly conference, which hosts students within the UC, California State, community and private college and university systems.

 

High school students (more than 45) were invited to attend for the first time this year.  The theme, “Educating Minds, Revisiting Society,” served as a platform to educate the Black community on the aftermath of slavery and its effects then and now. 

 

Featured keynote speakers were Elaine Brown (former leader of the Black Panther Party), Christina Sharpe (associate professor of English and Programs in Africana, American, and Women, Gender and Sexuality studies at Tufts Uni­versity), and Dr. Wade Nobles (professor emeritus of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University and founder/executive director of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Family, Life and Culture, Inc. in Oakland).

 

“This year’s conference was absolutely phenomenal,” emphasized Salih Muhammad, Afrikan Black Coalition executive chair.  “We had 672 beautiful, Black students gathering together to think about, consider, and to really work on figuring out how we can more support the Black people that don’t have access to higher education, those who are stuck in the walls of the streets rather than the halls of academia,” he said.

 

The young student leader said another goal was to be enlightening and empowering to Black students, and to let them all know they have a responsibility and the will, the depth of integrity, the power, and the fortitude to actually bring about the changes they want.

 

“Coming in I expected it to be hard, but I didn’t expect it to be as rigorous and as challenging as it was, but coming out of it, there was a sense of relief and a sense of appreciation and respect and community that I felt,” said Jazmyne McNeese, who co-chaired the conference along with Angelique McGrue.

 

Political action

 

The young minds critically dialogued and strategized during riveting workshop sessions on activism in the workplace, colorism, the attack on Black relationships, Black people’s understanding of Jesus, affirmative action, gender and sexuality, and battling academic slavery.

 

Sessions also tackled topics like the institutionalized rape of Black women and the lack of communal support, global Black radical thought, Black economics, and the criminalization of Black motherhood.

 

In an interactive moment all of the students mass texted UCI’s Chancellor Michael Drake @a9eff to 81010 to state their support for the demands issued by UCI’s Black students.  They include more Black student enrollments and a Black research center.

 

During the Caucus for Young Black Women, participants’ frank discussion focused in part on social media, makeup, reality television, loving Black men who are targets of police brutality, and self-respect.

 

They eagerly asked for the microphone to give their opinions and ask each other questions.  Some said they appreciated the space given. It made them feel comfortable around each other and enabled them to speak about the things that they need to get off of their chest, the shared. 

 

A sister from UC Riverside stated that one main issue is how media por-trays Black women.  “You do not see strong women.  All that is seen is booty shaking and showing skin. Going to a predominantly White school, Black women can’t be strong, and when the urge comes, Black women are looked upon as being bossy, having an attitude, and having to face not being taken seriously is critical and important for others to be informed,” said the young woman.

 

Eradicate police brutality

 

In the Police Brutality workshop, keynote speaker Cephus Johnson, Oscar Grant, III.’s uncle, aka “Uncle Bobby,” answered students’ questions on what to do, how to react, and what precautions to take when encountered by police.

 

Mr. Johnson stated, “It is a state of emergency to bring about change … White supremacy has to go.” 

 

In the verdict of his nephew’s Jan. 1, 2008 shooting death at the hands of former BART officer Johannes Mehserle, it was first time California history that an officer was sent to jail - not prison as he was sentenced to - but county jail for 11 months.

 

The students viewed a clip of Oscar Grant being shot at Fruitvale Station and interviews by his mother, Wanda Johnson, and Mr. Johnson.

 

Alexander Williams of UC Santa Cruz gave an emotional testimony about his personal experience with the police system.  Recently on his 17th birthday, he and a best friend went to a mall in his hometown of Lancaster (approximately four hours away from his school campus) to meet up with eight other Black male friends to eat at the food court.  A mall police officer told them they were a threat to the customers because they looked mean and because of their attire, so they had to leave.

 

The teen said he asked repeatedly what they’d done wrong, and pointed out 12 young White females were doing the exact same thing right across from them.  Why weren’t they a threat, he said he asked the mall cop.

 

The ten youth were escorted to the front of the mall curbside, Mr. Williams all the while asking the police politely and calmly, “What are we doing wrong,” he told Mr. Johnson. According to Mr. Williams, police responded with back up, a bull horn, and a cocked shotgun, ordering them to ‘get off the ‘f——-g’ property.

 

“I have never been more dehumanized in my life!  I’m angry!  I still don’t know to this day what I did.  I was shopping,” he said, his pain still very visible.

 

“You’re talking about this system doesn’t care for us! I know first-hand now that it doesn’t care for us … What should I do to deal with this,” he asked Mr. Johnson with his eyes closed as if he were reliving every second of the order.

 

His peers filled the Crystal Cove Auditorium with finger snaps to show their approval and empathy for what he shared.

 

“What do we do with this anger?  You’re students.  You channel it into constructive change. You channel it. Understand the system that we’re in and what it is that each one of you can play to bring about the real change that we need,” Mr. Johnson replied.

 

Revolutionary change

 

Presenters and participants drew the nexis between the student movement today and in the 1960s and 70s.

 

In her “no-holds barred” fashion during her Jan. 17 keynote address, Ms. Brown encouraged participants to analyze everything.  “The first thing you have to do in order to come to a correct conclusion is to have a correct analysis,” she said.

 

On the eve of world commemorations of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she encouraged the students to learn who the civil rights leader really was, why he was really killed, and to remember who killed him.  The conditions he fought and were assassinated for still exist, she said.

 

“We have to ask the right questions,” like why are Black people still in such a terrible condition, languish in prison disproportionately, suffer in poverty, and with unemployment and underemployment at high rates.

 

The solution lies in revolutionary change, Ms. Brown said.  It was easy for the Panther Party to implement their 10 Point Platform and program for Black liberation she stated.  Many people died and many are still suffering today, she told the students.  But they were either going to be revolutionaries and help their people through their many efforts, like the free lunch program, or they weren’t, she said. 

 

But problems like police brutality and mass incarceration are not new, she said.

 

Dr. Nobles said he was honored to be invited by and be among the stu-dents.  “Every generation has to take responsibility for the challenges of its time, and to be here and to see these young people from all over California from all the major universities, taking responsibility to do the critical thinking, to do the critical planning, to work together as African people, it is just really an exciting moment and I think that our future bodes well if they stay on track,” he said.

Category: News


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