| With thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)
Tuesday, August 4, 2015.
From July 24-26 over
1500 registered Black activists and organizers from all over the U.S., Canada
and the Caribbean converged in Cleveland, Ohio, for the 2015 Movement
for Black Lives Convening. In
addition to police terror and state violence, pertinent issues such as mass
incarceration, economic empowerment, education, culture, housing and Black
health were all working parts to an overwhelmingly incredible weekend.
This convening was more than just an assembly of
passionate activists and talented organizers. It was way more than just
workshops and Black radical thought. This mass convening was a weekend of love,
a sacred and safe space for Blackness that unfortunately isn’t typically
created, particularly on a national scale.
For three days we could actually breathe. We could
touch each other, learn from and connect with one another. We could actually
talk in private amongst ourselves. We could love
our lips, noses and hair without stares from others who simply cannot
relate. We could collectively celebrate our ability to survive, in peace, in
whatever form we chose to do so. We could speak to each other without some
white person interjecting their personal privilege and lack of understanding.
We laughed together. We cried together; cheered for
one another. We challenged each other and shared life experiences. We shared
resources, studied together and created new networks. We debated. We danced. We
chanted. We partied together. We healed. Everything America refuses to allow us
to do on a regular basis, we did for three whole days. We embraced the full
essence of ourselves as living beings – our own culture, our own heritage, our
own ancestors – our history, our roots, and the many forms in which Blackness
is uniquely packaged.
For three whole days, ALL BLACK LIVES stood
together, regardless of one’s religion or sexual preference, regardless of
one’s age, gender or political affiliation. This convening was truly for
everyone: Black women, Black men, Black youth, Black elders, Black artists,
Black straight, Black Queer, Black Trans, Black labor, Black Muslim, Black
Christian. It was “all Black everything.” And I promise, I’m not
making this up. You would just had to have been there to fully understand. If
it weren’t for the physical walls of Cleveland State University, you would
probably have thought you were back in old Congo Square.
Workshops, Learning and Dialogue
Our daily course of meetings, actions and workshops
were all well planned, with allotted time and periodic breaks for rest and
flexibility. Access to several ballrooms, the student center, media center and
main classrooms provided plenty of space for attendees. Workshops of
one-and-a-half hour blocks were loose but intense, free-flowing but focused. I
was thoroughly impressed with the wide range of topics and dialogue that helped
to create a holistic and inclusive approach to the overall convening.
The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) hosted
sessions on Jackson Rising and Chokwe Lumumba, Assata Shakur and Black Nationalism.
Southerners on New Ground (SONG) hosted workshops on Black love, Black
leadership and Black power. The Black Youth Project (BYP) hosted a session
entitled “Building Black Women’s Leadership.” There were discussions on Black
culture, Black art & the Black aesthetic – workshops specifically
addressing “The Miseducation of Hip Hop,” “Theatrical Jazz” and revolutionary
Dr. Treva Lindsey led a workshop on “Black Scholar
Lives Matter co-founder, Alicia Garza led a session on “Conflict
Resolution” within the movement. There were discussions on revolutionary
parenting and reproductive justice, social media and technology, urban farming
and land reform, classism and labor, feminism and internationalism – gender,
sexuality and Black health. There were two workshops on AIDS and HIV – which is
a tough talk, yes, but a very pertinent matter in reference to the
survival of Black lives. There were live yoga workshops and meditation spaces
all three days.
Among all the many spaces of beautiful Black
thought, my favorite workshop of the entire weekend was entitled, “COINTELPRO
101 & U.S. Political Prisoners.” I made sure to get there early so I could
get a good seat. I didn’t know who was going to be there, but I was
aware that this particular workshop was going to be facilitated by Ashanti
Alston, co-chair of the National Jericho Movement, Black Anarchist and
former member of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. I was definitely not
going to miss this workshop.
Two steps into the room I see Ramona Africa, MOVE member and one of my
all-time favorite freedom fighters. I shook her hand, thanked her and paid
homage. I looked over slightly and sitting beside Ramona was Eddie Conway, a
44-year-long U.S. political prisoner and former member of the Black Panther
Party. Once I paid respect to Brother Conway and found a seat, I looked up to
the panel’s far left, and there was Henry “Hank” Jones and Pam Hannah – former members
of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Black Panther Party and San
As a student of Black Liberation, I was completely
blown away. It was truly humbling just to be in the room – just to breathe the
same air was an honor to me. Here I was…here WE were, sitting at the feet of
giants, a new generation taking notes from the old field generals.
As they discussed the specific details of their
individual cases of state surveillance and repression, over one hundred young
activists packed the room. We squeezed in until there was no place to sit or
stand. Panelists raised the banner of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Herman Bell and Russell
Maroon Shoatz. They discussed the courage and many sacrifices of the Black Liberation Army and Revolutionary Action
Movement. It was an absolutely beautiful sight to see – new soldiers connecting
with the old, firsthand.
For those who were not up for such heavy
discussion, there was also a constant stream of documentary and film
screenings. Journalist and Black cultural curator, Dream Hampton hosted
her new film, Treasure: From Tragedy to Trans Justice.
Black filmmaker, Renata Hill screened their widely acclaimed, “Out In The
Night” which has screened in over 90 venues since last year. Rounding the
weekend was a full screening of the much anticipated new documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.
Needless to say, the weekend’s schedule of events was something quite special.
Speaking of special, in a special tribute Friday
evening, we were addressed as a mass assembly by several of the recent families
who have lost loved ones to police brutality and state violence. As each family
approached the podium, we cheered and loved them up through crowd support. It
was eerie how we had seen them all on the news over the previous few years,
proud, but slightly broken. Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner was there.
Martinez Sutton, brother of Rekia Boyd also spoke. Tracy Martin, father of
Trayvon Martin brought words. And how fitting to have Mike Brown Sr. remind us
all that “This is why we fight.” Amberly Carter, cousin of the late Emmett Till
was also there.
At one point, nearly all of us were crying. It was
very important that hashtags became human again. Family members were able to
share their fallen loved ones’ favorite color, hobby and favorite foods. There
were so many faces and names, some of them we had almost forgotten. Ironically,
Cleveland was initially chosen as the host city to honor the lives of Tamir
Rice and Tanisha Anderson, both local victims of police murder. It was so good
to be reminded of just how strong these families really have been. We
were clearly all moved by their collective strength and sheer resilience.
This convening was also a moment of personal
growth. I really appreciated the emphasis and inclusion of Black Trans Lives. I needed that and so
did many others. For me, before Cleveland, the question of Black Trans Lives
was a mere political matter. I supported Trans lives, but merely as a point of
theoretical principle. Before Cleveland, I honestly did not see their struggle
as my own. Thankfully, it was here at the Black Lives Convening that the Black
Queer and Trans question became one of a personal matter, with implications
that are much more than just political.
I realized that these beautiful lives are more than
just comrades, they’re my kin folk, my cousins, my aunts, my BLOOD! We are more
than just “politically” intertwined; we are one people, one resistance, one
struggle to simply survive. Over the course of the weekend’s events, I not only
stood with Trans comrades, I took the time to really listen, with my spirit.
And in listening, I began to identify with their quite simple, but burning
quest for complete liberation – Black liberation, the same kind that I want.
Lol…I even learned a new prefix last weekend, “cis” which I couldn’t wait to
use in a public write-up.
Deeper Meaning, Deeper Needs
This convening was truly one of the most impactful
experiences I’ve ever had with my own people. I honestly, did not want to
leave. Surprisingly, I was not the only organizer who expressed such
sentiments. As a people, we had managed to create a new “home” right there on
the campus of Cleveland State amongst ourselves. It was a feeling that really
cannot be explained with human words.
According to the official website, the Movement for
Black Lives Mass Convening was framed as a space and time that would be used to
“reflect on our histories of struggle, build a sense of fellowship that
transcends geographical boundaries, and begin to heal from the many traumas we
face.” To those who were there, it was just as advertised. This convening was
not only historic; it was right on time. We needed this as a people. We needed
this as freedom fighters. We needed this as a movement.
For those of us who have completely invested ourselves
in this current movement for Black lives, we very often fight, but forget to
feel. We feel, but very often fail to heal. Some of us are so busy moving
around, mobilizing and organizing, we don’t even eat properly. We don’t
sleep enough and take care ourselves. While I was in Baltimore for a month
during the People’s Rebellion, I met organizers there
from Ferguson and New York who had slept in their cars for over a week. All
they had was food and gas money. All they had was their courage and dedication.
I gave them what little cash I could spare and we traded contact.
For those on the outside looking in, please
understand that some of us are giving all we have – some of us are giving our
lives. That’s what last weekend was all about: Black struggle, one sacrifice, a
renewed sense of dedication, clearly emanating from a bold and brilliant new
As Ramona Africa so poignantly stated in one of the
workshops, “Don’t be afraid to be a revolutionary. We have nothing to lose.”
After last weekend’s Black Lives convening, thousands of us really believe that
now. We do believe that we can win. And we will. And we will. ■
NC based activist, Lamont Lilly is a contributing editor with the Triangle Free
Press and organizer with Workers World Party. He has recently served as field
staff in Baltimore, Ferguson, Oakland, Boston and Philadelphia. In February of 2015,
he traveled to both Syria and Lebanon with Ramsey Clark and Cynthia McKinney.
Follow his work via Twitter @LamontLilly.