#BlackLivesMatter Enough to Organize

Aug 30, 2014   //   baji, black history, Blog, civil rights, racial justice  

Post by BAJI New York City Organizer Benjamin Ndugga-Kabuye

It is important for people to understand that on a basic level the imagery of Ferguson does not reflect the reality of Ferguson. We are looking, from our varied distances, at a trick mirror positioned by a media complicit in the echoing violence of of Kajieme Powell’s murder. Media complicity is not just in conservative outlets like Fox News who rhetorically rehearse the violent sentiment that fired, at the very least, six shots into Michael Brown’s body but also in liberal and alternative media that cannot grapple with antiblackness that is as American as enslavement. Almost as if this violence is due to a new police militarization, or outdated training, as opposed to a much more mundane antiblackness. That is to say, what we have always known; that Black bodies cause anxiety that can only be released by violence. Despite reflecting this anxiety in their coverage news outlets cannot analyze this unique relationship Black people have with an antiblack world. So the distorted media narratives on public demonstrations in Ferguson even when framed in empathy are saturated with worries about lawlessness and disorder.

why-black-lives-matterThe varied responses Black communities or individuals have to brutality is not the concern of this writer. The need to defend certain actions misses James Baldwin’s perspective on looting, Martin Luther King Jr.’s on riots, or local voices on this present moment. What these words seek to highlight is the well-organized, highly disciplined work happening locally and nationally. Though leadership does not reflect past movements you are not seeing a leaderless movement. There is no disapproval of spontaneity here instead a call to focus on what you are actually seeing, a masterfully calculated strategy. BAJI staff along with dozens from across the country have just been welcomed into St. Louis by the spiritually affirming arms of Saint John’s United Church of Christ led by Pastor Starsky Wilson. The gathering in that building quickly led to an outlined agenda, programming, and the clear grounding framework around the valuing of all Black lives not just the outsized male figures that crowd out broader conversation and sadly, political imagination.

What has become a national call started as the simple phrasing of a disputed truth that #BlackLivesMatter. Answers came from across the country joining the US Human Rights Network, Crunk Feminist Collective, and National Organization for Women and many others all responding to a gesture into and against the chaos of genocidal policing attacking all Black bodies.

From the very beginning intentional links between the 1960s Freedom Rides and the #BlackLivesMatter Ride to St. Louis were evident in the national reach and the relationship building with frontline Ferguson organizers.

The messaging for this campaign was crafted precisely to create a banner, “under which Black people can unite to end state sanctioned violence both in St. Louis, but also across the United States of America.” But local endorsements from the Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) and Organizations for Black Struggle (OBS) firmly plant this work in Midwest soil. With international eyes now shifted to a city some say the Black Power Movement passed, what the past has forgotten the present names and where Ferguson goes so goes the post-civil rights nation.

#BlackLivesMatter is happening on multiple levels including several online locations with information about the direction of this work. We are now in an appropriate space to reflect on how a tech savvy generation born of and in the information age has matured into political work. Who will acknowledge their genius?


#BlackLivesMatter #BLMride


For live tweets from the ground follow @BAJItweet and @Blklivesmatter


Aug 26, 2014   //   About BAJI, black history, Blog  


Calls for local and national effort to address racial justice and immigrant rights issues as they acutely impact all black communities 


Current practices of institutional racism have historic roots in the enslavement of black Africans. Black communities in the U.S. whether foreign or native born, are subject to brutality and profiling under a system of “repressive enforcement structures” including the police, FBI, Homeland Security, and CIA resulting in mass criminalization. We have seen the extra-judicial killing of both African-American and black immigrant women and men at the hands of police, such as Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Mohamed Bey, Rekia Boyd, Amadou Diallo, Tarika Wilson and Kimani Grey. While all violence is devastating to our communities, the rampant abuse of state power that protects law enforcement from accountability and blame for the deaths of these men and women erases their very humanity. Our communities demand an end to the government sanctioned violence that is police brutality. And an end to law enforcement practices and policies that encourage and incentivize profiling, and its deadly results, with impunity.

We say enough. Communities across the nation can no longer sit idly by while black families suffer with little due process or recourse. We demand justice for Mike Brown and all families who’ve lost a family member at the hands of law enforcement, security personnel or vigilantes. We must, as a society, take responsibility for putting an end to this systemic abuse of power.

We know that our communities are not facing criminalization and brutalization within a vacuum. A review of the blatant racial inequity in the Ferguson community epitomizes the context that makes our communities incredibly vulnerable. At the Black Alliance for Just immigration we look at criminalization of our communities as being the main crime. A crime that leaves us impoverished, brutalized, separated and sadly, at times, dead.

Watch the video now

The Black Alliance for Just Immigration issues the following 4 demands, for all black communities:

 1. Stop the criminalization of black communities. We want an end to punitive measures of control as a means to improving social ills blamed on the myth of Black criminality. We call for an end to: the practice of incarceration, detention and deportation, the War on Drugs and other public initiatives that couple militarization and violent enforcement targeting black communities, racial and religious profiling and other policies and practices that disproportionately target our communities. All of which results in nearly half of the U.S. prison population being black.

2. Invest Public Resources into Economic Opportunities for Black immigrants and African-Americans. Address the root causes of unemployment and income inequality in the African-American community: attacks on labor unions, poor funding for education and discrimination on the job. Black immigrants, just like African Americans, have the highest unemployment, lowest wages and experience the most workplace discrimination of any foreign born community. A concrete solution would be to invest direct funds towards economic and educational infrastructures to create safe, thriving communities.

3. Reunite families. Many Black immigrant families are separated by deportation, unjust profiling in law enforcement practices and also by discriminatory immigration practices. Polices should emphasize family unity, such as a family reunification parole program for Haitian-American families: Reunite Haitian American Families. Expedite the reunification of 110,000 Haitian families who already have visas to be reunited with loved ones, but are on waiting lists, while similar programs exist for other nations of origin.

4. Legalization for all who reside in the U.S. including the 500,000 undocumented black immigrantsand re-enfranchise those who’ve been deemed unworthy and ineligible for legal status due to criminal convictions.

As a community who often dwell together, fellowship at similar houses of worship, and find ourselves residing in the same neighborhoods it is imperative that our solutions are reflective of our complex identities and lived experiences with a unifying strength for our kinship of humanity. We know that all black lives matter and that when one community is under attack we in fact all are. Immigrant rights are a racial justice issue and racial justice is an immigrant rights issue. Our lives are intertwined and our fights must be so as well. A multiracial democracy that works for all requires we bring our communities together – not just black immigrants and African-Americans, but all communities. However, we must be vigilant to ensure that the most acutely impacted among us are protected and that we measure our progress from the advancement of those most oppressed, until the most marginalized are uplifted.


Let’s fight together for the world we all deserve.


Ain’t this your son? | Coalitions for Resistance

Aug 12, 2014   //   african american, Blog, race, racial justice  

Post by Benjamin Ndugga-Kabuye, BAJI New York City Organizer

On Saturday, August 9th a police officer killed a black boy whose body was irreverently displayed for the world to see in the middle of the street. The police narrative of Michael Brown’s murder has framed national headlines but, locally, Lesley Mcspadden found out about the death of her child from the cell phone of a neighbor asking, “ain’t this your son?”. The violence of that moment is even worse because of how common it is. Already we hear echoes of Trayvon, Islan Nettles, or the breathless cries of Eric Garner in Staten Island muffled under untold pairs of police hands.
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How often this violence visits African-Americans makes you wonder if Black citizenship is even possible. Yet second-class citizenship or immigrant identities are not adequate umbrellas for Black immigrants to stand in solidarity with African-Americans. It is blackness not legal status that is “magnetizing bullets” in Ferguson, Missouri. So coalition against antiblackness must follow a different path than traditional racial or immigrant discussions. If we are going to create a sustained movement between Black immigrants and African-Americans we must discuss why Black bodies inspire fear and violence from the rest of the world. This includes all Black bodies lest we forget “the death scenes of Black women labeled as criminal… Shantel Davis, Rekia Boyd, Shereese Francis, Sharmel Edwards, Alesia Thomas, and Robin Taneisha Williams”.

Meaningful Black coalitions must think through antiblackness in at least two ways. We must discuss on one level, the unique set of violent feelings that invariably led to the death of Renisha Mcbride. But we must see the links between violent sentiment or the libidinal economy and the material conditions we are dealing with. Policies frame material conditions of mass incarceration, pre-9/11 hyper-surveillance, and the use of public funds for private gain in local and international communities. Here at The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) we have drawn links between these different policies in our video The Real Crime.

Serious reflection on the material conditions and the libidinal economy of antiblackness must be paired with local and international organizing. Michael Brown’s community in Ferguson, Missouri is maintaining extremely well coordinated demonstrations. This is being done alongside the media’s fascination with “looters,” “riots,” and Black protestors. This coverage echoed by some Black commentators presents vague accusations of Black misconduct in the face of state violence as truths beyond critique. So how long can Ferguson, Mo maintain resistance under media scrutiny and a police siege ran by officers who consider African-American residents animals? St. Louis Ward 21 Alderman Antonio French has a thorough anatomy of this assault on an American city on his Twitter timeline. Also Sydette Harry’s (@Blackamazon) instruction to think about direct support, might lead us to raising funds for transportation, daycare, or care packages for extended protests.

We must think about historian Gerald Horne’s reminder that attempting to “lengthen the battlefield” or using international community in local struggles has always been a key aspect of Black organizing. So what will international Black movements look like in the 21st century? We live side by side in cities and neighborhoods across this country. Our children play together, we are mistaken for each other, and we are denied relation to each other. What are the key policy issues for African-American communities locally and how can Black immigrants support and pair them with their own demands? Considering police brutality and the range of policies motivated by antiblackness do we charge genocide again?

Recently African leaders met with President Obama in Washington, DC. for an African Leaders Summit. Immigrant solidarity can begin here by putting political pressure on foreign leaders, every time they visit the United States, to place Ferguson, Missouri before the international community. Presenting the genocidal relationship between African-Americans and the state might shame this country into justice. Historically this is how domestic freedoms were increased and this may benefit us internationally through the linked destinies of our communities. Our platform to launch this critique is founded on the history of mutual support our communities have shared. African-Americans created space in the U.S. for Black immigrants to make measured economic gains. These gains have lead to remittances that outstrip aid from Western governments. This same remittances give immigrants the ear of leaders from their countries of origin. Whether it is a pamphlet, an organized march, or even hazy cell phone footage the question must be asked, “ain’t this your son?”

Passing the Torch

A speech delivered by BAJI Co-Director, Gerald Lenoir – July 27, 2014


Eight years after the founding of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, we are gathering here to witness the passing of the symbolic torch to a new leader from a younger generation of social justice activists. I, as BAJI’s founding Executive Director, am relinquishing my leadership role in favor of Opal Tometi, my colleague and friend for the past four years.

Since I announced that I was leaving BAJI, I have been asked a number of questions by a number of people: Why are you leaving? Are you retiring? What are you going to do after BAJI?

Let me first say what I have said repeatedly, I’m tired but I’m not retired! I am following in the footsteps of Rev. Phil Lawson, who I think was reported to have retired at least three times! And he’s still on the case! So, no, I’m not retiring.

Why am I leaving BAJI? First of all, I’m not leaving BAJI. I’m leaving as a staff member of BAJI. BAJI is not an organization that you leave. For me, it is a family of kinfolk and a home for a set of progressive values and politics that is nurturing and life affirming. So why would I leave that?

What I am doing is providing a space for a young and talented leader to exercise her skills and realize her potential. I am stepping back; Opal is stepping up. Or as my wife Karen put it, “Out with the old, and in with the new!”

Seriously, though, this leadership transition is a testimony to the commitment that the BAJI board, Opal and I have had to develop new leadership in black communities and to organize our communities across generations.

Eight years ago last month, I started as BAJI’s very part-time director. Two month prior to that, Rev. Phil Lawson and Rev. Kelvin Sauls brought a group of us together to discuss how we, as people of African descent, could bring the issue of immigrant rights to African American communities. Please stand if you were in the room that April evening in Walter Riley’s law office.

If you all remember, there was an easy consensus that we considered immigrant rights as one of the cutting edge issues in the historic and ongoing struggle against white supremacy and for racial, social and economic justice in this country. We decided at that very first meeting that we would form an organization to educate and organize and bring African American and immigrant communities together in struggle.

The immediate impetus for BAJI’s formation was the massive demonstrations that were occurring across the country in support of fair and just immigration reform. Indeed, they were the largest demonstrations in the history of this country and compelled us, as activists to act in solidarity. We understood that as Samora Machel, the first President of Mozambique, stated, “Solidarity is not an act of charity but mutual aid between forces fighting for the same objective.” We knew the truth that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

We believed that the true emancipation of black people born in the U.S. is bound together with the liberation of immigrants of African descent and with immigrants for Asia, the Pacific Islands, Latin America, the Middle East, and ultimately with the liberation of all humankind.

I have always said that BAJI is a small organization with a big agenda. Our agenda involves unmasking the hoax of white supremacy that dominates and permeates every aspect of our lives and relegates communities and countries to marginalization and poverty. It includes peeling back the layers of myths, lies and half-truths that we are spoon fed in our schools, at our work places and in the media.  It requires that we reveal the root causes of poverty, displacement and migration that impact all of our communities as the inhumane policies of our U.S. government and corporations, policies deliberately designed to maximize profits and minimize people.

But we knew that exposing all of this was not enough. As legendary Civil Right organizer Ella Baker told us, “In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed…It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising a means by which you change that system…”

Heeding Ella Baker’s call, we set out to organize in our communities to address the evils that kept all of us from realizing our full human potential. In those early years of BAJI, I began to crisscross the country seeking out opportunities to gather people together, especially people of the African Diaspora, to craft solutions and to mobilize support for fundamental changes. L.A., New York, Newark, Chicago, Seattle, Washington, DC, Detroit, Jackson, MS, Atlanta, Phoenix, Tucson—I was a one-man traveling road show! Meanwhile, Phil Hutchings joined me on staff as the Bay Area Organizer during that second year and anchored the Bay Area work with our volunteer committees in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

BAJI, that small half-staff operation began to grow until today, we have five full-time and two part-time staff in the Bay Area, New York, Atlanta and Phoenix. Amazing! And after five years of pulling it together, the Black Immigration Network has become our flagship program, bringing together black immigrant-led and African American-led groups for mutual support and coordinated action. We are on the move! Moving forward with organizing for Haitian Family Reunification, advocating for and end to the New Jim Crow of mass incarceration and mass detention and deportation, and supporting workers’ rights campaigns.

I am leaving BAJI at a time when the organization is maturing and blossoming as a national leader in the social justice movement, a movement building organization with a long term vision that goes beyond the immediate struggles to change policies. As Rev. Sauls often says, “Legislation is not our destination. Our destination is true liberation.”

And as I leave, I must express my deepest appreciation to some of my kinfolk who have been with me on this journey. It is a long list, so bear with me.

Let me first thank my wife of 37 years, Karen Lenoir and my son of 34 years, Jamana Lenoir. They have been rock solid support for me personally and for BAJI as well. In fact, Jamana not only designed and laid out the flyer and program for this event, he is also our photographer and videographer. Thank you, Jamana. Thank you, Karen.

Let me thank my BAJI family. First, Rev. Phil Lawson, I want to be like you when I grow up! You have truly inspired our movement and have been a guiding force in BAJI’s formation and in our ongoing work. Your treasure trove of knowledge, compassion and spiritual wisdom has left a lasting impression on me and your words will remain in my heart and mind. We only met each other when BAJI was formed and we have become, as you often say, “the family members we never met.” Thank you, Phil.

Rev. Kelvin Sauls, thank you, thank you, thank you, my brother from another mother! The gospel of liberation that you preach and practice has been an important part of BAJI’s perspective.

To Nunu Kidane, my sister from another mister, I am so grateful to you for your deep, deep sense of justice and for the close bonds of friendship, kinship and camaraderie we have enjoyed over the past eleven years.

Phil number two, Phil Hutchings, you, my brother, are da bomb! Your journey from SNCC to BAJI has been seamless. Your political acumen and social graces are legendary. Thanks, Phil.

Leonard McNeil, Big Mac! I am in awe of not only your physical size but also the size of you commitment to social justice. You are a giant of justice. Thank you so much.

My sister Alona Clifton, You are so great! You have toiled along side of me for all these years. I appreciate you being unapologetically black and your frankness and forthrightness. As you relocate to Atlanta, please know that you will be missed. Please accept this small token of appreciation as a going way gift.

Walter Riley, you are a consistent warrior for justice since you teen-age years in North Carolina. Your work in support of Haitian liberation has contributed greatly to our work in support of Haitian immigrants. Thanks for your guidance and support.

Ronald Colthirst, our Ambassador to San Francisco. Brother, thank you believing in BAJI and for carrying the message across the bay.

Denise Gums, thanks for your songs and solidarity. You have enriched BAJI and have contributed to the movement for justice.

Amahra Hicks, our Contra Costa representative for so many years. You are much appreciated for you long term commitment to black liberation and to human rights.

To the newer members of BAJI in the Bay Area—Regine Neptune, Marcel Jones, Tatiana Chaterji, Zef Amen— and to the new BAJI board members—Janis Rousheuvel, Aimee Castenell, Thomas Assefa and Marybeth Onyeukwu—thank you for volunteer you time and talent to BAJI and to the movement.

And to the BAJI staff, I want to say, you rock! Tia Oso, our Black Immigration Network coordinator, you are so awesome! Stand up, Tia, and be recognized. I am in awe of your talent, political savvy and uncompromising stance for justice. I have so enjoyed working along side of you.

To Terence Courtney, our Southeast Regional Organizer in Atlanta; Juwaher Yusuf, our Program Associate in New York; and Ben Kabuye and Devonte Jackson, our organizers in New York and Oakland respectively, I appreciate your dedication to your communities and to BAJI. You make BAJI work!

To all of our BAJI allies nationally and locally, especially within the Black Immigration Network, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Detention Watch Network, Alameda County United in Defense of Immigrant Rights, the Bay Area Equal Voices Caucus, the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund and the Haiti Action Committee, it has been my honor to work along side of you and with you to rid our country and our world of injustice.

And last, but certainly not least, let me give my praises to the BAJI co-director and soon to be Executive Director Opal Tometi. Opal, will you come to the stage and join me, please?

Opal, when we met in Phoenix in 2010, we could not have foreseen the collaboration that we would forge. You, my sister, are so amazing!  You have the talent, personal commitment and political perspective to take BAJI to the next level.  Your vision for BAJI is, at the same time, expansive and focused. It has been one of my greatest pleasures to work with you and to walk along side of you on this journey to justice. Thank you, my sister! Today, I pass the torch of leadership to you. I am confident that you will keep the flame of freedom lit for all to see. Congratulations!

A Call for Global Solidarity with the Palestinian Struggle

Jul 24, 2014   //   baji, Blog, human rights, racial justice  

Post by Devonté Jackson, BAJI Bay Area Organizer and Regine Neptune, BAJI Bay Area Organizing Committee Member

Nearly 697 Palestinian deaths have been recorded in Israel’s bombing campaign on Gaza, approximately 160 were children. Yesterday, the Israeli military bombed Gaza’s only power plant killing 6 people, wounding 20. This disastrous bombing campaign has been justified by right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who claims the bombing campaign is a response to terrorist attacks targeting Israeli citizens orchestrated by Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic organization that has represented the Gaza strip since 2006.

Prior to the Israeli bombing campaign on Gaza, 3 Israeli teenagers were abducted, murdered, and buried under a pile of rocks. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu places responsibility of the brutal abduction and killings on Hamas and have since strategically utilized the killings of the Israeli teenagers to justify the massive slaughter of Palestinians who Netanyahu claims are being used as shields for Hamas. Palestine

In addition to the bombing campaign orchestrated by Netanyahu, Israeli mobs terrorized Palestinian communities in search of those responsible for the killings of the 3 Israeli teens. During this search, Israeli extremists captured and lynched Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16 year old Palestinian. This caused widespread civil unrest in Palestinian communities.

Tariq, a Palestinian-American Florida resident and cousin of slain Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was brutally beaten by Israeli soldiers during his stay in Jerusalem because of his alleged participation in a protest against Israel. Tariq and his family denies participation in the protest and claims Tariq was observing the protest from a distance. After being beaten by the soldiers, Tariq was placed in an Israeli jail for 3 days, his family was forced to post $850 in bail, then he was placed on house arrest in Jerusalem. During this time, Tariq’s family requested support from Florida representative Kathy Castor (D) but she refused to offer substantive support during this difficult time.

We are not surprised at the unwillingness of Florida Representative Castor to represent Tariq. Florida’s legal system has proven to be racially biased. George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin, a young black man, for walking home with candy and a drink and was protected by the Stand Your Ground Law, while Marissa Alexander was recently denied trial by Circuit Judge James H. Daniel for firing a warning shot towards her husband, Rico Gray, who has a history of domestic abuse and had threatened Alexander’s life prior to the warning shot. It is clear that the our legal systems do not protect and serve the interests of black people and people of color in Florida and the US more generally.

The Palestinian struggle has commonalities with the historic and contemporary struggles in the U.S. against mass criminalization, state organized violence and brutality, racist legal systems, and the legacy of extralegal violence against marginalized people. We share similar experiences as people living under the oppressive policies and practices of a hegemonic state and we must practice global solidarity in order to end the Israeli bombing campaign and illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories which have facilitated mass displacement of Palestinian people. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, approximately 5 million Palestinians are eligible for refugee relief efforts.

We must also shed light to the Anti-African Movement in Israel. Many African communities in Israel face daily discrimination and violence because of their race and ethnicity. Prime Minister Netanyahu has identified African migrants as a threat to Israel and has made it his priority to limit the migration of African people into Israel to protect the Jewish identity of the Israeli state.

We recognize Israel’s treatment towards its African population as part of a global phenomenon of anti-blackness and white supremacy which terrorizes, criminalizes, and subjugates black communities and communities of color across the globe. In order to put an end to this, we must recognize that our liberation is tied to the liberation of all people. For us to create social, economic, and racial justice in our communities, we must build a united and powerful global movement aimed at achieving collective liberation for all.

#freePalestine #endtheoccupation

The Movement Continues

Jul 22, 2014   //   About BAJI, baji, black history, Blog, Board & Staff, Opal Tometi, Press  

By Gerald Lenoir, BAJI Co-director 

The day is fast approaching when I will pass the torch of leadership to BAJI Co-director Opal Tometi.  It feels like it was just yesterday when Rev. Phil Lawson and Rev. Kelvin Sauls called together a group of African Americans and black immigrant Bay Area activists and BAJI was born.  That was in 2006 and none of us knew where this experiment would lead us but we were willing to take the journey.  We knew that immigrant rights were a racial justice issue and that African Americans and immigrants should be coming together to fight for racial, social and economic justice. 

Since those initial days, BAJI has grown from one part-time Executive Director to now having local BAJI Organizing Committees in New York, Georgia, California and Arizona who are building coalitions and initiating campaigns among communities to push for racial justice. At the local and regional level, we’re providing training and technical assistance to partner organizations to develop leadership skills, working with faith communities to harness their prophetic voice, and initiating vibrant dialogues with African Americans and black immigrants to discover more about race, our diverse identities, racism, migration and globalization. Also, BAJI’s flagship initiative, the Black Immigration Network (BIN), is now a national alliance of nearly 30 black-led organizations that convenes them to advance just immigration policies and promote cultural shifts our communities need.  And of late, BAJI and its allies have embarked upon a national agenda of taking on building the BIN Kinship around the issues of mass criminalizationHaitian family reunification and workers’ rights.
We’ve come a long way since the early days of organizing small group sessions in Bay Area African American churches.  But we still have a long road ahead of us to peace, justice and equality.  As I leave, I hope you will continue to support BAJI and join us thisSunday, July 27, 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm at Everett and Jones BBQ, 126 Broadway in Oakland, where we are hosting “Passing the Torch: Celebrating the Leadership of Gerald Lenoir and Opal Tometi” where we will be honored and the work of BAJI will be uplifted.

I hope to see many of you at the BAJI “Passing the Torch” event this Sunday afternoon.  And please know that I’m leaving the staff of BAJI, but I’m not leaving the movement.  See you on the frontlines!
Take care,

Gerald Lenoir
BAJI Co-director (until July 31)

The Crisis at the Border and the lies that divide us

Jul 15, 2014   //   Blog, racism, refugee  

By Opal Tometi and Gerald Lenoir, BAJI Co-directors 

The humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border has precipitated a sometimes acrimonious debate about “border security” and the limits of U.S. responsibility for people seeking refugee status and asylum.  The tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors and adults with children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have waded across the Rio Grande and walked out of the Sonora desert into a firestorm of controversy about their right to be here and the appropriate response by the Obama Administration.

We at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) takes the position that the U.S. government has a moral and legal responsibility to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers and to reunite them with any family members they have in the U.S.  U.S. law as well as international treaties and laws are unequivocal about the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, especially unaccompanied minors, and the obligations of receiving countries to provide safe haven.


Beyond the legal imperatives, the U.S. government has a moral responsibility to act humanely.  According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Honduras has the highest homicide rate outside of a war zone.  Guatemala and El Salvador also have extremely high murder rates.  Government repression, death squads and drug wars have made life unbearable for millions of families.  If the United States is to live up to the moral precepts our leaders say they espouse, then it is a no-brainer that we should support those who are seeking refuge.

More than that, the United States has a moral responsibility to right the wrongs that it has had a major role in creating.  For the past five years alone, the U.S, government has funneled tens of millions of dollars to corrupt militaries and police forces in Central America that has greatly contributed to human rights crises in the region.  And historically, U.S. government and corporate support for repressive regimes in Central America has severely weakened democratic institutions and has hampered the social and economic development throughout the region.

_EPG8071In addition, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) have helped to undermine local economies in Mexico and Central America and has forced the flow of children and families across borders and into the U.S.  Subsidized U.S. crops have flooded Latin American markets, for example, and have resulted in the loss of livelihood for millions of farm families who now seek work in the U.S., including the tens of thousands of Afro-latinos who are often forgotten in this discourse.


It is a travesty that there are some with a narrow view of the crisis and of structural racism, like Keli Goff, who in her online opinion piece at theroot.com, has given into the tired “divide and conquer” framing that pits African Americans against immigrants. Her piece promoted a false divide. She makes invisible the fact that our communities have much in common in terms of values, traditions and interests, and her argument suggests that we argue over scraps. The fact is, that the U.S. government has a responsibility to all its residents – whether citizen or not. Arguments such as Goff’s do a disservice to the cause of African Americans to suggest that the money slated to go support refugees should be used to meet the employment and education support due to African Americans.  While it is true that the U.S. government has misplaced priorities, it does no one any good to point the finger at other groups who have been victimized.  Instead, all of us should champion the cause of the current refugees and asylum seekers and begin to coalesce an inclusive human rights movement that fights for racial, social and economic justice for all people who are left out.

Please check out additional great pieces about this issue from people we support and collaborate with here:

- THE SOUL OF OUR NATION http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marqueece-harrisdawson/murrieta-immigration-protests-soul-of-our-nation_b_5575249.html

- WE STAND TOGETHER http://www.theroot.com/articles/politics/2014/07/unaccompanied_children_are_refugees_of_the_war_on_drugs.html

Predation on Public Education

Jul 1, 2014   //   Blog, education, politics, racial justice, schools, south, youth  

Post by Terence Courtney, BAJI Southeast Regional Organizer  

A very dangerous pattern, reminiscent of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, is steadily moving across the country.  In the south, the Midwest and the northeast, school closings are sending shockwaves throughout Black and Immigrant communities.  These shocks are later followed by a form of public school privatization called charter schools.

In Louisiana, the state controllers of the New Orleans School system –called the Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD)- will close what remains of the Big Easy’s public schools, making it the first 100% percent charter school district in the country. It’s a process began in the wake of Hurricane Katrina when anti public school advocates took advantage of the chaos caused by death and destruction to remake the city, starting with one of its key institutions –the public schools. The majority of the public schools were subsequently closed, and reopened as tax-payer funded but privately controlled charters.

Nearly 7,000 of New Orleans’ unionized teachers were subsequently fired without a democratic process or a voice. School closings, firings of experienced teachers with union protections, and privatization on such a scale would appear to many people as a clear detriment to the education of students living in a city recovering from the disaster that happened 9 years ago. But not to those who subscribe to a neoliberal agenda.  Their aim is to dismantle public education as a human right, and it’s a bi-partisan affair. In the opinion of Democratic Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans”.

Last week the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) issued a report called, “Twelve Months Later: The Impact of School Closings in Chicago”, which analyzes the closing of 50 schools in Chicago last year. Unsurprisingly, it found that 90% percent of the schools that were closed had a majority black student body and/or majority black teachers, many whom were unionized workers. For schools with Black students as the minority, only 2% percent were closed.

Chicagoans are finding out what Atlantans learned in 2012; that despite the hype by school administrators and school boards, closing schools doesn’t make education better. Reports on closings indicate that instances of violence tend to increase, children are forced to travel farther to get to school – which affects study habits, students get pushed into equal or lower performing schools, class sizes swell to overcrowded levels, and homeless children are hurt disproportionately. Adding insult to injury, the Chicago Public School system is now using the resources it “saved” from closing majority Black public schools to fund tax-payer funded and privately operated charter schools.

Given this trend, it’s no wonder why a Philadelphia coalition of Teachers, Students and Community activists have risen up to resist the Republican Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Corbett’s, efforts. Corbett has cut school funding and pushed for privatization. In response, protesters staged a demonstration on June 9th, which was followed by a Student led walkout on June 11th. The students have demanded that resources be put back into the public schools system, and they don’t want to be coerced into charter schools.

Clearly the Charter school movement is an attack on the education of Black and Brown youth, and it gets worse if the student is an Immigrant. For though US law states that School districts cannot, “deny admission to immigrant children, treat a student differently, engage in practices that “chill” the right of access, make inquiries about status or require social security numbers”, according to Aljazeera, charter schools do just that:

“In early 2013, Reuters released an in-depth report showing that charter schools across the United States have adopted complex screening practices that include requiring detailed applications available only in English, tight scheduling that allows for application only during an annual two- or three-hour window and Social Security card or birth-certificate checks (which are illegal requirements).”

These are terrible practices, and it seems well publicized myths about charter schools protect them from scrutiny. One such myth is that charter schools are better alternatives to public schools, but serious study shatters those myths. A recent article on charter schools by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) cites two studies by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) –one from 2009 and another from 2013- which make it clear that charters don’t do better than public schools. In fact, CREDO found in 2009, “Averaged across all schools, the impact of attending a charter school was a slight—but statistically significant—negative impact for both math and reading gains (CREDO 2009, 3, 22).” And when CREDO updated its study in 2013, it found that charters had made only a small amount of improvement, and that “public schools still had superior math performance..” Furthermore, in October of 2010, the NAACP passed a resolution that stated that Charter schools create “separate and unequal conditions” for educational success.

We should applaud and replicate the efforts of the teachers, students and community who have come together to fight back against the attack on public education in Philadelphia. Cuts in funding, a lack of democracy, school closings and charter schools have to be vigorously resisted to protect our human right to education. We have to stand with teachers against the neoliberal plan to de-professionalize their career. Those who would dismantle public education favor replacing good teachers with less experienced, less committed, non-unionized workers. This creates a high turnover rate that can’t be a positive step forward for our children. In this situation, Black and Brown youth – US and Foreign born – are hurt the most. Let’s go forward together to not just stop this Shock Doctrine on education, but we must also advance the cause of real democracy in public education.

Going Deeper: Movement Building in Georgia

Post by Terence Courtney, BAJI Southeast Regional Organizer  

The South has been and remains a key bastion of domination in the United States.  It’s a place where Black people -Immigrant and Citizen- face some of harshest conditions for the realization of human rights anywhere in the nation.  Structural oppression permeate political, economic, and even sometimes cultural spheres of Black life, which strive to undermine efforts to organize effective opposition to injustice.  While that’s not news, it may surprise some that these conditions are precisely why the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) decided to begin organizing in the region.  It’s the territory that must be confronted if we are to advance Immigrant Rights, Racial Equity and Economic Justice.

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In a period of just under one year, BAJI has made significant progress in Atlanta, Georgia.  It’s built a committee of Black

Immigrants and African Americans who come together regularly.  They base their relationship on shared values, and a vision for a movement that sees immigration policies from a black perspective, and how those policies must be changed in order for everyone to have more freedom.  Delving deeply into the BAJI analysis, the Atlanta Organizing Committee has created frameworks and strategies, such as Grassroots Organizing, Coalition Building, Human Rights, and Intersectionality, to form a powerful and forward looking program.  Coupled with BAJI’s longstanding commitment to Education, Media, and Direct action, the Atlanta Committee is putting together a formidable arsenal of ideas that lay the foundation for a practice that’s transformative.

This has meant that the Atlanta Committee has done the hard work of going to the people; of reaching out to Black Immigrant communities to learn, and build interconnections that are the bedrock for social movement building.

As one could imagine, there are challenges.  Fear, shame, and internalized oppression vex efforts at alliance creation.  However, rather than becoming discouraged, the Atlanta Committee realized that these dilemmas meant they were getting closer to real people immersed in an oppressive condition, and all the baggage that comes with that.

On April 26th, BAJI Atlanta conducted the first in a series of forums to have a public dialogue on what it means to build

partnerships between Black Immigrants and African Americans.  The program was an interactive discussion between a panel and audience who came from different walks of Black life.  African and Caribbean immigrants were strongly represented.  College professors, human rights educators, local grassroots activists, public school employees, union members, journalists, and simply concerned residents came together to strategize over matters involving Immigration Reform, Mass Incarceration, Criminalization and Economic Globalization.  The half day forum served as a dynamic space to talk frankly about these issues and how we move forward together.

P1100353 (2)Buoyed by the depth of the conversation, forum participants broke bread in comradeship, and inspired each other to redouble their commitment to BAJI and the work it does in Atlanta.  Solutions to challenges were proposed and debated.  But over and again, the panel and audience reminded each other with words of hope how important it is for BAJI to continue to be the bridge between US born and foreign born communities.  In the process, the Committee learned a lot about itself and what BAJI does.  So, with passion, patience, and a profound sense of encouragement, BAJI Atlanta pronounced with determination, that organizing will continue to intensify in Metro Atlanta.