Originally published by the Huffinton Post, Black Voices: http://huff.to/1AIgTyv
By: Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors-Brignac
Today, people across the country pause and remember the legacy of civil rights leader, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For many, the birthday of Dr. King is a time to reflect on peace and non-violence, to remember the dream, to perform service in your community, and for others, it is a much needed three-day weekend, a respite after returning to work from a busy holiday season.
Yet this year, King’s legacy is being thought of in the context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement which has spread like wildfire throughout the United States and around the world. Ignited by the killings of Islan Nettles, Mike Brown, Rekia Boyd, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Aiyana Jones, Jordan Davis and too many more by police and vigilantes, Dr. King’s legacy and his work take on a different meaning in today’s world.
What we know about the legacy of Dr. King has been largely sanitized, re-configured, and appropriated to obscure his radical vision. Dr. King nurtured visions of a movement that could restore a deep and abiding love for all of humanity; a world where the restoration of democracy and full citizenship, of an economic system that could provide for everyone, and an end to war and militarization. Dr. King’s dream tackled poverty and systemic inequality. Ultimately his vision was a society with human rights for all.
Indeed, Dr. King’s dream was radical for his political and material context. And there were many in his time that challenged him and worked alongside him to ensure the collective vision would come to fruition. The contributions of leaders such as King’s senior advisor, Bayard Rustin, a gay man, was the visionary behind the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an early initiator of the 1947 Freedom Rides. Other friends of Dr. King such as Ella Baker, who worked with many organizations including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, challenged him and others in the ’50s and ’60s to engage in more democratic leadership styles and noted the importance of local community organizing campaigns. These relationships and challenges to political thinking shaped Dr. King. And this attention to political analysis and practice was important then and is important for us today.
When we founded #BlackLivesMatter in 2013, we wanted to create a political space within and amongst our communities for activism that could stand firmly on the shoulders of movements that have come before us, such as the civil rights movement, while innovating on its strategies, practices and approaches to finally centralize the leadership of those existing at the margins of our economy and our society.
#BlackLivesMatter, a project started by three black women, two of whom are queer women and one who is a Nigerian-American, has opened up the political space for that new leadership, and as a result, a new movement to emerge. Black trans people, Black queer people, Black immigrants, Black incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated people, Black millennials, Black women, low income Black people, and Black people with disabilities are at the front, exercising a new leadership that is bold, innovative, and radical.
There are important implications for the possibilities that this new layer of leadership can offer the movement as a whole. We create much more room for collaboration, for expansion, for building power when we nurture movements that are full of leaders, and allow for all of our identities to inform our work and how we organize. This then allows for leadership to emerge from our intersecting identities, rather than to be organized around one notion of Blackness. Because of this, we resist the urge to consolidate our power and efforts behind one charismatic leader.
When we center the leadership of the many who exist at the margins, we learn new things about the ways in which state sanctioned violence impacts us all. Dr. King once said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” And what we have learned from Dr. King’s words and our current practice is that when a movement full of leaders from the margins gets underway, it makes the connections between social ills, it rejects the compromise and respectability politics of the past, and it opens up new political space for radical visions of what this nation can truly become.
And the best part is — we’re just getting started.
Let this be the year that we expand the #BlackLivesMatter movement through the experiences of Black immigrants — more than 500,000 in this country alone who are fighting criminalization and the separation of our families through a broken immigration system.
Let this be the year that we expand the #BlackLivesMatter movement through the experiences of Black transgender people, who currently have a life expectancy of 35 years because we are denied the basic respect and dignity of affordable and accessible health care, and because we are more often the victims of violence then we are the survivors.
Let this be the year that we expand the #BlackLivesMatter movement through the experiences of Black women in the economy, who make 64 cents to every dollar that a white man makes.
This year, the #BlackLivesMatter network joins Ferguson Action and thousands of others in a joint effort to #ReclaimMLK. For the last four days, people around the world have reclaimed the legacy of MLK by engaging in radical acts of civil disobedience, by bringing our vision and our dreams and the needs of our communities to the halls of power across the country, by doing teach-ins about the social and economic issues that, when resolved through social and legislative action, and by connecting climate change, gentrification, poverty and economic inequality — thereby further illuminating the dream of #BlackLivesMatter.
A simple utterance that touched our hearts so deeply when we breathed life into it has also touched the hearts and energized the actions of thousands across the world who are fighting to reclaim our nation’s humanity.
We are the ones that we have been waiting for.
Opal Tometi is the Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter. BAJI is a national organization that educates and advocates for immigrant rights and racial justice with African-American, Afro-Latino, African and Caribbean immigrant communities.
Alicia Garza is the Special Projects Director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance and a co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter. She organizes Black domestic workers across the diaspora in NDWA’s We Dream In Black project, and serves as trusted counsel for organizations across the country looking to build their capacity to lead and win organizing campaigns.
Patrisse Cullors-Brignac is an artist, organizer and freedom fighter living and working in Los Angeles. As founder of Dignity and Power Now and co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter, she has worked tirelessly promoting law enforcement accountability across the nation.
Join people across the country as we bring in the New Year in our commitment to fight like hell for Black lives. Support the BlackFriday14!
“On Black Friday, November 28, 2014, in response to a call to action from the Black community of Ferguson, Missouri, a team of 14 members of the #BlackLivesMatter network, dubbed the Black Friday 14, joined hundred of thousands of others nationwide using civil disobedience to protest a discriminatory pattern of police and vigilante violence that has taken too many Black lives – including, most recently, the lives of Michael Brown, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Antonio Martin, O’Shaine Evans, and Eric Garner.(1)
Instead of citing and releasing protesters, or charging them with the same minor infraction applied to the thousands of multiracial allies that have blocked busses, trains, and traffic — the Alameda County Deputy District Attorney has capitulated to aggressive pressure from the BART Board of Directors to apply a harsher penalty, that of misdemeanor criminal trespass, which requires these 14 protesters to pay tens of thousands of dollars — up to $70,000 — in “restitution” to BART.”
We need your support in defense of our right to take action to end the war on Black people.
Here’s how you and/or your organization can be in solidarity with today’s Black liberation struggle:
Sign the petition of support by CLICKING HERE and forward it to your networks.
Take a selfie with the following message and post on Facebook and Instagram: (printable templates are attached to this email.
“I Stand with the #BlackFriday14…#
Tweet your selfie @SFBART.
Get your organization and/or community to take a group photo with the same message.
Post by Benjamin Ndugga-Kabuye, BAJI New York City Organizer
Federal politics has become a circus of the familiar ever since 2008. Advocates will push for progressive and transformative legislation, Democrats will ignore or water down the policy to compromise with Republicans then the right wing will reject their efforts any ways. Federal politics all of it has not changed much since President Obama took office.
Healthcare is one field that I have discussed before but bears mentioning because of how well it shows this process. Advocates like Physicians for a National Health Plan (PHNP) called for a healthcare model that was universal. PHNP had put a detailed solution forward with immense national support from physicians as early as 2003. Their Physicians’ Proposal for National Health Insurance gained the endorsement of 8,000 physicians.
In an effort to reach across the aisle and compromise with Tea Party infused Republicans, Democrats never seriously engaged the idea of a real public option. Seeing this immediate move to compromise Republicans made the strategic decision to close ranks and treat this watered down bill as if it was the most extreme violation of the Constitution. Defeating Obamacare became a central part of Republican politics and this effort has continued with a recent lawsuit by House Speaker John Boehner. These were the tactics of the right when Democrats had control of Congress.
Now Republicans control both houses of Congress and President Obama has just put forward an executive action on immigration. With newly won control of Congress the Republicans did not their strategy in fact they only increased their efforts. Like clockwork the Republicans are shouting that this proposal is unconstitutional, with some policy makers planning on shutting down the government in protest. To date seventeen states have sued President Obama over his immigration measures. This isn’t just a top-down strategy on the federal level. Local officials in Arizona have also launched a lawsuit against executive action on immigration as well. So what is it left for immigration advocates to do? The first thing we need to do is to take advantage of the advancements within executive action while understanding the flaws of the measure. BAJI Executive Director Opal Tometi led with a statement saying as much on executive action.
As I argued in “We Are The Conversation” advocates for just immigration must agitate for transformative policy like BAJI is doing with our effort to Reunite Haitian Families. Our goals must go beyond the political framework we are forced into and imagine what a world would look like if our communities were safe, healthy, and thriving. Ironically enough this non-compromising stance is a strategy used by advocates of policies that are very harmful to our communities.
In episode 15 of Brooklyn Deep’s Third Rail podcast I argued that Republicans are the most effective political party precisely because they do not marginalize and are often led by the grassroots and extremist elements in their political party. This conversation with Brooklyn Movement Center highlighted how despite losing the presidency Republicans have effectively shifted political conversations to the right. They may be advocating for harmful policies but they are imagining a world they want. They did this sort of vision work even when they did not have power in Congress and regardless of the political reality. Our advocates must do the same. We must push for policy that reflects justice regardless of the political reality, because those who dare to imagine ultimately shape political reality.
“But when they get angry, they bring about a change.” – Malcolm XOn December 13, 2014, tens of thousands of people unified in the name of justice in the streets of New York City. We made history.It was a sight to see, one that will never escape my memory. Streets flooded with people of all ages and races chanting Black Lives Matter, No Justice No Peace, Hands Up Don’t Shoot…
These words. These raw words harboring truth, pain and passion in our eyes, resonating so deeply to the core of our being. We did this for Sean Bell, Mohammed Bey, Rumaine Brisbon, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Amadou Diallo, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, Ramarley Graham, Oscar Grant, Akai Gurley, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, and Tamir Rice among others. We did this for our people – across generations – continuously afflicted with injustice. Every 28 hours, a black person is killed by someone protected by the US government. The racial bias in policing and the justice system is killing Black people. We are tired. Tired of burying our brothers and sisters persecuted for the color of their skin. Tired of the demonization and mass criminalization of our communities. Tired of the protection of police officers who kill us.
This is our progressive movement and we took to the streets peacefully demanding to be heard.
We refuse to be left out of the conversation. On the contrary, we are intentional about shaping that dialogue, building multiracial alliances, and organizing to bring about a change.
Our communities demand an end to the government sanctioned violence that is police brutality. This stops today.
We will get justice.
“I can hear my brother saying, ‘I can’t breathe.’ Now I’m in the struggle singing, ‘I can’t leave.’”
Organizing against state violence in Ferguson, MO and across the country has produced a range of analytical and educational media. Below you will find a general overview highlighting BAJI efforts and relevant work from a range of organizations.
BAJI Bay Area Organizer, Devonté Jackson, in West Oakland BART Demonstration
Anti-Blackness in Progressive Movements #FergusonFridays
This is a storify of a #FergusonFriday discussion discussing Anti-Blackness in Progressive Movements. BAJI with the support of @so_treu @bad_dominicana @familiesfreedom @DesisRisingUp led the conversation and you can get some of the highlights here.
#BlackLivesMatter Enough to Organize
This article details major themes in the Black Lives Matter work in Ferguson and some of the critical organizing tactics of the campaign.
Black Immigrants & African-Americans Demand End to Police Brutality
It is important to make the connections between the demands of Black immigrants and the needs of African-Americans. This is a detailed overview of this narrative in the context of national movements currently moving forward and place immigration currently has in the popular discussion.
Ain’t This Your Son?
This article details the unique role Black immigrants have to the police brutality they face along with African-Americans. Along with this description, Benjamin Ndugga-Kabuye, BAJI New York City Organizer, makes suggestions of how Black immigrants can leverage international relations to address domestic concerns.
BYP 100 Agenda To Keep Us Safe
The Black Youth Project 100 created a position statement that pointed to focus areas that policy makers and organizers must consider in regards to the criminalization of Black youth. This document represents a step towards inserting the voice of youth in imagining what organizing and policy making on law enforcement should look like.
This site is the home of the NYC Cop Watch organization. As a site it offers community responses and walks through a particular method that Cop Watch can operate.
Every 28 Hours – Operation Ghetto Storm
In 2012, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement wrote “Operation Ghetto Storm” to grasp the quantitative nature of the violence Black communities face from “extra-judicial killing.” This report is central to current national organizing efforts particularly with the initial revelation that a person is killed every 36 hours. This was eventually updated to every 28 hours.
Ferguson National Response Network and Ferguson Action
This site holds the collective efforts of local Ferguson organizers. National demonstrations are listed on this site and significant coordination from local organizers help orient the national movement.
The argument central to this article is is how protesters are “leading the next wave of Black liberation struggles into an international movement.”
Know Your Rights
The ACLU is a major force for addressing the legal impact of law enforcement encounters. This site is particularly useful because it also warehouses information on the rights of immigrants with support for multiple languages.
Organizing manual: Let Your Motto Be Resistance
This manual is from MXGM the same organization that created the “Operation Ghetto Storm” report that detailed a Black person is killed every 28 hours by law enforcement. Their manual outlines concrete steps towards organizing around police brutality along with broad educational information.
The Real Crime Paper
On the page hosting our Real Crime video you can find a link to download the accompanying “Real Crime” paper on the right hand side. This paper gives reader further information on the analysis presented in the Real Crimes video.
The Real Crime Video
This media piece makes the central BAJI argument around immigration policy and mass criminalization. Along with a systemic description this video points viewers to important themes BAJI emphasizes for collective action.
State of Emergency
BAJI National Coordinator for the Black Immigration Network and BAJI Arizona Organizer, Tia Oso, explains, “the true state of emergency is in Black communities. A Black person is killed extrajudicially every 28 hours. Since Mike Brown’s killing, at least three other young Black people have been killed by members of law enforcement in St. Louis alone.”
Sexism in the Movement
This article uses personal history to critique the patriarchy embedded in the history of Black social history. This article explains that resisting sexism within our communities must be a central concern as our national movements begin to gain momentum.
Post by Devonté Jackson, BAJI Bay Area Organizer
This past Black Friday I participated in an all black nonviolent civil disobedience at West Oakland BART Station with 13 comrades which caused a transbay shutdown of BART service for approximately 2 hours. Two teams locked down and formed a blockade on both platforms preventing doors from closing and the trains from moving. While we were shutting down West Oakland BART, hundreds of black folks joined us in a healing ceremony down stairs. We set out to hold the blockade for 4.5 hours in acknowledgement of the 4 hours Mike Brown’s body lay in the street after being murdered by Police Officer Darren Wilson. The 28 minutes represented the reality that “every 28 hours a black person is killed by a police officer, security guard, or vigilante in the U.S.”
My role in the action was an anchor position for one of the blockades. I was the connector to the BART train which was accomplished by locking my body to a bar with a chain around my waist and U-Lock around my neck. The symbolism in the act was powerful. Locking myself down with chain and U-Lock reminded me of the bondage black people had to endure in the times of slavery and the oppression we face today with the prison industrial complex and mass criminalization. I did not want to take this act. I worried about my physical safety and the repercussions of taking such action but I felt it was an act that I had to take in order to call attention to the state-sanctioned violence black people face in the U.S. Our #BlackoutBlackFriday Action called for an immediate end to the war on black people. It was important for us to show solidarity with those organizing for justice in Ferguson and that we lift up the multiple ways state sanctioned violence impacts the bay area black community.
This movement was led by black women. The overwhelming majority of those arrested in our Black Friday BART action were black women; only 2 out of the 14 arrested were male identifying. Folks set out to ensure that our message was for all black people. We acknowledged racism and transphobia within law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Additionally, we identified gentrification, criminalization of black immigrants, de-prioritization of black queer youth issues, the miseducation of our youth, the school to prison pipeline, environmental racism, etc. as forms of state sanctioned violence that were being actively deployed as tactics of violence towards our community in the bay area. We wanted to ensure people knew that the violence our people face goes beyond police terror and mass incarceration.
I am reminded that the 2 hours that I spent in jail for this action is 2 hours more than the time Darren Wilson will spend for murdering Mike Brown. Many folks were inconvenienced and angered by our act of civil disobedience but we did this in order to disrupt business as usual to highlight the fundamental injustice in the criminal justice system; we faced more punishment for a nonviolent BART disruption than Darren Wilson will for his act of murder. Folks in Ferguson has called for communities across the country to disrupt business as usual until we get the justice we deserve. Black folks in the Bay Area will continue to escalate our actions until all our people are free!
OPAL TOMETI, BLACK ALLIANCE FOR JUST IMMIGRATION’S EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR CONDEMNS GRAND JURY DECISION IN FERGUSON
Statement from Opal Tometi, the Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration condemning grand jury decision in Ferguson
“A grand jury has declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the murder of unarmed teen Michael Brown on August 9th in Ferguson, MO. Unfortunately, this decision was expected. The months since Brown’s shooting revealed a system of structural racism in Ferguson and throughout St. Louis that has led to racialized inequity and this decision has further solidified a culture of disregard for Black residents. We at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) condemn this miscarriage of justice.
The completion of the grand jury process does not equate to justice for our communities. Michael Brown’s death is just one of the far too numerous instances of what amounts to an American epidemic. Every 28 hours someone inside the United States, employed or protected by the U.S. government kills a Black child, woman or man. 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 reaffirm our commitment to 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.
Furthermore we call on all black communities and our allies to organize because our future depends on it. . BAJI is committed to continue equipping African American and black immigrant communities to stand up against mass criminalization, systemic racism and social injustice. Victims of police killings are disproportionally young people of color. It is young women and men that lead the movement to defiantly declare that Black Lives Matter in the face of a system that says otherwise.
At the Black Alliance for Just immigration we look at criminalization of our communities as being a crime. We cannot sit idly by while black families suffer with little due process or recourse. We must continue to organize, as the courageous Ferguson community has fought vigilantly for over 100 days, and put an end to the systemic abuse of power that is tearing apart our communities and taking precious lives.”
- Administrative Relief for All immigrants – although 4 million is great, all 11 million is better. Many in our communities still won’t be protected by the immigration announcement.
- No more Racial and Religious Profiling in the name of immigration enforcement.
- No more removal proceedings for Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs), many Black immigrants are LPRs and due to draconian laws from 1996 many get unduly targeted for removal.
- Address the visa backlog – many in people are waiting to be reunited with their family members, and this is easily one way the Administration could have taken additional action to support legal, already approved, migration
- No new enforcement programs nor increased border enforcement. This is flawed logic when there are many human rights violations and lack of due process that is already occurring with current programs and practices.
Post by Tia Oso, National Coordinator for the Black Immigration Network and BAJI Arizona Organizer
On Monday November 17, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a State of Emergency in a preemptive measure to mobilize state resources and suspend civil freedoms in anticipation of social unrest in response to the grand jury decision on indicting Officer Darren Wilson for the August 9th killing of Michael Brown. Protestors in Ferguson Missouri have stood for over 100 days calling for an indictment of Officer Wilson, the appointment of a special prosecutor in place of Bob McCullough, and accountability of the Ferguson Police Department for its corruption, abuse of power and violation of the human rights and civil rights of the residents of Ferguson. Simply put, justice for Mike Brown.
A state of emergency is defined as a situation of national danger or disaster in which a government suspends normal constitutional procedures in order to regain control. According to this definition, the true state of emergency is in Black communities. A black person is killed extrajudicially every 28 hours. Since Mike Brown’s killing, at least three other young Black people have been killed by members of law enforcement in St. Louis alone. At each turn, the demands of peaceful demonstrators have been met with militarized police response, disrespect and violence by some white citizens and demonization and outright lies from the mainstream mass media. If anyone is under threat, it is the Black community in Ferguson and allies. For weeks, law enforcement in St. Louis have been staging military vehicles and equipment into the Ferguson area, elected officials have issued inflammatory media statement, ramping up tensions and raising the specter of angry mobs of Black looters, causing many white residents to run to local gun stores, under the guise of self-defense. The terrorist organization Klu Klux Klan has issued public statement of their plans to use lethal force against protesters, with no reprimand from government officials. This is indeed an emergency. The right of Black people to live and defend the lives of those killed unjustly is under threat. This has grown bigger than Mike Brown. 100 days later, Ferguson is the center of the fight for racial justice and, with the eyes of the world watching; activists across the country prepare to respond.
Ferguson Speaks: A Communique From Ferguson is a short video that shows the complex perspectives from the Ferguson community and supporters on what the killing of Mike Brown means, and the fight for justice. Exposing antiblackness, injustice, the police state and systemic corruption, in the words of the people on the frontlines.
Watch the video and prepare to take action. There are Mike Brown’s in every community. This is not a Ferguson issue, this is a national issue and concerns the human rights of everyone in the United States. Allowing police to kill with impunity means that no one is safe. A new website- http://fergusonaction.com/ – includes actions planned in response to the grand jury decision in cities across the U.S. Get involved and take a stand in what has become this generation’s pivotal moment to affect change.
This is an emergency.
Courage to go into the unknown, with five children and one bag
Growing up, I knew that my story was different.
I knew that I had a complex reality compared to my blond-haired, blue-eyed classmates. I knew that my family had fled our home country in pursuit of a brighter, safer future. I knew that sacrifices were made beyond the depths of my understanding; it took the unfolding of several years to grasp the intricacies of the nuances I experienced as an immigrant. I am still learning about my family’s’ immigration experience and putting all the pieces together which leads me to this rare documentation of my family’s story that I recently uncovered.
“She arrived at the Port Authority in New York, took a bus to Buffalo. With her five children under the age of eight and one suitcase, she walked across the Peace Bridge and asked to be a refugee. She came with such courage, walked across a bridge to the unknown, to a country she had never seen. She knew nobody here and she walked across a bridge and she stands, for me, forever as an example of the courage to go into the unknown – with five children and one bag.”
My mother has never told us this story. Aware of our extensive journey, details were always omitted – likely in attempt to protect us from trauma. Culturally-speaking, downplaying experiences as a coping mechanism is common; partly in attempt to not have to re-live those horrifying experiences. However, there is incredible power in this story for me. There is incredible power in our stories and they need to be told.
Fleeing violence, torture, poverty, war, and discrimination through treacherous journeys is common in an immigrant’s’ experience. Our stories are nothing short of fascinating and can have a profound impact as our lived experiences make for powerful forms of communication.
It is important for us to share these stories.
Why? Because our stories matter. They matter because they showcase the injustices we’ve faced and continue to face. They matter because they create moments of connection with others. They matter because they give validation and acknowledgement of our experiences. They matter because they are therapeutic and unleash suppressed or otherwise deemed nonexistent emotions. They matter because stories have the ability to move people and expand their understanding. They matter to you. They matter to our community. They matter to us.
Channeling our experiences as immigrants through multiple art forms gives us the appreciation of our stories through open interpretation. The ability of paintings, poetry, theatre, music, actions and dance to captivate audiences through storytelling ceases to amaze me. Using art as a vehicle to create political action has encouraged young people in particular to be actively engaged in social justice issues they feel passionate towards.
At BAJI, we are pleased to support the storytelling of Black immigrants in our community. Join us this Saturday, November 15, 2014, as Anthony “Tony” Polanco launches his first publication, Verses from the Diaspora at our office in Brooklyn, 660 Nostrand Ave.
Verses from the Diaspora is not one person’s story but a collection inspired by the many voices of the African diaspora in the Americas and throughout the world. It reveals the reality of African descendants from the favelas of Brazil to the streets of South Central Los Angeles with brutal honesty. The roots of the book’s origin traces back to the author’s time in Valladolid, Spain in 2008 in which Polanco noticed the discrimination of Africans, Afro-Latinos, Afro-Brazilians and even Afro-Indians. Literary inspiration includes the works of Nicolás Guillén, Blas R. Jiménez, Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés, Federico García Lorca, John Keats, Carolina Maria de Jesus, Richard Wright, Carlos Guillermo, Julio de Burgos and Carlos Guillermo Wilson among others. Verses from the Diaspora embodies the various languages, cultures and backgrounds while exploring the similar struggles of the displaced children of Africa. The collection of original poetry pieces is expressed in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Enjoy a night of multilingual poetry performances and a discourse about the African Diaspora and the work done by The Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
Share your story with us. We’d love to hear from you…
Post by BAJI New York City Organizer Benjamin Ndugga-Kabuye
In recent years Black migrants have shifted the common immigration narrative that traditionally begins with troubled journeys leading to eventual acceptance. Now, even the New York Times brought the fall season in with an article on how the ‘Influx of African Immigrants’ actually reveals mistaken beliefs that the U.S. is “the Mecca for Africans.” Even earlier, Christina Greer’s 2013 book on “Black Ethnics” was animated by the reality of Black immigrants and our political destiny. BAJI in particular has been at the forefront of transforming foregone conclusions about Black migrants into political questions. We have made it necessary for everyone to think of Black Immigrants socially and politically.
Demographic Advantage or Democrats Need Us
Considering the political landscape the first statement we must make is that the two major political parties are incapable of advocating on behalf of Black immigrants. Republicans have very harsh immigration policies and Democrats who were unable to pass comprehensive immigration reform are losing political power. This is particularly important considering how Black communities in general vote. The first signs of this reality should have been clear when Democrats were unable to propose universal healthcare when they controlled Congress. With the re-election of President Obama due in part because of an immigration-aided demographic advantage many assumed that Democrats were in control and would support broad immigration reform while the Republican Party would fail because they couldn’t connect with immigrants. But the national picture did not predict the local landscape. The political landscape has been complicated by ineffective advocacy on both sides of the aisle, a Republican resurgence in the House, and now a crumbling Democratic majority in the Senate. This trend was particularly pronounced in Florida where the local demographics made Obama the first Democrat to win Florida consecutively in recent memory. The margin of victory was thin and, despite the actual politics of the White House, given political campaigns we can be excited for our communities can still shift election outcomes. This is the same Florida that Democrats have now lost to Rick Scott the GOP candidate for governor. We have many options in our political toolkit but if we are going to use voting then we need to disregard the notion that we need the Democratic Party because of the Republican menace. We can’t count on either party to advocate for Black immigrants. The Democrats in particular are in trouble but we don’t need them; to be viable, they need us.
Don’t Just Assimilate Agitate
It is never acceptable to take crumbs when you write the recipe. When the Department of Homeland Security announced the creation of a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program after Haitian-Americans had built campaigns spanning the length of country we should have known that our work had only began. Those of you who are familiar have seen the continuous effort to create a comprehensive parole program. So with a waitlist standing between 110,000 Haitians and their Haitian-American family members we were given a very limited program that was open to only 5,000 people. This offer is all the more reason to continue pushing for a much broader program because after announcing this limited program the Obama administration cannot undo that pledge without significant political consequences. We must press for more as the details of the program are being planned, we must press for more because it is our right. This was the conversation we established during the #ReuniteHaitianFams online discussion. Our plan can’t be to simply to bring our families here and try to assimilate culturally but to organize politically and agitate.
What is the (Black) Immigrant Agenda?
If the journey to Reunite Haitian American Families has taught us anything is that we must set our agenda internally. Gaining support from both sides of the aisle is no longer enough. In Minnesota the Freedom and Justice Party is building independently of the two parties with the Ebola crisis as its main agenda item. Black Immigration Network member, BYP100 is part of a major effort to present police brutality before the UN as systemic genocide. These are just a few ways we can begin to outline the beginnings of a national agenda for Black immigrants. Police brutality can even be expanded and stand within the context of other forms of state violence. The lack of adequate healthcare options that the Democrats were unable to address is one example. Even though we can’t set the agenda within the Democratic Party locally our communities are strongly represented in a range of service-delivery professions that we can politicize to meet our needs. In New York City, this is being done by nurses’ unions that are working to run a local hospital as a worker co-op that would offer address healthcare in a broader way. In so far as Republicans are uninterested and Democrats have abandoned universal healthcare, can we realize it outside the boundaries of their disregard? These are just a few examples of how we can begin to imagine our own political destiny.
Post by Devonté Jackson, BAJI Bay Area Organizer
I grew up surrounded by strong black women. I was raised in a single-parent household with my mom and older sister but my dad had 6 kids altogether, 5 girls and one boy. Yes, I am the only guy amongst 5 sisters. Additionally, I am the only man amongst my immediate cousins who are also all women (there’s 6 cousins altogether as well). My experience having grown up in a single-parent household surrounded by strong matriarchs in the family and my experience having a semi-involved and mostly distant father, caused me to struggle finding positive mentors that were men. So I relied on women in my family to guide me into adulthood. My mom, sisters, grandmas, great-grandmas, and aunts have played a major role in helping me understand myself in connection to the world around me. I am forever grateful for your teachings. I have also found a new family of radical women of color who have also taught me valuable lessons in critical movement building.
I thank you. All the women in my family and the women of color in the movement who continuously hold it down for our communities. We wouldn’t be here without you. My intention is to start this blog by showing my deep love and gratitude for you because I recognize that myself, other men, and society in general have taken you for granted.
My mother raised my sister and I in poverty. I never knew we were in poverty because my mom worked her ass off to ensure that we never felt less than anyone else, regardless of our material realities. My mom taught me early on to stand in my dignity which helped me to believe that I could accomplish anything. So I navigated life as if I could. It has also been my great-grandmas, grandma, and aunts who have continued to bring the family together. Unfortunately health issues have caused early deaths of men in my family so it has really been the women who have resiliently held us together.
Much like your contributions in the family that often go unnoticed, I have also observed that women of color have consistently held it down for our communities in the movement, yet the work is often invisibilized. My own sexist conditioned tendencies mixed with societal gender norms have contributed to that process of silencing and erasing. While it has been fairly easy for me to articulate issues of race and class in society, my own cis-gender male privilege, has made it hard for me to address sexism in my own organizing and daily practices. This silencing has negatively impacted my relationships and my work in organizing spaces. More seriously, I fear that my silence on the issue has made me complicit in today’s war on women.
Sexist perceptions of what it is to be a man and what it is to be a leader has made it very hard for me to show up in the movement in a truly authentic manner. My whole life I have been taught by individuals and society at large that to be a man, is to be strong. Any sign of emotional vulnerability made you weak, less man and more woman. So I held things in. I continue to struggle in becoming emotionally vulnerable and my conditioned tendencies of “sucking it up” have impacted my life in negative ways. And now I realize that I need to heal.
This is what women have been saying for some time now..
My fellow men of color. Let’s be real. Let’s have a true conversation about our sexism. We have continued to de-prioritize this in our work. Unfortunately, we benefit materially from this silencing but I truly believe that we are hurting ourselves, our loved ones, and the organizing by not addressing this. Sexism and sexist perceptions of manhood and masculinity continue to directly harm those who do not identify as men, men ourselves, and our communities. It will take active resistance to truly heal and work towards a society that treats women and people of all gender identities with true respect and dignity. This work must be prioritized.
Haitian-Americans Receive Long Awaited Visa Program to Reunite Family Members After 5 Years of National Advocacy
NATIONAL COALITION OF AFRICAN AMERICAN AND BLACK IMMIGRANT LEADERS AFFIRM VICTORY FOR HAITIAN COMMUNITY
Haitian-Americans Receive Long Awaited Visa Program to Reunite Family Members After 5 Years of National Advocacy
[New York, NY – Friday October 17th, 2014] Advocates of the Reunite Haitian-American Families Campaign have achieved a significant victory in the October 17th Department of Homeland Security announcement of a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program (HFRP). Prior to this federal announcement longstanding support for FRPP grew from key national efforts like the Reunite Haitian American Families Campaign that is sponsored by the national coalition Black Immigration Network, which includes organizations such as the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees and Haitian Women of Miami.
Co-Chair of the Reunite Haitian-American Families Campaign and Executive Director of BAJI, Opal Tometi explains, “Immigrant rights organizations launched the campaign as the domestic and international Haitian community dealt with the powerful earthquake that shook the Haitian capital of Port au-Prince. Living conditions began to worsen as communities displaced to tents began to number into the hundreds of thousands. This fragile situation degraded further with the onset of a cholera outbreak from unscreened UN troops.”
While Haitian visa recipients stayed on waiting lists, some for over a decade, a call went out for a Family Reunification Parole program that would expedite family reunification by allowing already approved visa recipients legal entrance into the U.S. to reunite with their family members.
The Department of Homeland Security has responded to the demands of immigrants groups and the Reunite Haitian-American Families campaign. Members of this campaign believe this is an important step that expedites the process for those beneficiaries whose visas are within two years of being current. However, advocates have shown that many of the 110,000 Haitians have been on the waiting list for as many as 12 years. Depending on the implementation approach and the way the program is structured it is estimated that the program will cover 5,000 individuals.
Opal Tometi the Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration believes that, “It is clear that we are being heard, but it is important that we understand that this is just one step in our journey to get the needs of the Haitian-American community met. We will watch the Department of Homeland Security closely to see how they plan on implementing this program and call on them to proceed with a strategy to expedite the process for all Haitians who’ve already been approved.”
Advocates for the Haitian FRPP call for a broader program with the Cuban parole program as a model.
Support for a broad and comprehensive FRPP is resonating in a Haitian community that by 2009 reached 830,000 members across the country.
Marliene Bastien executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami/Haitian Women of Miami and Co-Chair of the Reunite Haitian-American Families Campaign told the Miami Herald, “we will continue to work for the rest of the group who are qualified, to get them the opportunity to be reunited with their family members because they have been waited for so long.”
For more information visit: www.reunitehaitianfamilies.com
Protestors Lead the Next Wave of Black Liberation Struggles into an International Movement
Post by Tia Oso, National Coordinator for the Black Immigration Network and BAJI Arizona Organizer
Shrouded in fog, hundreds of marchers walk across a bridge towards St. Louis University at 1am face down dozens of police, beating their batons in rhythm against riot shields; calling to mind images of Martin Luther King and others in Selma on the Edmund Pettis Bridge. It is hard to believe that this is 2014, not 1965 and that the right of civilians to peaceably assemble and petition one’s government for the redress of grievances is still at issue. Family related to both Michael Brown and VonDerrit Myers, their grievance the loss of sons gunned down by police, stood at the front of the crowd demanding that the march proceed. One of the young women in the crowd remarked, “this is why I didn’t tell my parents I was coming to protest. We are Igbo Nigerian and they are very traditional, they would be scared for me right now. But I had to be here for this moment…They [Ferguson protestors] faced this for 64 days, I can be here with them tonight.”
Every police killing sparks outrage, whether or not the news media takes notice. Families mourn every death and communities come together to mourn and cry out for justice. When Michael Brown was killed on August 9, instead of the usual period of mourning, outrage and organizing, the people of St. Louis, particularly the youth, young Black men and women of St. Louis, refused to let the flames of resistance die. For 65 days, against tanks, tear gas and tyranny, their passion, energy and determination have launched an international movement for racial justice and human rights that has compelled people around the world, across age, race and nationality to declare that “Black Lives Matter”. In a historic weekend of mobilization October 10-13, BAJI Organizer, Tia Oso and Black Immigration Network members joined thousands of supporters, marching the streets of St. Louis, occupying the campus of Saint Louis University, Wal-Mart, major intersections, the October 13 St. Louis Rams game and other sites (protests are ongoing and spontaneous) to engage in non-violent civil disobedience for the lost lives of Mike Brown, VonDerrit Myers, John Crawford and countless others demanding accountability and systemic policing reforms nationwide. For some, this is an act of solidarity, or allyship, but for those in the diaspora, Nigerian, Haitian, Liberian, Congolese, Jamaican and more that live in and traveled to Ferguson, the fight is personal. Racial profiling and criminalization affects all Black people, regardless of national origin, and from Dred Scott to Michael Brown, the fight for full citizenship in the U.S. continues for all people of African descent.
Contrary to depictions in the mainstream media, this is no rogue riot. Organizers operate with a clear analysis that recognizes the intersections of systemic racism, mass criminalization, state violence, capitalism, militarism and white supremacy. The St. Louis municipal government is not a “broken system” that must be corrected, indeed, the multiple municipalities, with lines determined and drawn by white landowners and regulated by largely white Councils and municipal employees, funded by taxes and fines extracted by overpolicing targeting Black citizens through moving violations and other petty offenses, criminalizing them with an average of 3 warrants per year in Ferguson is an apartheid state exposed. State sanctioned terrorism that daily harasses, tortures, and ultimately kills with impunity. As outlined in The State of Our Communities, BAJI’s paper on understanding mass incarceration, mass criminalization is a mechanism of social control, and this movement aims to dismantle it. With Black youth, uncompromising and unrelenting in the lead, it is officially “Not your grandparent’s Civil Rights Movement”. Organizers repeatedly emphasize that young Black women have been the primary organizers and strategists, with young Black men sharing responsibilities, resources and power, creating new models that are challenging patriarchy and repressive structures of traditional leadership.
Rallying solidarity in Palestine, Hong Kong, Brazil and South Africa, Ferguson has emerged into a global struggle. While drawing inspiration from the historic legacy of the Civil Rights movement is routine for progressive activists from immigration reform to climate change and marriage equality, current Black issues and voices are not on always included on their agenda.
The escalation of the Ferguson Uprising expands the new era of Black resistance and leadership, shaking the cobwebs off of these pictures of stoic Black men and women in iconic black and white photographs that have framed and defined the fight for Black progress as over and done. With fearless passion, the youth are calling out the respectability politics and complacency of established Black leaders and organizations, the pacification and tokenism of Liberal moderates and the labeling of Black criminality and pathology Conservatives have used to paint the victims of police violence for their own deaths.
BAJI is committed to championing Black leadership in St. Louis and beyond, because it is Black liberation struggles that have led to a more just and equitable society. Cornell West stated at Sunday night’s Mass Meeting at St. Louis University that “every generation of African people in the U.S. has had to fight for justice” and by mounting an organized resistance to police violence in their community, the millennial generation at the forefront of the Ferguson movement has taken the lead in the fight for the human and civil rights of all people.
Opal Tometi, Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, is featured in Essence Magazine’s November 2014 issue, The New Civil Rights Leaders.
By: Lisa Armstrong
Read more of the digital version here: http://bit.ly/116YCQH
BAJI & Black Lives Matter Discuss Confronting Anti-Blackness In Progressive Movements In Order To Build Multiracial Alliances
Confronting anti-black racism and building multiracial alliances that make us all #StrongerTogether
Join the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and the Black Lives Matter community this Friday October 3rd at 12pm CST/ 1pm EST for an important twitter chat about structural racism and multiracial alliance building.
We’ll be using the hashtags #StrongerTogether and #FergusonFridays for this conversation. In the 8 weeks since Mike Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson, the Black community in Ferguson have been unrelenting in their fight for justice. Their struggle has inspired acts of solidarity from other progressive movements in the U.S. and abroad. The acts of solidarity have been tremendous, however there have also been many questions about Black-leadership and what it means to show up for Black communities in a sincere and powerful way. We know that our communities are #StrongerTogether so we are creating an open space to discuss the challenges and opportunities for cross-racial alliance building in the 21st century. The issues of our day such as mass criminalization, migration and economic inequities require we build deep and lasting relationships for our collective liberation.
Be sure to follow us, @BAJItweet and @Blklivesmatter on twitter and join us, Desis Rising Up and Moving, Families For Freedom and many others this Friday October 3 at 12pm CST/ 1pm EST. RSVP here and join the conversation.
Post by Tia Oso, National Coordinator for the Black Immigration Network and BAJI Arizona Organizer
President Obama’s recently announced delay in granting Administrative Relief to undocumented migrants in the U.S. has sent many in the migrant rights movement up in arms. His announcement comes just months after he promised “a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress” through Executive Action. After promising decisive action on immigration reform for 8 years, immigration policy reform has again been reduced to a political hot potato. A talking point. A litmus test for the liberal or conservative credentials of a political candidate, and little else.
This is not a new development, indeed, the very creation of the immigration “problem” through the vilification and categorizing of migrants as an underclass and “other” is a mechanism for conservative movement building. The roots of anti-immigrant activism, organized and funded by Jon Tanton and the Koch brothers and allied with White Nationalists to rally a grassroots conservative base, now catered to by the GOP and Tea Party that has deadlocked the House of Representatives from passing any type of immigration reform legislation. Fueled by hate-filled political fear mongering, the anti-immigrant movement galvanizes its base of supporters to staunchly oppose any humane immigration policy and to pass punitive laws such as SB1070 and launch conservative political careers. Indeed, in the Arizona Republican primary for Governor, candidates worked to outpace one another in their zeal to appear tough on “illegals” and appeal to the conservative base.
Progressives, in turn, have been slow to respond. In fact, as we see with President Obama’s record number of deportations and policies such as S-Comm emphasizing enforcement, politicians on the left are complicit in building a machinery that further militarized the border and created “crimmigration”, mounting no real opposition or alternative to the right wing maneuvering of public opinion and resources, and leaving families broken and devastated in the balance.
The grassroots migrant rights movement is fractured and vulnerable to these political games. Instead of a broad based, mult-ethnic coalition fighting for real reform to provide social and economic justice, groups organize in silos and play a game of exclusionary politics. In the negotiations for the bi-partisan Senate bill on immigration passed in 2013, for example “criminal immigrants” were quickly thrown under the bus as ineligible for a pathway to citizenship and the diversity visa that enables many African immigrants to migrate to the US was summarily eliminated. This is ironic, given that it was a multiracial coalition that successfully elected President Obama to the White House in his two historic elections and could wield this considerable power and influence with an inclusive, intersectional agenda.
In the waiting game for executive action, progressive groups should be looking for ways to broaden who is covered in Administrative Relief and push President Obama to truly “Go Big” by making a big ask that will benefit the maximum number of the 11 million undocumented migrants in the U.S. The Black Immigration Network has created a list of priorities for Administrative Relief for Black communities that outline what this looks like for black immigrants. Without decisive, broad action, there is the very real prospect that any relief from enforcement granted to certain segments of the population will further expose those outside of eligibility to increased scrutiny and aggressive enforcement measures.
This presents a very real problem, especially for immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean. Families living in fear, in the shadows and margins of society, are subject to exploitation and oppression. Of particular concern for Black immigrants is the scrutiny of racial and religious profiling by the police, with many departments having the authority to work in cooperation with ICE to detain immigrants due to their non-Citizen status. This affects Black American communities as well; workers fearful of deportation won’t speak out about unpaid wages or unsafe workplaces, lowering wages and labor standards for everyone.
Only Congress can control the categories of immigration and funding of the agencies involved. However, the President may act to modify enforcement priorities, change certain regulations and create programs. President Obama could use his executive authority to create enforcement reform, affirmative relief from deportation, and modify immigration adjudications. By supporting an end to all deportations and adding program adjustments such as Family Reunification Parole for Haitian American Families to their lists of demands, migrant rights groups can signal to the President that relief is not just about garnering votes of one demographic over another, but about making real change that will bring relief to all migrant families. It is time for progressive groups to unite and make big asks in the fight for justice.
Post by Devonté Jackson, BAJI Bay Area Organizer
The Black Alliance for Just Immigration is working in coalition with communities across the Bay who’ve developed study/action circles on Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Our Bay Area New Jim Crow Study/ Action Coalition is composed of Alameda and Contra Costa County residents primarily involved in activist and faith communities. All members of the coalition are deeply committed to addressing core issues that have created and bolstered today’s system of mass criminalization which has sustained and reinforced racial caste in the U.S., making our struggle one against the New Jim Crow.
Our coalition moves with the understanding that in order to dismantle the system of mass criminalization, we must first deeply understand the problem. This is why we have committed several months to studying and creating conversation around Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. She argues, “that mass incarceration is, metaphorically, the New Jim Crow and that all those who care about social justice should fully commit themselves to dismantling this new racial caste system” (pg 11). We understand that the White Supremacist-Patriarchal-Heterosexist U.S. establishment continues to dehumanize and commit egregious violence against people of color, queer and trans folks, women, and other marginalized communities within the U.S. and across the globe in systematic, and often militaristic ways. Our coalition is committed to not be bystanders in this struggle against the new system of mass criminalization.
Critical movement building is our approach in dismantling mass criminalization. We believe this requires; deep understanding of the problem, organizing in ways that are conducive to addressing foundational issues, learning from movements of the past, and moving towards societal change. We acknowledge that the solution to dismantling the system of mass criminalization is complex and requires a lot of work. We do not believe that there is one approach or answer to the issue of mass criminalization but our priority is to work towards solutions with community. With this approach, our coalition has come to a consensus in committing ourselves to the philosophy and practice of nonviolence. Additionally, we have organized a working group on non-violent direct action and other groups charged with developing local campaigns in Alameda and Contra Costa County that are designed to fit into the national struggle against mass criminalization.
Michelle Alexander argues, “that nothing short of a major social movement can successfully dismantle the new caste system. Meaningful reforms can be achieved without such a movement, but unless the public consensus supporting the current system is completely overturned, the basic structure of the new caste system will remain intact” (18). Our work is to movement build towards a society that values the humanity of all people, no matter race, gender, sexuality, class background, country of origin, etc. And our coalition aims to continue and to intensify the struggle to accomplish this vision.
Endorsed by New Jim Crow Study/Action Steering Committee:
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.
The 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?
BLACK IMMIGRANTS AND AFRICAN AMERICANS DEMAND END TO POLICE BRUTALITY AND CRIMINALIZATION OF BLACK COMMUNITIES
BLACK IMMIGRANTS AND AFRICAN AMERICANS DEMAND END TO POLICE BRUTALITY AND CRIMINALIZATION OF BLACK COMMUNITIES
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.
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.
Immigrant rights are a matter of racial justice. Black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean make up approximately 10% of the foreign-born population in the U.S. Studies have shown that black immigrants are detained and deported at five times the rate of their presence in the undocumented immigrant community. While our broken immigration system continues to adversely impact all immigrant communities, black immigrants often remain overlooked and excluded from the immigration discourse.
The Black Immigration Network renews its call for a fair, just and inclusive immigration system, which ensures that black immigrants are treated humanely and fairly and can bring all their contributions and talents to strengthen our culture, economy and communities. The President has broad—although not absolute—executive authority to set enforcement priorities, stop unjust deportations and mitigate some of the harshest effects of our broken immigration system on black immigrant communities. We understand that any administrative relief via executive action is temporary and could be reversed by a subsequent administration. Only immigration legislation can provide a permanent solution and a path to legal status and deserved citizenship for the more than 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. including 500,000 of which are black immigrants. However, the Obama Administration has the legal and moral authority to prevent more immigrants from suffering the consequences of Congress’ political inaction.
BIN proposes several critical priorities for administrative reform. Under their existing authority, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) can implement several immediate steps to prevent discrimination and human rights violations, reduce family separation, and mitigate the destructive impact of mass deportations on our communities. The following proposals are not exhaustive and are not recommended as alternatives to one another, as each is required to ameliorate the harm caused by the current detention and deportation policies.
No Deportation: Deportation is a draconian practice the adversely impacts families. The impact is not only emotional, but causes sever economic hardships that impact entire communities. Moreover, nearly 70% of immigrants deported in fiscal year 2013 were deported through summary removal procedures, including expedited removal and reinstatement of removal, without the benefit of a fair hearing before an immigration judge. More than 65% of these removals were of individuals who were convicted of misdemeanors, such as traffic violations, or individuals with no criminal history. All immigrants deserve due process regardless of whether they have a criminal history. At minimum the Administration should: 1) require that all individuals facing removal be given in-person hearings before an immigration judge 2) eliminate the use of expedited removal, including expedited removal of people captured at a port of entry or while trying to enter, and 3) create an administrative appeal process for individuals to challenge an expedited or stipulated removal order, visa waiver removal order, or voluntary departure or any removal procedure.
End Profiling: Immigrants should never face incarceration, detention or deportation as a result of racial, ethnic, or national origin profiling. The Administration should revise the misguided 2003 Department of Justice Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies, which contains massive exceptions that promote profiling in border communities and anywhere that a national security justification can be alleged.
End Biased State and Local Immigration Enforcement and Detention: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s collaboration with state and local law enforcement agencies for the enforcement of immigration law, via 287(g) agreements and Secure Communities, the use of detainers, and other ICE programs incentivize profiling, undermine community policing, violate civil rights and threaten public safety. Although, the Administration has taken preliminary steps to eliminate the use of 287(g) enforcement models, the 287(g) jail model still presents significant human rights concerns.
The widespread use of private, for-profit jails combined with mandatory detention laws contribute to system-wide human rights violations. To reduce the harm caused by detention, the Administration should support DHS Secretary Johnson’s interpretation that the “detention bed quota” in recent appropriations bills is not a mandate to indiscriminately fill those beds. Additionally, the Administration should require a bond hearing for anyone detained and shift resources from institutional detention to more humane less expensive alternatives to detention.
Stop Initiating Removal Proceedings against Legal Permanent Residents: The Administration should end the deportation of legal residents on the basis of offenses that occurred years ago, especially where the crime was not a deportable offense at the time that it was committed. Lawful permanent residents often face deportation based on conduct that occurred decades ago, sometimes for offenses that would not have made them subject to deportation at the time. There should be a statute of limitations of 1 year for initiating removal proceedings based on old conduct.
Grant Administrative Relief Policies to Every Immigrant: Administrative relief must be as broad as possible to ensure families can remain together and must be flexible enough to recognize their work and contributions, regardless of proof of employment or educational attainment requirements.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, should be improved to eliminate unnecessary cut-offs that deprive many deserving immigrants of relief. (For example, DACA currently excludes immigrants who have been in the U.S. since they were young but who were born before June 15, 1981 which has the unjust effect of excluding immigrants who have been in the country the longest. Further, less than 1.7% of all approved DACA applicants are from the Caribbean and less than 1.0% are from Africa.) Accordingly, DHS should also create additional administrative relief programs, more responsive to black immigrants, through which individuals could apply for protection from deportation on a case-by-case basis. Such a program would allow all those who have family, employment, community, business, and other ties to the U.S. to remain here without the threat of deportation. In order to be successful, such a program would have to be implemented as quickly and broadly as possible.
Improve Existing DHS Policies Governing Prosecutorial Discretion: The Administration should expand the option of prosecutorial discretion to all of DHS not just ICE and prosecutorial discretion should be presumptively granted to children, spouse and parents of U.S. citizens; lawful permanent residents; and those with temporary statuses including, but not limited to DACA and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients; individuals who have resided in the U.S. for at least the last 1 years; and individuals for whom removal would cause significant personal or family hardship.
End Unjust Worksite Enforcement Policies: Immigration enforcement practices should never be used to silence or thwart immigrants’ ability to advocate for their labor or civil rights. The Administration should prohibit civil immigration or criminal arrests or detention of workers in the context of workplace enforcement actions and prevent employers from abusing I-9 or electronic verification procedures to violate workers’ rights.
Address the Mounting Backlogs in the Family Immigration System: The Administration should address the mounting backlog in the family immigration system by paroling into the U.S. family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who have had immigration applications filed on their behalf. Millions of individuals have applied to be reunited with their families and are needlessly ensnared in the family immigration backlog—many waiting as long as decadesfor visas to become available. Nearly 110,000 Haitians are beneficiaries of family-based immigrant visa petitions which the DHS has already approved but who remain on waitlists of up to more than 12 years in Haiti. The Administration should create a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program. Paroling these individuals into the U.S. as they await the processing of their visas promotes family unity and stability.
tel:(347) 410- 5312 web: www.blackimmigration.net email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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?”
Post by Juwaher Yusuf, BAJI Program Associate
Three weeks ago, Eric Garner, a black male in his early 40s lost his life in the hands of the police. Garner was being apprehended for selling loosies – unlicensed loose cigarettes, a minor crime, when he was swarmed by police and placed in the chokehold that ended his life.
His last words: “I can’t breathe…Get off of me.”
In the disturbing video, the usage of the banned chokehold by an officer is undeniable and absolutely unnecessary. This restraining maneuver cuts the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain typically leading to unconsciousness and eventually death. In 1993, the NYPD banned the chokehold as a result of the rising number of deaths in police custody. In 2014, this dangerous maneuver continues to take the lives of our brothers and sisters without those at the hands of the violence being reprimanded. The incident was captured by 22-year old passerby Ramsey Orta – who has been followed and harassed by the police since the footage went viral. With his recent charge of weapon possession, Orta claims he is being set up by the police and his bail has been set to $75,000.
Incidences of this nature happen far too often in the United States. What separates this among the others is that it was entirely caught on video – there is no misunderstanding, no change in the series of events; the injustices that people of color face on a daily basis is captured for the world to see. It’s heartbreaking that without the footage, there likely would not have been a national outcry demanding justice. However, with the basic access we have from our smartphones, tablets, and laptops, we are our own journalists. We can document our own stories and share the realities that we endure.
Police violence is real and this is nothing short of an example – sign this petition today to show your support against police brutality. It is also not a coincidence that the said precinct involved in Garner’s death has the highest number of sued cops across all of New York City and is notorious for “dumping violence-prone, problematic cops that create ongoing headaches for the NYPD’s top brass in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx.” Our communities are the dumping-ground for ineffective enforcement. How are we to trust the very people who are out to get us?
Garner’s death has been recently ruled a homicide.
What will come out of this horrific situation? Why raise concern now? Because a father lost his life? Because it was caught on tape? These practices occur daily – people of color are stigmatized and the lives of our black men have been reduced to continuous criminalization – this is why I worry about and pray for my brothers in the struggle everyday.
“[This isn’t] even about the more than 1,000 civilian complaints of NYPD employing illegal chokeholds since 2009. This is about the disregard for black life and humanity that fuels policing. It’s about the amount of authority police have over our lives, deciding when and where we die. It’s about the daily harassment, the constant fear and the perpetual mourning. We can’t breathe.” – Mychael Denzel Smith, The Nation
Policies like the “Broken Windows Theory” enforce mass criminalization that plague our society and is “disruptive, racially motivated, and in turn our communities are being vastly diminished.” The need for us to stand together in these times of hardship and injustice to show that #BlackLivesMatter is crucial now more than ever.
We, too, are in solidarity and we send our deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Eric Garner.
May you rest in peace.
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!