It was 12:30 AM and I had just returned from an impromptu Juneteenth celebration in the streets of Cincinnati, an event that only happened due to the chair of Cincinnati City Council abruptly ending the meeting hours earlier than it was anticipated to end. The vibrant music and the illuminating stories that were told that night are two things I will never forget, especially how the people of Cincinnati took to their streets to take change into their own hands.
That sentiment brings me back to several weeks prior; I was attending my first Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Cincinnati with my mother and 15-year-old brother. As we marched in the streets chanting, I looked over toward him and said "I will never understand why this is controversial." This past summer, we have witnessed how the Black Lives Matter movement has become politicized in a number of ways. We had a segment of the population that was more concerned with 'the looting and the rioting' than the cause of these demonstrations, which is the countless Black lives that have been lost due to police brutality and other racist systems which are prevalent in American society. Let me be clear when I say that there is absolutely nothing political about supporting Black lives.
We have the important duty to choose which side of history we will stand on, which is an opportunity we must take. Many people look back on the Civil Rights movement and think about how they would have been on the right side, too. It is important to note, however, that back then, supporting integration and the rights of Black lives was illegal and "wrong." Let me be clear when I say that legality has no bearing on morality.
It has been both an empowering and heartbreaking time for me. On one hand, I have been empowered to use my voice to speak my truth and use my skills to organize protests and events for the community, but on another hand, I am saddened and disturbed by the sheer number of people who would be happy to continue forward with the status quo. Let me be clear when I say that justice and change almost always happen when you shake the table to move the needle of the status quo.
I grew up in a mostly white, Christian, conservative town, the direct antithesis to my melanated Black skin, my Muslim faith, and progressive beliefs. Quite frankly, growing up, I did not even know how to claim my Black identity. The Black individuals at my school were always looked at as the 'other' the 'ghetto' the bad-language, attitude-bearing Black people. At the time, I wanted nothing more than to be far away from the negative stereotypes cast upon the Black community.
Once I arrived at Ohio State, I began to see just how beautiful my rich Sudanese culture is, how intrinsically incredible it is to be different, and to march to the beat of your own drum. I claimed my Black skin. I claimed my religion. I claimed who I was.
Fast forward to now- I know that words used to describe Black folks when I was in high school were just more tactics of subliminal (and not so subliminal) racism. Terms like 'ghetto' were used to undermine Black folks and used by White people to continue the ideals of white supremacy while degrading the Black experience.
May 2020 marks a time when many found their voice to advocate for Black folks across the United States, but that should not end after one summer of protests, or a couple of posts on Instagram. There comes a time when you must challenge the oppressive systems in place, challenge what is 'right' and 'normal' because there is nothing normal about Black lives being targeted at such disproportionate rates.
Black Lives Matter is not posting a black square on Instagram and moving on. It is not reading one book. It is a lifetime commitment to being anti-racist and calling out those around you when they say something racist. It is our collective responsibility to advocate for one another. Black folks are not displaceable or worthless. They are valued, they are loved, and they most definitely matter.