On Urgency, Frustration and Love:
A Love Letter to Black Students
December 10, 2015 / Black Liberation Collective
In the aftermath of so much beautiful black insurgency going on in the last couple of weeks, we want you to know that we, the steering committee, are nervous. Sure, we might have some organizing experience, sure, we might know some people, but we are still students with mid-terms, financial-aid issues, horrible professors and daily microaggressions. We are still students, even after we leave our local Black Lives Matter actions and return to our campuses, where our activism is frowned upon by advisors and demonized by the media. We are still students, and we should fight for black lives in every institutional context: including education.
So, like a number of social justice oriented circles, some of us who met in Cleveland at the “Movement for Black Lives Convening” stayed connected, we continued to envision a future filled with the radical love of our people. We know that a lot of us who are engaged in Black Lives Matter work are also students, and that college organizing is a realm that has been left uncoordinated at the national level since SNCC and the Black Student Leadership Network in the ’90s. We saw this as an opportunity to build something new, to forge a new future for Black higher education in this country, and we are moving forward.
As in any student organizing space, we lost momentum. Our weekly phone calls turned into bi-weekly and then once a month. We would text each other every now and then to check in, but the labor was lost. It got lost in the daily grind of classes, racial micro-aggressions, BSU meetings, and the onslaught of assaults on black people, particularly black youth (and especially black young women and girls). Two of our original members were organizing at Mizzou, and through their determination, their sacrifice, and the relentless love and power of black women’s leadership, we were reactivated — reactivated through the example of #ConcernedStudent1950. We finalized our vision and our purpose, and with a renewed sense of urgency and a solid victory with a coalition of black students from Mizzou, we recognized our potential and saw that this was our moment help build a sustainable movement to help transform education.
So we brought in other student organizers from across the country who have dedicated their very being to the liberation of ALL black people. They come from HBCUs, small and large state schools, Ivy league schools, community colleges and even universities in South Africa. We began to work again and we are still working out the kinks. We are new at the national level of organizing, but we are battle-tested at our individual universities and local environments. We will continue to study the stories of black resistance, we will be reaching out to our elders and to other national leaders for guidance, and we will collaborate with other black organizations that are interested in getting free.
Now why is all this backstory necessary? Why is this important?
We want to be an example.
We are a microcosm of all black movements, even in our short life span. We started strong, began to fade, were revived, and were reinvigorated through crisis. This model of organization building is familiar, but not sustainable. It does not breed leaders. It does not help the people. It might make one or two positional gains for black folks, but it cannot be entirely transformative: only reactionary and reformist.
That’s why we keep going.
We want black students to be able to sustain themselves and their work in this movement. We want to see black folks graduate and become community builders in whatever fields they choose. We want to see our people transform education because black people in this country have always linked education, in some form or fashion, to our freedom.
It is with these sentiments that our organization, the Black Liberation Collective, was born. Black students, we are here for you. We want to you succeed, and we will help you build capacity whenever and wherever necessary.
WE LOVE YOU, WE NEED YOU. WE WANT YOU TO GROW, WE WANT YOU TO DEVELOP AS LEADERS, AND WE WANT YOU TO TRANSFORM YOUR INSTITUTIONS TO FIT YOUR NEEDS AND THE NEEDS OF THE COMMUNITY.
No longer will we sit back and be ignored. No longer will we allow ourselves to be consumed in the daily grinds of being student-activists. No longer will we allow these institutions of higher education to exploit us, and in return we get debt, trauma, and good memories that fade when our energy is sucked into the machine that is oppression. Love — a radical, intersectional love for all black lives — is necessary to do this work.
There will be times when the workloads will get tough. There will be times when you will have to skip class or an important info session to get to a demands meeting. There might even be times when conflicts over leadership, ideology, and representation supersede the nature of the oppression you’re fighting against. But what you can’t forget is that you must do all things in love.
We will not stop. We will help build us. We will work on us. We are strong. We are worthy of the things we ask for. We are enough. We are who we have been waiting for. As Ella Baker, our intellectual grandmother and the original visionary behind our model once said, “strong people don’t need strong leaders.” So we will build capacity with the strong students across our campuses, and we will do so by any means necessary.
We love us. We got us, and most importantly, we gon’ be alright.
In Love and Solidarity,
The Black Liberation Collective
The Tragic Death of the "Black Liberation Collective"
National Student Organization 2015-2016
Last week I came across a Google search entry for an organization called the Black Liberation Collective (BLC). The group's name felt like a sixtyish Black radical acting troupe or food co-op. Millennials, I thought, don't do "collectives, do they?
To my surprise they were "in-your-face" Black college students that were kicking-ass and literally taking names across the country. The heart wrenching student letter I read "On Urgency, Frustration and Love: Love Letter to Black Students" embodied their hopes and fears, and revealed their innocence, inexperience and idealism. Most striking was the letter's appeal for guidance and leadership from Black liberation movement veterans.
Starting in 2015, they launched protest rallies and marches on campuses, pitched tents on university greens, held die-ins, invaded college administrators' offices, and initiated a national "Student Blackout Day." They organized contingents to leave campuses to protest in cities against police brutality with Black Lives Matter activists. Their moxie matched their radical rhetoric.
By 2016, the "Collective" had put forward concrete demands for action at 86 campuses from Ivy League Yale, to the University of Toronto, to UCLA to smaller colleges like Babson and Bard.
In the most contentious showdown on any college campus in years, the "Collective" at the University of Missouri joined hundreds of Black students in a dramatic face-off against the schools' administration. They supported student hunger strikes and the football team's decision to boycott playing the season.
The "Collective" was on the frontlines demanding the scalp of the University president for not responding to repeated racist attacks against Black students. And, they won. University of Missouri system President Tim Wolfe resigned. So did Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, who ran the main campus in Columbia.
In two years, the Black Liberation Collective had come as far and as fast as any national Black student organization in the "Cathedral" (America) in decades. But by 2017, the actions and activities of the Black Liberation Collective ground to a mysterious halt and their website went dormant.
At a time when the Black nationalist movement needs new energy and ideas, new leaders and organizations, the demise of the Black Liberation Collective is a painful setback. It was a missed opportunity which we cannot afford to repeat in the future.
While its not clear what happened to the BLC, a look back at their brief history may hold some relevant lessons for the future.
University of Missouri students on the Commons
The genesis of the Black Liberation Collective was inspired by Black protests that first erupted in the aftermath of the police murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. These protests marked the elevation of Black Lives Matter from an internet-based hashtag movement to an organized force.
By 2015, the police murder of Freddie Gray in Baltimore that led to Baltimore's street rebellion, the shocking assassination of the Charleston Nine in a South Carolina church, and the killings of William Chapman, Jonathan Sanders, Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose, Jeremy McDole, Corey Jones, and Jamar Clark prompted a national wave of protests.
The breath of protests in dozens of cities gave Black students the opportunity to participate in the "fightback" for the first time in their lives. The movement's momentum and the leadership demands being placed on Black Lives Matter pushed them from being internet facilitators and network coordinators to movement organizers with structure and goals.
On July 25, 2015, Black Lives Matter and a coalition of Black organizations called for its first organizing conference in Cleveland. It was there that a core of student participants decided to create an independent Black student organization to expand the battle to college campuses in the fall of 2015.
How the Black Liberation Collective was launched isn't clear but their website: blackliberationcollective.org (still active) was up and running in September 2015, just two months the Cleveland BLM conference.
What happened between the BLM conference and the Collective website launch may provide some clues. The dramatic spike in police murders of Black people, Black Lives Matter's ascendancy, the presidential primaries and the emergence of the Alt-Right were all converging simultaneously in the summer of 2015.
In July, Black Lives Matter started targeting Democrat presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders. Their goal was to force the candidates to adopt their positions on social and criminal justice.
On July 20, BLM interrupted a presidential candidates forum in Arizona attended by Sanders and O'Malley. The forum was held by progressive left-wing advocacy group called Netroots Nation. Again, on August 8, Black Lives Matter activist disrupted a Sanders rally in Seattle, taking the microphone from Bernie for five minutes and shutting the rally down.
The twist in the plot is that when the Black Liberation Collectives site went live in September 2015, the disclaimer on the site states: “BlackLiberationCollective is a fiscally sponsored project of Netroots Foundation, a California 501(c)3 corporation."
Netroots Foundation includes programs like "New Media Mentors" which is described as "a program designed to pair social media and online organizing experts with nonprofits and community groups who want to learn how to use new tools and technologies strategically and integrate them into their outreach efforts."
BLM activist with the mike & presidential candidate Martin O'Malley at Arizona Netroots conference.
As some Collective activists were tied to BLM, Netroots Nation/Foundation may have sponsored the Collective for activists training sessions and website development to placate Black Lives Matter or to become a supporting partner.
We don't know what happened in this instance. It's entirely possible Netroots supported the "Collective" and shared mutual political interests.
What we do know is that the "Collective's" website is still functional, but no activity has been posted in two years. Therein lies the real tragedy. The Toronto, Canada chapter that joined the "Collective" in the summer of 2015, has survived and remains quite active. Their website is hosted by Ryerson University.
The student "Love Letter" asks a fundamental question that the resurgent Black Nationalist movement should take to heart; "Where does this movement go from here?" It's the type of question that's asked when the marches and demonstrations stop, and one has to think about the road forward.
The student "Love Letter" makes a direct appeal to veterans of the Black Liberation struggle for help. Arguably, the Collective may not have received the help, assistance and support they needed to sustain their efforts and grow. If the "Collective" has dissolved, it is not Netroots nor Black Lives Matter's fault. They're efforts should be commended.
If any blame is to be assigned, it should fall on the Black Nationalist movement. How is it that a Black student organization like the Collective, has to depend on the white left for funding and technical support to host a website. Oprah gave $500,000 to the Parkland students. Was there no one in the Black community that could have supported the "Collective?"
The "Collective's" appeal for leadership and guidance was not just a request for resources and money. Leadership is also about political and organizational guidance. In this regard, the Collective's political thrust appears to mimic or be slightly to the left of Black Lives Matter. In their statement of principles the Collective states the following:
"As an organization, we stand against capitalist notions of infinite profit, homogenized markets, and a privatized means of production. Capitalism is the economic system used to justify our oppression as Black people, both our marginalization and our exploitation.
With this being said, we resist notions that “supporting Black businesses” will be our ultimate savior in our attempts to gain freedom. We cannot adopt the patriarchal, exploitative tools of our oppressors as we seek liberation. Instead, we propose a cooperative form of economics that works on shared resources and shared means of production to uplift ourselves out of poverty".
The passage from the Collective's statement of principles does not suggest they were bereft of a political orientation or doctrine. Of more interest to us are the organizational principles that may have come into play. particularly if Black Lives Matter was the primary influence on the Collective.
BLM's leadership model has been the subject of widespread discussion. Some even refer to it as a more millennial-based model. In what it deemed a break with leadership models from the past, especially the 60's, BLM is a highly decentralized organization. By 2016, BLC adopted foundational principles, but describes itself as a "chapter-based, member-led organization whose mission is to build local power and to intervene if violence is inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes."
In breaking with the top down hierarchical leadership structure, BLM hoped to avoid becoming an organization driven by a single charismatic leader. When the single leader is incapacitated, the organization becomes highly susceptible to collapse. They could point to Malcolm X, King, and Huey Newton to make their case.
Black Lives Matter prefers autonomous chapters, giving voice to local creativity and inspiring a sense of ownership at the local level. Social media platforms facilitated and accelerated BLM's decentralized model, while enabling its more centralized leaders to communicate back to its base and millions on Beale Street (the Black Street) by Twitter and other platforms.
Nevertheless, its not hard to see how a decentralized model could poses difficulties for local areas that need strong political and strategic leadership. In the Collective's case, they also needed logistical and operations support.
BLM also had difficulties controlling local messaging when some local representative went off script with statements and actions that reflected poorly on BLM. In some cities, there were more that one BLM group disseminating conflicting messages. Centralized and decentralized models both have their challenges. It's a legitimate debate, as well as exploring blended leadership models that attempt to balance local initiative with centralized leadership.
While the fate of the Black Liberation Collective remains uncertain to us, Alt-Black.com commends every student that participated in its efforts to advance the cause of Black Nationalism and liberation. Their story should not be forgotten, and it won't be if we commit ourselves to not allowing it to happen again. It's one thing to have a chapter or two go off the rails in a large national formation. But to lose an entire organization is quite another.
On the Move at Eastern Michigan University
ABOUT THE BLACK LIBERATON COLLECTIVE
Who Are We?
We are a collective consisting of Black students who are dedicated to transforming institutions of higher education through unity, coalition building, direct action and political education.
The Black Liberation Collective is dedicated to building infrastructure for Black students around the globe to build power, using an intersectional lens, in order to make our campuses safe for all Black students. The Black Liberation Collective is also committed to working collectively with Black organizers across the country and globe to bringing about freedom and liberation for all Black people.
We envision a world where all Black people have access to higher education within learning spaces that are safe for all Black students.
In our organizing we believe in centering those that experience intersecting identities which make them particularly vulnerable to various forms of violence and oppression, including cis and trans Black women, Black queer folks, gender non-conforming Black folks, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated Black folks, Black folks that are undocumented, and working class Black folks.
From the Black Liberation Collective Statement of Principles on Anti-Capitalism
As an organization, we stand against capitalist notions of infinite profit, homogenized markets, and a privatized means of production. Capitalism is the economic system used to justify our oppression as Black people, both our marginalization and our exploitation. As Black people, both in the United States and abroad, we have an intimate and painful history of labor exploitation that is unrivaled throughout the world, and this labor system has evolved into wage labor slavery that further isolates us from each other and the struggle for freedom. We reject labor exploitation, privatizing natural resources, and neoliberal ideologies that fixate on the pathologies of a population as opposed to the pathologies of institutions.
With this being said, we resist notions that “supporting Black businesses” will be our ultimate savior in our attempts to gain freedom. We cannot adopt the patriarchal, exploitative tools of our oppressors as we seek liberation. Instead, we propose a cooperative form of economics that works on shared resources and shared means of production to uplift ourselves out of poverty. What if we grow our own food? What if we make our own clothes? What if we provide housing and shelter to those who need it? How can we better use our labor to push our communities forward, and not just ourselves? These are questions we will adopt as we seek to dismantle anti-Black capitalist corporations that benefit from our oppression.
Student movement at Brown University