Students, faculty, staff and local community activists gathered in Choi Auditorium Thursday to discuss Black liberation as part of the Black Student Alliance’s Black History Month: Centering Blackness. Other events scheduled for the month include “Love, Locs & Liberation” by Assistant Dean for Community Engagement Ella Turenne and a lecture by activist Angela Davis. So far, in the past few weeks, Black History Month has featured a compilation of lectures, discussions of identity and celebrations of culture.
Attendees at Thursday’s event, entitled “#Blacklivesmatter and Black Panthers Roundtable,” viewed a short film, followed by a panel discussion about the theme of liberation. The panel included Black Panthers Baba Sekou Abdullah Odinga and Baba Hink Jones and Black Lives Matter (BLM) activist Dr. Melina Abdullah.
The room rippled with waves of laughter, shock and sadness as the audience explored the varying facets of past and present Black social reality. Hosts asked the panelists about their history in activism, how they managed their movements and the nuances of their approaches; the event concluded with questions from the audience.
In relating the history of their activism, the panelists emphasized the difference in tactics between the Black Panther and BLM generations. Still, the panelists all cited similar experiences in how they became inspired to devote themselves to their activism.
“We lived under planned terror … I was inspired by the death of Emmett Till. His mother was wise enough to have an open casket so the world could see what those men had done to him,” Jones said. “I don’t need to see a picture of that, I carry that in my mind, it changed my life forever … I joined the Black Panther party for self defense.”
Abdullah explained how she grew up on the picket lines with her father, who was also an activist. Like Jones, she attributed much of her original inspiration to the murder of an unarmed black child.
“After the Trayvon Martin verdict … that was when Black Lives Matter was born,” Abdullah said. “When we were taking to the streets the boys were saying, ‘We’re going to take over this highway.’ … I was inspired by the strength these boys recognized in themselves.”
As the discussion progressed, panelists began to mentor audience members on activism, discussing the characteristics of effective activists.
“I don’t think [this generation] has the courage [Odinga] had,” Abdullah said. “It took a different kind of courage to do what you all did.”
Odinga disagreed, arguing the younger generation possessed the same character — they just faced a different degree of struggle. Abdullah addressed students, advising them to include educating younger children in their work.
After the event, Isa Kibira (sophomore) said that the emphasis of generational differences enhanced his appreciation of activism.
“The Black Panthers had offices all over the U.S. you could go to,” Kibira said via email. “But for the Minneapolis and St. Paul chapters of BLM, I have to rely on a text message or Facebook invitation to be aware of an action. Also, different BLM chapters have different demands, which can get confusing. However, I do think their strategy has a lot of constructive qualities to it.”
The organization of activist movements was another common theme raised during the discussion. A first-year student, who wished to remain anonymous, echoed the need for more organization.
“If we never come together and unify our narrative, then we will never be able to organize good and get things done,” the student said. “We will never liberate anyone.”
Audience members asked questions about how to unite in their efforts and include multiple marginalized communities, as well as how to maintain morale while upholding the ideals in their mission, which may conflict with the ideals of many supporters. The panelists did not have answers, which they explained was part of the Black experience.
“As Black liberation evolves, so do the weapons against it … Don’t be discouraged because the movement doesn’t work like it did back then,” Abdullah said.
The discussion ended with a reminder from panelists for audience members to stay aware of their positions of privilege. Odinga urged attendees not to forget that there are still Black Panthers in jail as political prisoners. Abdullah echoed this reminder, also encouraging those in the audience to come together with them in activism, as they meet every Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters.