In Wake of Ferguson, Young Leaders Meet in the Southend to Affirm “Black Lives Matter”

by James Williams

“This is what history looks like, as it happens.”  Remarked Amelia Vassar, mother of a 13-year-old black boy who attends Denny Middle School in West Seattle “When change does come, I think it is always people like the young folk in this room who make it happen.”

“Similar meetings must have taken place around 1955.  After photos of young Emmett Till’s lynched body was published around the country.  People like Medgar Evers and Ida B. Wells came together with their communities to organize for power and work collectively to end lynching.  Now is not so different.  The energy and spirit feel the same.  Everyone is so sick and tired of being sick and tired.  The world keeps telling us black lives don’t matter, and we keep not buying it.  Same way so many of our ancestors modeled before.”  She continued.

This past Saturday, about 100 young people from South Seattle and the Central District (plus a handful of adults and allies) came together to express frustrations, learn about organizing and to find ways of involving themselves in ongoing campaigns to change conditions that lead to the unchecked murders of young black men like Mike Brown, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant and so many more.  Black Lives Matter.  We know they do.

As people arrived, Brother Khalfani communicated through the drums.  A slide show of photos captured at the Ferguson Solidarity Rally on Tuesday by Byrd Waters brought alive the screen in the front of the room.  Jerked Chicken and Rice with Beans were distributed from the kitchen.  Old friends greeted each other and new acquaintances swapped introductions.  Black student unions from Garfield, Madrona, and Cleveland were especially well represented.  College students home for Thanksgiving break and others attending local Universities and Community Colleges were both there in numbers.

The program started with Wyking Garrett and Senait Brown welcoming the overflow crowd to the Africa Town community space. Marcia Tate Arunga poured Libation and also shared excerpts from her book “The Stolen Ones”.  She spoke about the proud tradition of love & struggle black people are part of and educated us on the concept of Sankofa, learning from history to create the future.  Then Mahogany Cherrelle, a local black artist shared a poem she wrote for black and brown youth the evening the decision from the Grand Jury in Ferguson was released.  Black lives matter.  The theme was communicated through every aspect of the program.

Youth Undoing Institutional Racism(YUIR) and Ending The Prison Industrial Complex(EPIC) conducted a power analysis exercise where institutions were identified that contribute to the oppression in our community, including criminalization of youth and devaluing of black and brown life.  Black Lives Matter.  Gabriel Teodros, a local hip hop artist, performed his verse from “Ferguson / Seattle Cypher” and then led a workshop on Hip Hop and Media Literacy.  Wyking Garrett gave a brief history of organizing in the black community.  Lessons were shared about the youth marches that won specific battles in the Civil Rights movement, youth organizing in Soweto against Apartheid, and community coming together around the More4Mann campaign in present day Seattle.

After a short break, the crowd split into breakout groups focused on long term solutions like increasing self-determination and economic opportunities in our neighborhoods, connecting Black Student Unions around the city, adding our history and culture to the curriculum, Winter Freedom schools, and redirecting 210 million dollars that the County is talking about spending on a new youth jail in the Central District.

Regarding next steps, everyone was urged to join groups of like-minded people and remain involved in ongoing organizing.  A student who helped start the Black Student Union at Madrona earlier this year encouraged us all to start by whispering “black lives matter…” as we left the meeting.  A young man told me he was going to email each of the King County Council to tell them spending 210 million dollars on a new youth jail and fancy, tricked out court system is a horrible idea.  A young woman invited all interested to attend “Ending The Prison Industrial Complex” general meetings every first and third Thursday of each month.

“I feel that being there was very powerful.  There were some other races here, but we talked about everything we needed to talk about.  Everyone kept it real.”  Said Samuel Shannon, a 16-year-old whose family has lived in the Central District for generations.  “I think we need more meetings like this.  Meeting at AfricaTown was a good environment.  Also, we need to not just do this when a white person kills a black person.  It is a problem when black people kill black people too.  We need to protest and make a plan to change that too.  Black lives matter.  I feel this meeting was a good start.”

The event was sponsored by Africatown, Mothers for Police Accountability, Seattle King County NAACP, Africatown Center for Education & Innovation, United Black Clergy, BlackOut WA, Youth Undoing Institutional Racism, Ending the Prison Industrial Complex, Seattle Young People’s Project, and Garfield Black Student Union.

“There is a lot of power in this room.  We are power.  Don’t ever forget that.”  Garrett told the room as part of his closing statements.  The point was stressed that communities that are not organized and unified will continue to be victimized.

A sad truth is that young black men will continue to die.  Again, and again and again – without their killers held accountable, or even inconvenienced with a trial.  Until people like us come together, to stop it.  Black Lives Matter.  I met a lot of Young Leaders at the Summit last weekend who were determined to create a better world.  “We have to continue to build and fund our own institutions” said Senait Brown who helped organize the event ”If we continue to rely on racist systems to create solutions, we will continue to get racist outcomes.”

If you missed Saturday, you missed a lot.  Get involved in something.  Do your part so there isn’t a next time.  Black Lives Matter. Help the world understand.