Members of the American University community came together on June 10 to participate in a virtual Black Lives Matter rally where AU alumni shared stories of racism and white privilege, and tips for effectively fighting for justice.
On a Zoom presentation, lasting about two hours, over 100 people tuned in to hear from speakers Angelica Vega, Ajayi Pickering-Haynes, Nick McCauley, Bayadir Mohamed-Osman, Susana Saldarriaga and Madior Cisse — all of whom are AU alumni and have been outspoken in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Vega began the rally by emphasizing the need for young people to come together virtually and “become the generation that tackles and dismantles the systemic racism” in the country.
“During the age of COVID-19, we understand that many people have been unable to physically protest during the past few weeks,” Vega said. “We must keep in mind that a lot of people with disabilities and transportation issues, as well as essential workers and at-risk individuals, can’t always show support by going to the frontlines of protests.”
The presentation allowed for closed captioning and descriptions of the images projected on the screen were posted in the chat function.
Vega, along with many of the speakers, was part of the College of Arts and Sciences Leadership and Ethical Development program. Nabina Liebow, the director of the program, delivered a statement on the persistence of white supremacy in the United States.
“When someone feels fear towards a Black person — something as intimate and fleeting as an emotional response — this, too, is an expression of white supremacy,” Liebow said. “And when we, as people of color, feel internalized racial oppression that manifests in emotions and feelings, this is also an expression of white supremacy.”
Pickering-Haynes said that Black people are simply not valued as equal to white people today, which is why Black people are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.
“If keeping Black people alive and safe are not a part of the causes you are championing and standing behind, then you cannot call yourself a defender of humanity in any capacity,” Pickering-Haynes said.
McCauley was forced to learn about white supremacy firsthand at 12 years old in what he described as “one of the most deeply traumatic and eye-opening experiences” of his life.
When driving in a car with his parents, McCauley’s mother suspected that something was wrong when she noticed a police officer’s car following her, and when she was pulled over, her suspicions were confirmed when three officers approached her car with guns in hand.
“That was the first time I saw a gun,” McCauley said. “The first time I’d ever seen a gun, I was 12, and it was pointed at my face by men I’d been taught to trust with my safety. Without a moment’s notice, without a moment’s warning, I felt what so many of my people feel, daily, navigating the systemic injustice in our country: pure, unbridled terror. Indescribable fear at the thought that I might lose my family, that I might even lose my own life for a crime I knew nothing about, that I didn’t commit.”
While it is clear that reforms in the criminal justice system are needed, Black people cannot work on these reforms alone, McCauley said.
“If you are a white person living in America, it pains me to break this to you, but you have an inherent advantage that my people do not,” McCauley said. “Your skin color affords you the ability to be heard in spaces that are inaccessible to us. It is important that you realize that this is just as much your fight as it is ours.”
The organizers provided resources that will help benefit the movement. Saldarriaga provided a list of organizations to contribute to financially, such as the Minnesota Freedom Fund and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She also encouraged advocacy through signing petitions and offering supplies to protesters.
Cisse also provided tips on becoming involved in the policy side of the movement. He encouraged voting, supporting Black journalism and reaching out to elected representatives to voice concerns.
In her recitation of her poem, “An Open Letter to Complicit Racists,” Mohamed-Osman emphasized the need for action.
“Challenge your implicit bias. Redistribute your privilege. Re-learn history,” Mohamed-Osman said. “Listen, listen, and then listen more. Bystanders’ silence is the language of the oppressor. Don’t you think it’s time to finally stand?”