In Patrise Cullors' talk, "Behind the Hashtag," she spoke about her years of community organizing with the tag line “this sh*t works” to emphasize the effect activism can have on the world. In a few short years, Los Angeles County has transitioned to halting the production of new jails, cutting down on people with mental illness getting incarcerated and has taken a new “care first, jails last,” approach.
In my years at Gonzaga University, I have found myself at the forefront of numerous student-led protests against the administration for its lack of resources for spaces for marginalized students and transparency about handling issues that affect students of color. In that respect, Cullors enhanced my learning about the steps to take to be more effective in making change on campus.
One of the most salient pieces of information she gave was about changing people’s minds. Often times, I have found myself at odds with my peers about how to change their minds on issues that affect marginalized people.
Namely, I would be frustrated during my freshman year, when my friend would make comments about how he thought that “there isn’t really a lot of racism of Gonzaga’s campus” and that “everyone is offended nowadays."
Her response to a question about how to change the minds of people who disagreed with Black Lives Matters was simple: “Why do you want to change their minds? That is not your job. At the end of the day, you have to trust that you are on the right side of history and not worry about them. Trust me, they’ll change their minds when it’s right.”
I found that inspirational in my learning of how to confront people with different views of social justice because GU’s culture is one of denial and rejection of discrimination on campus, which is frustrating when students are ignorant to the world around them.
It is my last semester at GU, and I have had the pleasure in meeting two amazing activists, Cullors and Angela Davis, who have both made amazing strides in promoting justice for Black people in America. Both times, I felt moved by the fact the speakers possessed a genuine care for justice rather than political gain or fame.
As a Black man who spent most of his formative years around people with a different race, I often felt as if I have to speak for my race. And on numerous occasions, I have been on the other side of debates of people telling me that “racism doesn’t exist anymore," that “if we all just stopped talking about race it would go away," or, as a gentleman at "Behind the Hashtag" said, “that police officers are human, too."
The anger I feel is best emulated in my response in all of those debates: “You are not listening, you are not paying attention and you are saying that I don’t matter." Black Lives Matter, and, in a broader sense, Black people, have said for generations, “We have never felt that we mattered, and all lives don’t matter until we matter.” There is intersectionality in this idea that people of color, people with different gender and sexual identities, and people of all social classes deserve to feel like they matter.
Not affirming the lives and experiences of those people is not only unfair; it is callous and disgraceful.
Thus, in the words of Andrew Prevot, last year's Gonzaga’s Flannery Lecture speaker, “If you don’t affirm Black lives, you are not a good Christian, and you’re hardly a good person at all.”