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Oct 02 2016
by Daja Henry

The College Student's Guide to Activism: Black Lives Matter

By Daja Henry - Oct 02 2016
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Editor's Note: This article was previously published on October 2, 2016 as "How College Students Can Get Involved in the Black Lives Matter Movement" and has been updated to be part of Fresh U's series, "The College Student's Complete Guide to Activism."

Unless you live under a rock, you know the events of these past few months have left the black population in America reeling with the unlawful killings of unarmed black men Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Keith Lamont Scott, Terrence Sterling, Alfred Olango and others of the 197 reported accounts of police killing black people this year. Not to mention the black women that were killed also. 

Surely this is tugging at the strings of your humanity. You're wondering what you could do to combat this senseless violence and/or the plight of Black America. As a concerned college student, I reached out to student-activist Clifton Kinnie (Howard University, Class of 2019) to find out the motives of the movement, how he got involved and how I and my fellow concerned students could get involved.

Here's what he had to say. 

On how he got involved:

Clifton is a native of St. Louis, Missouri. As he begins to tell the story of the encounter with injustice that surely changed his life, his voice becomes calculated. 

"It was August 9th, 2014." Remember that date. That was the day that 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed. Clifton traveled to Ferguson, Missouri to join the protests. It was then that he formed a testament with his own two eyes. "I saw him. I saw Michael Brown's body lying out in the street." 

After that date, Clifton formed a citywide high school coalition called Our Destiny STL "with students focusing on community outreach, youth leadership, youth voter registration drives, community service, mentorship and organizing demonstrations."

He has since been involved with Campaign Zero and various other projects. 

On what the goal of the movement is:

The movement, he says, "sprang out of the fight to end police violence." From there, they exposed many injustices and different types of violence against "black and brown" people. This includes lack of housing, inequity in healthcare, education and so forth. The goal of the movement is slightly different than when it started. He names two goals of the movement today, "to end all state-sanctioned violence against black and brown people," and "seeking full political and economic rights." 

At this point, you're probably pretty excited. You're saying to yourself, "Where do I sign up?"

On how you can get involved:

When I asked Clifton how to get involved with the movement, what he replied struck me.

"It is a critical and important time. We determine our future and our destiny." 

It is imperative that we do three things: stay in tune with current events, look into resources and seek political education. Don't just get caught up in the hashtags on Twitter when you can actually make change. 

Before you go all rogue activist, you must consider some questions. Are there any organizations near me that I could join? Would it be more beneficial to start my own? What do I want to change? 

Staying in tune with current events is major. You have to know what's going on to know what you're up against. Of course, you'll catch wind of the names of unarmed black men killed by police, but you should research the details. Know what happened in these situations and know what's going on to combat them. What legislation is in place to combat these? What harmful legislation is there protecting these instances? For example, Louisiana has in place a "Blue Lives Matter" law, protecting police officers under a hate crime clause.

In order to know these things, you must watch the news. I know Twitter can be a great news source, but it is important to get news from other accredited sources. I get news notifications on my phone from the CNN and AP apps. Beware of biased news media. Check out news sources that have as little bias as possible. Some of the most trusted sources are CNN and the Guardian, which keeps a running database of reported incidences of police violence. If you're interested, check out Mic, the Huffington Post Black Voices and TruthDig for more left-leaning sources. Fact-checking is vital. 

Resources can include community leaders, your local library or organizations. At your nearest HBCU, you are sure to come into contact with some activists at some point. In my short time at Howard, I have met Dr. Cornel West, Andrew Young, Al Sharpton and A. Peter Bailey. I missed out on meeting Jesse Jackson and countless other people who were active during the Civil Rights Era. Do not be afraid to approach these people. When Andrew Young visited through our Ralph Bunche Center for International Affairs, he said one of the driving factors behind the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was precedence. They learned from the people before them. At Howard, some of these people are speakers in the Chapel services, which facilitates a brunch afterward with question and answer sessions. Even if you don't have access to these big names, leaders in your churches, community centers and even barber shops can be of use. 

Some organizations that you can check out are Campaign Zero, the Movement 4 Black Lives and the Black Liberation Collective which have platforms based on policy changes beneficial to the black community. There are also the more traditional organizations dedicated to bettering the state of Black America, like your local NAACP chapter, the Divine Nine sororities and fraternities and black churches who are sure to have programs in place. The black church has been the center of black life since its inception. 

On the note of seeking political education, I asked Clifton for a list of books he'd recommend for people trying to get involved (below). In addition to reading, you can keep track of your state and national legislature. Watch the news, attend town hall meetings and participate in discussions. In addition, look to your elders. Our grandparents were alive during the Civil Rights movement. Ask them about it. College is the hub for political education. Spend some time in your school's library learning about harmful legislation aimed at minority communities, like the War on Drugs, the Tuskegee Experiment, Reaganomics, etc. History repeats itself. Looking for patterns common to this harmful legislation will definitely help in your fight.

On Required Reading: 

"The New Jim Crow"

In "The New Jim Crow," Michelle Alexander disproves the claims that racism is dead by exploring the mass incarceration epidemic. She exposes the factors contributing to this epidemic, including the war on drugs, designed to deliberately keep Black people out of the political process. 

"Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil"

"Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil" was written by Michael Brown's mother, Lezley McSpadden. McSpadden tells her son's story, up to that last fateful breath.

According to Amazon, "In Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil, McSpadden picks up the pieces of the tragedy that shook her life and the country to their core and reveals the unforgettable story of her life, her son and their truth."

"Between the World and Me"

In this #1 New York Times Bestseller and Toni Morrison-endorsed "required reading," Ta-Nehisi Coates deals with the reality of being Black in America. He breaks down American history and the concept of race, which results in the "taking" of Black bodies. Addressed to his son, Coates tells of the terrors of living in this invaluable body, knowing that at any moment it can be taken away from you.

While I may not have all the answers, this should give you the vital knowledge to get started making the world a better place. As Malcolm X said, "Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you're a man, you take it."

Read the rest of Fresh U's series on college activism below:

Lead Image Credit: 5chw4r7z via Flickr Creative Commons

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Daja Henry - Howard University

Daja Henry is a sophomore Media, Journalism, and Film Communications major at Howard University. She is a writer, lyric connoisseur, and lover of all cultures. You can follow her on Twitter @dajaeh97.

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