Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Black Lives Matter at USM

Posted on April 14, 2015 in News
By USM Free Press

#BlackLivesMatter started out on Facebook as only just a hashtag but grew into a national organizing project within days.

On March 27th Alicia Garza, Special Projects Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance and cofounder of #BlackLivesMatter gave a lecture on “building a world where black lives matter.”

In July 2013 the night George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Travyon Martin, Alicia Garza added the hastag #blacklivesmatter to a Facebook post in response to people that were blaming Travyon Martin for his own death, blaming his parents, blaming black folks. “I saw responses from other people about how if we want to change things we need to do things like vote, or we need to pull up our pants, or not wear hoodies,” said Garza. “When really we know that there are systems in structure that devalue black lives in this country.

Within days Garza teamed up with organizers and close friends including, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi and built an organizing project that could bring people together online, to take action together offline.

In August 2014 after Mike Brown was killed #BlackLivesMatter organized a “Freedom Ride” to Ferguson, Missouri where people came from all over the country to support the work that was happening on the ground there. From that chapters were built, and now Black Lives Matter is organized in 23 cities across the world including Ontario, Canada, and Accra, Ghana.

Garza’s address that night touched on the history of and continued importance of the #blacklivesmatter movement, it provided context, and called students/audience members to action to make a difference in their communities. Audience members at the end of the presentation got a chance to ask any burning questions they had for Garza. What made the event so important was bringing Alicia Garza to campus was a student generated idea.

Lauren Webster LaFrance, Assistant to the Director of Women and Gender Studies said, “The Women & Gender Studies Program always blends theory and practice in our curriculum and our co curricular events, this case, the theory of structuralized racism in the US and the practice of what’s being done to combat it. Ms. Garza’s keynote address lecture spoke to the experiences of our students here at USM both on campus and in the community—and our students’ experiences are important.”

“USM is the most diverse institution in the UMaine System and we have a responsibility to our students to provide a safe and welcoming space for their education,” said Webster. “Black lives matter—they are the lives of our students, faculty & staff members and their families.”

Some students like Hamdi Hassan, a freshman political science major doesn’t believe that USM is trying to provide the safe and welcoming environment that Webster talks about; due to the growing number of incidents surrounding race occurring on campus. “USM has failed to foster a safe environment for people of color on campus. We have reached out to them [administrators] numerous times on what’s been happening to us on campus and we feel as though everything is falling on deaf ears,” said Hassan. “After every racist incident we have approached them and all they do is tell us lies that they will take action but give it two weeks, and they sweep it under the rug.”

Overall there was a great turnout. There was a variety of people who showed up, not only USM students and faculty but other students and professors from the USM Lewiston/Auburn campus, there were also many students from Bates College in attendance, and a couple organizations from neighboring cities. Aisha Geerings who works for Tree Street Youth Center located in Lewiston, is one of people involved in bringing a full bus of middle school and high school students to the event. “Its more than just the shooting of Mike Brown its everyone that was after him and before him, this cycle keeps happening and happening and it finally needs to stop, none of us want to worry about going out and getting shot just because of the color of our skin, I don’t want any of the children I work with to have to deal with that,” said Geerings. “Black lives never mattered in this country and its important that we’re finally saying this is enough. Black Lives Matter is more than just a hashtag but a movement which involves all of us”

Human rights matter and the #blacklivesmatter movement has brought the daily injustices faced by black people in the US into widespread public conversation. This is just as important here in Portland, Maine as it is in Sanford, Florida or Ferguson, Missouri.

This event was co-sponsored by the USM Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity, Multicultural Student Affairs, Gender Studies Student Organization, Office of the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, NAACP Portland Branch, Black Education & Cultural History, and the King Fellows.

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