Co-founder of Black Lives Matter: "It's not about Black Supremacy"

By John Frame, Class of 2017

By John Frame, Class of 2017

"If we want to get to a place where all lives matter, we have to acknowledge that black lives are a part of that,” said Alicia Garza, a prominent co-founder of Black Lives Matter (BLM), one of over 50 organizations that make up the international Movement for Black Lives.

In an enlightening conversation, hosted by The University of Chicago Institute of Politics on Wednesday Evening, Ms. Garza spoke with postdoctoral scholar Eve Ewing (AB ’08) about the relationship between reform and abolition, her organization’s rapid growth, and an inclusive vision for the movement’s future.

Ms. Garza, an activist and editorial writer, began by challenging the audience to envision a society without police, a notion she concedes is difficult given the prominent role police play in society.   

Ms. Ewing added, “There are imaginative steps that have to happen.” When slavery was legally abolished in the 1800s, “privileged people had a very difficult time imagining who will do all of the work that slaves had done up until that point.” Rooted in this same mindset, detractors have trouble envisioning a world without police.

Ms. Garza has some words for those folks: “What do police do [now] when people are harming each other? You get shot or you go to prison. We have stripped resources from jails, there is no rehabilitation. People are forever pariahs. Why do we sanction a small number of people to carry guns and enforce the law unequally?”

When asked about her thoughts on the rapid growth of the movement, Ms. Garza said she was extremely grateful and added, "It's hard. I think we are all trying to figure it out, we are all struggling. People are doing incredible work.”

Alicia Garza (left), co-founder of the Black Lives Matter organization, and Eve Ewing (AB ‘08), a p  ostdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, engage in a deep discussion hosted by the Institute of Politics.  Photo courtesy of the Institute of Politics

Alicia Garza (left), co-founder of the Black Lives Matter organization, and Eve Ewing (AB ‘08), a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, engage in a deep discussion hosted by the Institute of Politics. Photo courtesy of the Institute of Politics

So what does Ms. Garza envision for the future? For starters, she pointed the audience to the BLM website and warned against equating every protest with BLM: "This conflation with everything being Black Lives Matter is problematic... Many are part of the movement for black lives. Start to understand the nuances among the many organizations...It’s beautiful.”

Next, she challenged the audience to do more than sit behind a computer screen. “We started by connecting people online so that they could make change offline. Liking things and sharing information isn't enough.”

Moreover, Ms. Garza warns against being fooled by steps to solutions versus real, viable solutions of change. "It’s not about do we reform or not, but do we stop there? So many things are steps, not solutions. Body cameras are not a solution; they're a step toward the solution."

And finally, she believes it takes a unified voice, no matter the complexities of individual identities, to be successful in changing our broken system. “There are class dynamics in this movement because there are a lack of political organizations where we can engage with ideas in a rigorous way. We bring our alienation from [traditional educational] institutions into our movement work… [This movement is not] about identity politics… Isolationism leads to conflating respectability politics with identity politics."

While some proponents believe the queer agenda is disenfranchising the straight agenda in the movement and detractors think it’s about black supremacy, Ms. Garza says it’s actually all “about experiences.”

“We have to be committed to making sure that everyone is powerful... We are still developing in the practice of making room for everybody… We need to change the rules so that people don't aspire to want what someone else has."

John is a proponent of ending excessive violence against black and brown men and women by police. He hopes you will take a stand and demand change by reaching out and getting involved at school or in the community.

(Update 10/4/16, 11:33PM: An earlier version of this article (as well as the print version) identified Ms. Ewing as a "postdoctoral candidate." She is, in fact, a "postdoctoral scholar." We apologize for the error.)

Allyship: It's Not Just for the Gays

By Rachel Chamberlain, Class of 2017

By Rachel Chamberlain, Class of 2017

If we haven’t met, I’m Rachel. About me: I’m a woman, a lesbian, more-poet-than-quant (yes, at Booth), a recovering ex-collegiate athlete — and I’m an ally.

Yep, you read that right. As a member of the LGBTQ community and a Co-Chair of the Booth OUTreach club, I hear the word “ally” thrown around a lot. Heck, I throw it around a lot myself: “Let’s have an allyship event,” “How do we communicate more effectively with our allies at Booth?” “Thanks for performing at Pink Party, you’re a great ally!"

One thing I often share with people is I’ve never met someone who wakes up in the morning and says, “Thank goodness I’m gay! It’s made my life so much easier.” (If you know someone, introduce us!) Regardless of an LGBT individual’s background — cultural values, how supportive their family is — it’s just frickin’ hard sometimes. And with strong allies, you don’t have to go it alone. Life gets a lot better.

However, what I didn’t consider prior to Booth is the notion that allyship isn’t just for the gays. Sure, we may have the loudest voice when it comes to using the word. But the truth is allyship extends far beyond joining forces against homophobia. Last week’s African-American MBA Association(AAMBAA)-organized “wear black” day is the perfect example. I loved this event because it provided a visible way to stand against excessive police force toward unarmed black men and women, and show support for the Black community.

But I have to confess something.

Over the summer as events related to the loss of Black lives continued, I felt compelled to step up — to show my support and engage in dialogue. And I completely froze. After all, I’m white. Like really white. Was it my place to speak up about this? Was I expert enough? Would it offend my black friends? Is it even OK for a white person to say black instead of African American?

What’s worse is I was accidentally added to this summer GroupMe (you know, that awkward moment when you don’t want to interrupt a thread with “so and so has left the group”?) that was primarily for black and Hispanic MBA’s. As a silent observer, I watched as students from across the country engaged in a dialogue about how to approach non-minority classmates; how to gain allies. It hit me: they were voicing all of the same concerns my OUTreach crew voices when we talk about allyship. Yet I didn’t reach out to them. I didn’t get outside of my comfort zone to say “Hey, let me lend a hand” — which I know from experience is sometimes all it takes to be an ally.

Rachel Chamberlain '17 (center) and members of OUTreach, Booth's LGBT+ student group, "wear black" to show allyship for African-Americans and other minorities in the Booth community and around the country.

Rachel Chamberlain '17 (center) and members of OUTreach, Booth's LGBT+ student group, "wear black" to show allyship for African-Americans and other minorities in the Booth community and around the country.

So what did I do? I reached out to exactly one black friend over the summer with a text about it, asking him how I could be supportive. (As if it was his job to know?!) Asking him if AAMBAA was organizing anything. (As if only AAMBAA could organize something?!) It was easy; it was comfortable — he replied with the requisite “Thanks for reaching out.” I had checked the box. I made myself feel better about it.

Shame on me for taking the easy road, and for talking myself out of engaging in a more substantive dialogue. I’d argue that as we get older, we increasingly talk ourselves out of allyship, whatever form that might take. When we’re younger, we rationalize less — we let our instincts dictate our actions. We sit at lunch with the kid who has a lisp; we show the new student to her classroom without giving it a second thought. Over time as we absorb social norms, we look to avoid conflict and “make nice”. We even justify our inaction: “Someone in my squad is black and we’re friends, so I’m covered.” “I have a gay uncle.” “I volunteered at the Special Olympics with my college sorority once.” It’s as if to say I’m in the clear, don’t look at me like I’m not supportive. We shield ourselves — but what we’re really doing is stepping back supporting from those we care about most.

At Booth, we’re in classes (and um...other places with frosty beverages) every day with future leaders from all over the globe. Future managers, politicians, CEO’s, board members. We’re doing each other — and the world around us — a disservice if we don’t get over ourselves and talk about this stuff.

So don’t just check the box — get uncomfortable. Stand for something. Have the hard conversation. Challenge someone. Stand with someone. Because together, we are so much stronger than we are apart.

Rachel is a proud ally of people of color. She has a question: What does allyship mean to you? Post a picture or message on social media with the tag #BoothAlly. Let’s keep this conversation going.