The spring 2016 semester at Virginia Commonwealth University has started strong in terms of diversity and inclusion. The university introduced a class called Learning in Safe Spaces and VCUArts is initiating a Dean’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. The semester also began during MLK Celebration Week, a week established in 2014 to increase awareness and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with many events including a Black Lives Matter Symposium in the Commonwealth Ballroom in the University Commons.
The room was packed with at least 200 audience members, as they all listened to the panel of speakers which included Bree Newsome (nationally recognized activist, writer, and filmmaker), Chief Alfred Durham (Chief of Police, City of Richmond), Adria Scharf (executive director, Richmond Peace Education Center), Angelique Scott (activist and student leader, VCU), Dr. Shawn Utsey, Ph.D. (Professor of Psychology, VCU) and Dr. Ravi Perry Ph.D. (associate professor of Political Science, VCU) as the moderator.
(L to R: Dr. Perry Ph. D.,Bree Newsome, Chief Durham, Adria Scharf, Angelique Scott, Dr. Shawn Utsey Ph. D.)
The event commenced with a briefing on the Black Lives Matter movement and continued with a couple of questions posed by Dr. Perry, such as the renaming of Black History Month by the Black Lives Matter activists as a month of honoring black futures. Newsome responded with “it really has to be about more than just being alive, and we really have to move beyond this constant state of ‘black survival’, to a place where we really have liberation.”
Chief Durham asked why it was that black on black homicides happen, and why the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t doing anything to speak out about that. “In 2014 there were 79 homicides (in Richmond), but not at any vigil, not at any community meeting, has the Black Lives Movement been there to represent any of those folks…If there was never another police involved shooting of a black man, would the Black Lives Movement be relevant?”
This caused an uproar from the audience, in which Newman pointed out that the issue was with the imbalance of power.
“When you have black people killing black people, they typically go to jail. When police officers do so, they tend to not go to jail… If we can’t expect police to conduct themselves more controlled than an average civilian,
then what is the function of police?”
Audience members were encouraged to ask the panelists questions. These questions which ranged from why the Black Lives Matter movement has focused on the lives of black, straight men and not the LGBTQ community, the search for liberty, how to be an ally, juvenile detention, and how a community can join together to make a change.
The event lasted two hours, where they also picked questions from the Twitter hashtag #MLKDayVCU.
“‘Black Lives Matter’, perhaps begins with Black minds matter… We have a lot of work to do that beings with reframing or restructuring or creating our own reality...The most violent actions against us occurs in the classrooms. Not at the hands of police, but in the classroom. Where the minds of our children begin to become disfigured.” said Dr. Utsey as he closed the panel.
Dr. Perry then concluded the symposium with a quote from Assata Shakur; “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”