If there won’t be peace, then let there be a lesson in the destruction of Black bodies. Let the funerals of those unarmed Black bodies killed by police resonate on a frequency so high that it breaks through white silence, shakes the rafters of white supremacy, and seeps into the consciousness of America. Let the hashtag serve as a warning, a reminder, a coded message in a slave’s song that Black Lives Matter.
And once the ashes and the dust and the smoke disappears, let the agenda serve as a ransom note, stating flatly that what existed before was broken and what comes next must be better.
That’s the impetus behind the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), a coalition of some 50 nationwide Black-focused community groups that have banded together under the spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement to host the first ever virtual and free Black National Convention (BNC), today, Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. ET, a few hours after the 2020 March on Washington ends. (The Root is a media partner of the BNC.)
“What this convention will do is create a Black liberation agenda that is not a duplication of the Vision for Black Lives, but really is rooted as a set of demands for progress,” said Jessica Byrd, co-founder of the Electoral Justice Project (EJP) at the Movement for Black Lives.
The Movement for Black Lives and the EJP—the electoral strategy arm of M4BL—will focus the Black National Convention on creating a unified Black platform whose demands for both the people and their respective communities are met.
“Friday’s Black National Convention will be a celebration of Blackness and building political power including Black people from all corners of our movement and the world—from Capitol Hill, Hollywood, and academia to the rural south,” said Byrd. “About 90 percent of the BNC is made up of local organizers, and we’ve commissioned a host of Black filmmakers and Black creatives to produce a program that not only activates Black people politically, but champions Black joy, creativity, and resilience.”
The lineup of speakers at the BNC is a who’s who of those who have been doing the work, or to paraphrase the late John Lewis, causing good trouble, including: Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, #MeToo Movement founder Tarana Burke, writer and transgender rights activist Raquel Willis, Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, Chokwe Antar Lumumba.
The event will be livestreamed on The Root and on the website BlackNovember.org, and directed by award-winning writer and Surviving R. Kelly filmmaker dream hampton.
“I have long thought there was great storytelling to do in the world of Black activism,” hampton said. “The real stars have always been these organizers who get things done.”
The convention was originally scheduled to take place in America’s Blackest city, Detroit, but as with most things in 2020, the coronavirus had different plans. Take the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the recent shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Wisconsin, not to mention the staggeringly disproportionate number of Blacks killed by the coronavirus, and what you have is a pressure cooker that could be cooled with a Black agenda that prioritizes Black concerns, which includes but is not limited to: a call to end police violence, divestment from policing, and an investment in flourishing, sustainable communities, the group’s website notes.
The 2020 Black National Convention will take inspiration and guidance from the 1972 National Black Political Convention, which brought thousands of African-Americans to Gary, Ind., to advocate for the betterment of Black people.
What’s hauntingly scary is the issues that plagued Black America in 1972 are the same issues that plague us today.
From the Gary Declaration, the doctrine that emerged from the 1972 convention:
Our cities are crime-haunted dying grounds. Huge sectors of our youth — and countless others — face permanent unemployment. Those of us who work find our paychecks able to purchase less and less. Neither the courts nor the prisons contribute to anything resembling justice or reformation. The schools are unable — or unwilling — to educate our children for the real world of our struggles. Meanwhile, the officially approved epidemic of drugs threatens to wipe out the minds and strength of our best young warriors.
The idea isn’t to leave the convention with an endorsement as the M4BL notes emphatically that they are “anti-Trump and pro-visionary.” They are clear that work needs to be done on both sides to ensure that Black issues are not only addressed but eradicated.
“An endorsement is not our North Star,” said Kayla Reed, co-founder & executive director, Action St. Louis. “Our agenda is our North Star, and while we want Trump out of office, we also want elected officials to be aware that what they have done currently and what they have proposed is not enough.”
So they will converge virtually to create a doctrine that will serve as a sacred document that the Black vote comes with demands and that the old system of doing things isn’t just ineffective, it’s broken beyond repair. But the fight will continue and those in power have been put on notice: Black Lives Matter.
Check back at 7 p.m. for the livestream of the event.
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