The Genius of Resilience: Toward a New, Black National Convention

A protestor waves an American flag with the words “Black Lives Matter” painted on it during a Juneteenth rally at Cadman Plaza on June 19, 2020 in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City.
A protestor waves an American flag with the words “Black Lives Matter” painted on it during a Juneteenth rally at Cadman Plaza on June 19, 2020 in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City.
Photo: ANGELA WEISS/AFP (Getty Images)

Imagine it’s 2070. History classes all over the U.S. teach the 2020 Black Lives Matter Uprisings and the national campaign to defund police. Students are shocked to learn about police officers who once killed Black people. For these young people, public safety means community and skilled professionals coming together to resolve problems peacefully and everyone has access to the resources they need to heal and flourish.

I’ll be an elder, sitting on my porch telling stories over lemonade. With pride, I will share with anyone who will listen to how our mass multiracial, intergenerational and global movement led by Black people accelerated this march of history.

For now, we are still in the middle of the fight for justice but we are well on our way. Over the last couple of months, we have seen an unprecedented global uprising in defense of Black life. Many non-Black people are waking up to the reality we have long lived with: America does not value Black lives.

This is the genius of our Blackness, even amid a devastating pandemic that exposed racism and anti-Blackness as the real pre-existing conditions harming our communities, we are rising up and taking action to build power and demand that our rights and dignity be upheld and respected.

And we aren’t stopping until we win; we are charting a course from protest to power to the polls. We will build Black political power that extends from the halls of Congress to the November elections and beyond.

Last week, the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) unveiled the BREATHE Act, a modern-day civil rights bill in defense of Black lives. Championed by Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the bill will divest taxpayer dollars from policing and incarceration to be able to invest in true public safety, equity and self-determination. On August 28, M4BL’s Electoral Justice Project will host the 2020 Black National Convention (BNC) where we will ratify our national agenda and engage Black people in joyful cultural and political dialogue.

The 2020 BNC will be a real-time space for engagement in electoral justice, abolition and Black joy. Happening just days after the Democratic National Convention and ahead of the November election, Black voters will not be relegated to the annual knock-and-drag strategy. Instead, we will share one of the boldest political platforms our country has ever seen. And this Black November, we will move power and policy by mobilizing millions of Black voters to champion an unapologetically Black national agenda.

We are drawing from a legacy of struggle for Black liberation. In 1964, Freedom Summer mobilized Black communities across Mississippi and the South to unite in the face of systemic racism and voter suppression and register Black voters.


That summer, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, landmark civil rights legislation that after decades of violence and deadly enforcement of segregation, was won through sheer will to persevere. We are committed to the BREATHE Act following this historic trajectory and becoming yet another arc for Black justice and dignity.

We follow in the footsteps of the 1972 National Black Political Convention, which also transpired at a pivotal moment. Ten thousand Black political, activist and cultural leaders across ideologies came together to demand dignity and rights and an end to the rampant state-sanctioned violence levied against our people. The convention took place during a time of Black uprising and a culmination of traumatic events that included the assassinations of Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Fred Hampton.

From the past to the present-day, we have patiently created the groundwork for change. In 2014, M4BL was formed out of the Ferguson Uprising after the killing of Michael Brown. Today, we are seeing the groundswell of America’s collective outrage at continued police and vigilante violence amid the backdrop of a pandemic grossly mishandled by our elected leaders and public institutions. Now, America is waking up to another reality: the bold strategy and vision of Black movements.

This is a transformative time for our country and the world. The movement in defense of Black life has led more than two-thirds of Americans to affirm that Black Lives Matter—a significant public opinion shift from even five years ago. It also pushed Minneapolis City Council members to vote to disband the police department and redirect resources to community-led public safety and led Los Angeles to cut $150 million from its police budget to channel toward social services.

The sweeping changes taking hold are just the beginning of the Black political future we are building. We know that serious movement building requires serious planning. Our Vision for Black Lives policy platform recognizes the abolition of harmful and violent institutions as the first step to creating a just society where we have the resources to build new institutions that invest in people and community.

We are radically reimagining the world so it will belong to all of us. Since 2014, we’ve deepened our commitment to act from a queer Black feminist perspective that believes all Black lives matter. We honor the legacies of all the freedom fighters—women, men, queer, trans, nonbinary, disabled, and poor—who came before us to realize our collective vision for Black liberation.

We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams. I am angry, but I feel joy in knowing we will win. I am inspired by the innovation and creativity of people who are borne of the injustices we are trying to fight, especially Black trans and queer women. I recognize the genius of our resilience. I hold my hands out to receive the harvest of our tilling.

When Black people win, we all win. This is why I ask you to help live out the responsibility of earning our place in future generations’ inheritance of justice. I hope you will tell everyone you know about the BREATHE Act and join me on August 28th at the 2020 Black National Convention. In the words of Lucille Clifton, I invite you to come ‘celebrate with me’ because our fight is a celebration of us and the new world we are creating.


Jessica Byrd is co-founder of the Electoral Justice Project of The Movement for Black Lives, a national network of over 150 leaders and organizations creating a broad political home for Black people to learn, organize, and take action. M4BL is hosting the 2020 Black National Convention live broadcast to build power and policy in defense of Black lives.


Correction: 7/17/20 2:31 p.m.: Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib are supporters of the BREATHE Act, not sponsors. The story has been updated to reflect the change.