More than 1,500 black people from across the United States and abroad came together in Cleveland July 24-26 to harness the energy and power of the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement into one moment. That moment would be known early on as the Movement for Black Lives Convening.
Planning began in April as organizers from around the country sought to bring together the curators of countless actions, campaigns, black brunches, freeway shutdowns, flag captures and mass-transit stoppages into one space.
Leaders from various organizations—Blackbird, Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100, Million Hoodies, OBS: the Organization for Black Struggle, Ferguson Action, Southerners on New Ground, Project South and countless individual organizers from Ferguson, Mo., to Los Angeles–wanted to put their energy into this joint effort.
These organizers put the convening together in three months, not knowing how it would get done in such a short amount of time, but they were dedicated to making it happen. Now was the time, and we could not wait.
When we started planning the Movement for Black Lives Convening, we had our love for our community at the center of the planning. From the outset, the team wanted to come together not only to process and heal from the trauma we’d suffered over the past couple of years, but also to love one another and build lasting relationships.
Mark Winston Griffith nailed it in his Nation article when he said, “The gathering was less about creating a definitive agenda or a centralized leadership and coordination structure than it was about framing the moment in a legacy of resistance and grounding it in black-on-black love.”
Many called #M4BL Blacktopia.
People rode in buses from Los Angeles, St. Louis, Miami, Durham, N.C., and New York. Countless others drove, flew and took trains into Cleveland for the weekend from Oakland, Calif., and Hawaii, as well as from the United Kingdom, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
At #M4BL, we were unapologetically black. We broke into dance and song at every opportunity. We heard from many of the family members who had lost loved ones to police and vigilante violence. From Emmett Till’s family to Mike Brown Sr. to Tanisha Anderson’s daughter and Tamir Rice’s mother, family members shared anecdotes about those they lost.
We saw black children from Cleveland’s Voices of the Valley ensemble sing and call in the ancestors with their drumming. Jidenna’s “Classic Man” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” became the weekend’s anthems.
Daily trips to the black-owned urban community farm Rid-All showed black folks how to start and manage sustainable urban farms. Organic, locally sourced, well-balanced, nutrient-rich meals were served free of charge to convening attendees.
The Black Youth Freedom weekend gave young people a safe haven to learn and build community while their parents did the same.
Everywhere you looked, you saw a breathtaking sea of black faces—smiling, in conversation and in intentional community with one another. If that isn’t Blacktopia, I don’t know what is.
If anything, the Movement for Black Lives Convening allowed us to experience a safe space for black folks, full of love, where we were able to hold one another accountable in a loving way.
This doesn’t mean there weren’t challenging moments or moments where we let one another down. A key moment in the Movement for Black Lives Convening happened when our transgender siblings took the stage and demanded that their cis family do better. They asked us to include them in every aspect of planning and holding space, and we listened. We are committed to holding them up and centering them in this movement.
I want to thank our trans and gender-nonconforming family members for holding us to a higher standard and making sure that we truly practice our claim that all Black Lives Matter.
Thank you to everyone who donated, allowing us to pay for housing, food and transportation for our people.
Thank you to the participants for showing up. Thank you for being patient and kind with the organizing team. When we only had enough food, housing and transportation for 800 people, and 1,500 of you turned up, you showed so much patience. You weren’t upset when lunch ran out or that we had to rearrange countless housing assignments, but were flexible and generous.
Thank you to all of the volunteers who made the weekend event possible—from the healers who offered their services free of charge to the volunteers who ran the registration table and helped usher people to their classrooms during workshops.
Thank you to the brilliant organizers who spent countless hours on innumerable phone calls and meetings to help craft the weekend that so many of us enjoyed.
This movement for black lives is magic. I have never felt so grounded, so seen and so loved as I have in this movement. There aren’t many spaces where I—a queer, art-making, Spanish-speaking, mixed-race black girl—can be my full self. This movement community allows me to be fully human.
Black people, you are beautiful. You are strong, powerful, brilliant, inspiring, fearless, dedicated, flawless, fierce, loving, strong, funny, dedicated, vulnerable and gorgeous as hell. You all give me life. Seeing you show up for one another over the past year, fighting this godforsaken system that is hell-bent on destroying us, has given me renewed hope in humanity. Thank you for making the Movement for Black Lives Convening one of the most transformative experiences of my life. Thank you for showing up in all your boldness and audacity—you are loved and revered.
Our people aren’t perfect, but we’re not striving for perfection; we’re fighting for freedom. The best thing that we can learn from the freedom fighters who came before us is that if we love one another fiercely and show up for one another in ways that the state never will, we will be able to achieve anything. They can’t stop us, they can’t quash our resolve, they can’t stifle our light. We will keep fighting, and no matter what obstacles they put in our way, “We gon’ be alright!”
Tanya Lucia Bernard is a Los Angeles-based organizer and fine artist. She is a testament to the fact that “black” and “Latino” are not mutually exclusive terms and has the propensity to separate her peanut M&M’s by color.