As part of the Women on Wednesday series the SCSU Women’s Center sponsored a panel discussion about Minnesota’s Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists and organizers on Wednesday, Feb. 24, which included three active members of the Minneapolis BLM Chapter: Kandace Montgomery, Lena Gardner and Luna Gebriel.
The BLM campaign was started in 2012 after neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman fatally shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Martin’s death has drawn nation-wide attention to the alarming growth in unnecessary deaths of black citizens in recent years.
Kandace Montgomery, a Justice 4 All Community Organizer for Take Action Minnesota, has an extensive background in activism and community work. When asked why she decided to get involved she stated, “Because I’m black and my life matters!” Her statement was met with an abundance of audience applause. She went on to explain that she feels America owes black people literally billions of dollars after the years of slavery and hard labor they endured, yet their people are still some of the poorest in the nation.
Montgomery points out, “We need more black joy. Look at all the things we brought to this country. Blacks need to be unapologetically black.”
When white supporters asked how they could get involved, Montgomery had this to say, “Get your cousins, have a conversation and organize them because when black folks get free, we all get free.”
In regards to white privilege, Lena Gardner spoke of how it shows up everywhere. Gardner, Director of Membership and Fundraising for the Church of the Larger Fellowship, has been involved with the BLM organization since the first Mall of America protest which she helped organize. Montgomery went on to say that, “Some whites want to be in the center, leading their organization.”
When confronted with a question like “Don’t all lives matter?” Gardner said, “Of Course, all lives matter, but we live in a world where many different lives do not matter.”
Gebriel interjected, “If all lives mattered those people would be out here representing.”
Gardner explained that with structural and systemic racism crushing blacks in poverty it is increasing hard to keep fighting.
She also said, “You don’t go to a cancer fundraiser and start talking about epilepsy.” The same is true when comparing the BLM movement to all lives matter. Gardner states, “When you start talking like this, that is white supremacy, the disease of white supremacy creeping up.”
Gardner insists that the reason she became involved with BLM was based on love. “You have an obligation to the people who come after you to make it better,” she said. As the granddaughter of a conservative Baptist preacher, Gardner, who identifies as a queer black woman, is no stranger to fighting against prejudices. She has been a leader in fighting many gender, sexuality and race issues.
Luna Gebriel, a student at SCSU studying sociology and women’s studies, tells the audience, “I was tired of being afraid, tired of ranting on Facebook, I have a younger brother and this could happen to him.”
When asked about her involvement in BLM she said, “It is a beautiful, safe space to gain all that knowledge I’ve been growing as a leader.” She said, “It takes a lot of ovaries to do this work.” As an active campus leader, Gebriel said she no longer feels excluded and is happy to be a part of BLM making a difference.
A big question from students was how to get involved. Montgomery said that students can participate in the obvious: donating, fundraising and demonstrating for the cause. However, if they wanted to join BLM they do have an orientation process, after which they can join a chapter and partake in monthly meetings. BLM is also on social media where they post up-to-date information.
Montgomery ended the panel on this note, “We are all we have. It’s our responsibility to do this work, so things like FMUSLMS license plates don’t come out.”