VCU hosted the first annual Black Lives Matter Symposium on Wednesday, Jan. 20 in the Student Commons as part of the university’s week-long 2016 MLK Celebration.
More than 200 students, staff and Richmond community members filled the room before the 7:30 p.m. even began to address topics including racism, violence against blacks and solutions to fixing such problems in the community.
Sitting on the event’s panel were Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham, VCU student activist and leader Angelique Scott, VCU psychology professor Shawn Utsey and nationally recognized activist, filmmaker and writer Bree Newsome. The discussion was moderated by VCU political science associate professor Ravi Perry.
Utsey said he believed change has to start with the national education system.
“The most violent actions against us occur in the classrooms — not at the hands of police but in the classroom,” Utsey said. “The minds of our children begin to become disfigured, and then we wonder why we behave toward each other like we do.”
Another proposed solution was creating a level of understanding between the police and those disproportionately affected by acts of violence, although this was not what Chief Durham appeared to think the underlying issue is.
“If there was never, never another police-involved shooting of a black man, of a person of color, would the Black Lives movement be relevant?” Durham asked, to which some members of the crowd defiantly responded yes, saying the department must take ownership of state-backed violence against blacks.
Newsome, most known for being arrested for taking down the confederate flag at the South Carolina State House after the Emanuel AME Church shooting, also responded to Durham and received a more positive response from the crowd.
“When black people kill black people, they tend to go to jail; when police officers do, they tend not to,” Newsome said, noting the divide in discipline and accountability in those situations.
VCU political science student Attalah Shabazz also asked whether the movement was inclusive to only black men and exclusionary toward queer or transgender women.
“A lot of the people who have been in front of the movement have been black queer women,” Newsome responded.
As the event came to a close, members of the panel gave their concluding thoughts on the situation at hand and the importance of working to end the problem of discrimination and racism on and off campus.
“I’m tired. I’m tired. We have a history that repeats itself. We continue to have polite discussions without answering the question, ‘What are we willing to do for our liberation?’” Utsey asked, to which his question was greeted by a resounding silence. “We must be willing to die for our liberation,” he concluded.
For some in attendance, the event had a strong effect.
VCU senior Sam Washington said he left the event more motivated than ever to do what he could to stand up to police violence against blacks.
“As a 22 year old African-American male in the U.S., it’s definitely scary,” Washington said. “With events like these, it reassures me that we’re ready to fight against this and turn the tide.”
Staff Writer, Muktaru Jalloh
Muktaru is a senior double majoring in English and political science with a minor in media studies. Topic areas Muktaru enjoys covering include music, sports, pop culture and politics. // Twitter | Facebook