December 4, 2014
The explosive wave of reactions to the fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri hasn’t lost its momentum just yet.
Black student leaders have come together in support of racial equality with the formation of a multi-university group, the Black Ivy Coalition.
The coalition dedicated to social change is comprised of members from all eight Ivy League institutions, with plans to gain student memberships from colleges across the nation, and was officiated with the release of a statement summarizing their motivations and ambitions (see full text below). Their tagline? “It is now time for our generation to lead the movement against injustices toward people of color in the 21st Century.”
“We decided that our plan of action would be to create a network of black student leaders nationally to organize joint protests, legislative advocacy, and to also reach out to community organizers in communities like Ferguson so we can be more effective allies and campus advocates,” Denzel Cummings, UMOJA Co-Chair and University of Pennsylvania senior told The Huffington Post. “We felt this was important in creating a revival of collegiate advocacy.”
The revival Cummings mentions draws on the coalition’s inspiration from young leadership during the Civil Rights Movement such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and The Greensboro Four, both which received nods in the group’s official statement.
The Black Ivy Coalition’s formation is rooted in long term frustrations with inequality, but not coincidently, immediately followed a series of deaths of unarmed black men whose locations across the country varied, but whose time proximities to each other did not: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Ezell Ford.
Reine Ibala, a junior at Yale University and signee of the coalition’s statement, told The Huffington Post that the media’s coverage of the three slain men showed “a racial disconnect when it came to who thought of these events as isolated incidents rather than manifestations of a systemic issue.” She added, “In light of these polarized responses, we decided to add our voices to resolve the misconception that these incidents are anything less than human rights violations due to a cultural paradigm of continued dehumanization of black people.”
Time will tell if the Black Ivy Coalition’s spirited determination will help spread the firm belief that, as written in their official statement: “Black. Lives. Matter.”
Read the statement in it’s entirety below, and visit the Black Ivy Coalition Facebook for more information.
A Call to Action: Our Generation and the Evolution of the Civil Rights Movement
The horrific death of Michael Brown on August 9th was not just an “incident,” not just an “accident,” nor just “an unfortunate situation.” The reaction from communities of color across the nation and protests against police brutality that have followed are also not, as Fox Contributor Linda Chavez has put it, attempts to “enhance” racial fears and animosity by employing the “mantra of the Black unarmed teenager shot by a white cop.” Instead, the murder of Michael Brown and of countless other unarmed victims of color over the past few months are violations of the highest order. These incidents of police brutality, harassment, and murder are not only violations of our civil rights, but also violations of our basic human rights. Our country has somehow adapted a national policy that our deaths be quickly rationalized by preconceived notions, fueled by prejudice and hate—our lives shadowed with a perpetual fear that one day any one of us could come to bouts with this unjust, and oppressive system that we were never meant to survive. The growing list of situations which resulted in the death of Michael Brown has evidenced an ingrained flaw in the perception of people of color in the United States. The systemic nature of these injustices, regardless of the identities and backgrounds of their victims, makes them not a “Black” problem but an American one.
In light of these events we have created a Collegiate Civil Rights Coalition. We, Black students of all backgrounds, have come together under a united belief. Black. Lives. Matter.
It is our mission to compel our society to revalue Black lives and end the violation of human and civil rights of Black people. We aim to correct the misconception that the Civil Rights movement is over and the United States exists in a paradigm of post-racism—that the slew of recent deaths is nothing more than a series of isolated incidents.
The United States prides itself in its citizens’ ability to gather in peaceful assembly without police harassment and intimidation; to expect protection from the police instead of violence and intimidation; to expect equal justice and due process free from discrimination based on gender, race, class, or any other distinction. The events in Ferguson highlight that as people of color, we are not guaranteed the protection of our civil rights—that somehow this country still does not consider us full-fledged citizens.
Looking back at past efforts to ensure equality in America, it is undeniable that college activism has been a moving force. The success of the Civil Rights Movement was made all the more possible as a result of collegiate advocacy and leadership. The moments in which students and organizations such as The Greensboro Four and SNCC, The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, organized and inspired countless sit-ins, freedom rides, and marches across the South are prime examples of how young Black students united to affect change. These moments in the Civil Rights Movement led by college students created a foundation for transformation and were a product of true and genuine leadership and motivation. Our generation can no longer idly sit and allow only our veteran leaders to come to bat for us each time a tragedy like this happens. We can no longer expect for Rev. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, or even President Barack Obama to articulate our hopes and fears as young Black people in 21st-century America. It is time to revive the leadership that arose from college-aged Black students just like us. It is now time to pass the baton to our generation to lead the movement against the dehumanization of Black and Brown people in this country.
While the media may report the recent Michael Brown protests as a mere moment of outrage, what we are viewing is the beginning of a movement. We can no longer wait for the day that this country will be willing to extend the right to a fair justice system that it has promised to all Americans. We must demand it. As seen before in the courageousness of activists during the Civil Rights Movement, there is great power in the voices and convictions of young people. In Ferguson, it was the youth of the city who rose to the front lines of protests and community organizing to rally in support of justice for Michael Brown. Across the nation’s colleges, students have also taken up this charge through school walkouts, town halls, fundraisers, and more to bring support to this issue. What we are asking of our peers today, people of color and beyond, is that you will join us.
The dehumanization of people of color in our justice system is a complex issue that cannot be tackled alone. Through the use of awareness campaigns, peaceful marches, and legislative proposals, our coalition hopes to address this systemic problem and incite change in the current national policy of viewing Black people solely as instruments of fear and violence. Though there is no clear path to a solution, each one of us is equipped with our talents and experiences. Do not become caught up in superficial ideas of leadership or feel that your background does not qualify you to act. Whether grand or small, what matters most is that you do something. Today, our generation is standing on the great legacy of Civil Rights activists. In honor of their work and sacrifices, we must all extend our hands in carrying the torch and finishing what they started. The time to act is now.
We are not the first to participate in this movement. We will not be the last. Until the day comes when it will not matter whether or not Michael Brown stole a pack of cigarettes or if Eric Garner sold them illegally—until the day Renisha McBride’s drunk driving is not as big of a story as her death and Trayvon Martin’s character is not on the defense stand, it is our fear that there will be no change. Our desire to fight for human life can best be described by the Nguni Bantu term “Ubuntu,” meaning “humanity toward every and all human beings”.
Ubuntu. We stand together because we believe that the effects of these injustices are color-blind—fear runs both ways. Ubuntu. We stand together because between the articles and the riots we see our house dividing. Ubuntu. We stand because in a country that prides itself on its freedoms, no matter how light or dark our skin, we are all marked by the blood of our ancestors. No matter how much we block out “I can’t breathe” and the screams for help, we cannot wash this stain away because, Ubuntu, we are because they are.
This statement was written and signed by a council of 16 Black student leaders, representing all eight Ivy League universities. The signees of the statement include:
Dashaya Foreman- Princeton University C’16, Black Student Union President
Zenaida Enchill- Princeton University C‘16, Black Student Union Vice President
Denzel Cummings- University of Pennsylvania C’15, UMOJA Co-Chair
Nikki Hardison- University of Pennsylvania C’15, UMOJA Political Chair
Sarah Cole- Harvard University C’ 16, Black Students Association President
Miles Malbrough- Harvard University C’16, Black Students Association Vice President
Reine Ibala- Yale University C’16, Yale All Ivy Coordinator
Jennifer Lunceford- Yale University C’15, President, Yale NAACP
Jordan Ferguson- Brown University C’17, Black Student Union President
Armani Madison- Brown University C’16, President, Brown NAACP
Antoine Saint-Victor- Cornell University C’16, Black Students United Co-President
Danielle Scott- Cornell University C’16, Black Students United Co-Publicity Chair
Bennie Niles, IV- Dartmouth College C’15, Afro-American Society President
Kevin L. Gillespie, Jr., Dartmouth College C’15, President, Dartmouth NAACP
Alexis Yeboah-Kodie - Columbia University C’16, Black Students’ Organization President
Diarra White - Columbia University C’15, President, Columbia NAACP