What’s changed?

Janeanne Levenstein is an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Higher Achievement Baltimore. She graduated from Goucher College in May 2015, and has a passion for social justice that shines through in her Recruitment work. She represented Higher Achievement at Alicia Garza’s talk at Goucher College on March 30th, 2016. We asked her to reflect on the experience for this month’s Baltimore blog post.

The black lives matter movement began when black people were brought to this land in shackles, transported in the bottoms of ships.

Alicia Garza, co-founder of today’s #blacklivesmatter movement

Last week I had the pleasure of returning to my alma mater, Goucher College, to hear Ms. Garza (Twitter: @aliciagarza) speak passionately on the topic of race relations in the United States. Before I begin my overview of her talk, I think it is important say in full disclosure: I am a young, college-educated, white girl from Connecticut. In short, I have a lot of privilege. I went to this event to listen; an act I believe more of us, especially those of us with privilege, need to actively engage in. For that reason, the following is a very brief overview of Garza’s talk, void of my commentary, as I believe that her perspectives on this topic are more important to hear than mine.

For Garza, today’s black lives matter movement began after the murder of Trayvon Martin. Garza poignantly illuminated the fact that the “Trayvon Martin trial” (definitively not the George Zimmerman trial) was just one of countless instances in which young black men have had to prove themselves innocent, even after their death. “Was Trayvon Martin high at the time? Did that somehow make him more violent?…Did he sag his pants? …Was he wearing a hood?” These were the questions that defined the trial, Garza said. Instead of questioning Zimmerman’s actions, Martin’s were scrutinized. The injustice of Martin’s death and the ensuing trial incited a call for action which soon materialized in the viral #blacklivesmatter movement.

In her speech, Garza impressively chronicled many of the major events that characterize today’s black lives matters movement and placed it within the broader context of the hundreds of years of civil rights movements. She adeptly identified the covert but very real systems in place that work to maintain oppressive power relations and she dispelled misconceptions about what black lives matter means. It is absolutely impossible to encapsulate her talk into a 500 word blog post. Instead, I’d like to leave you thinking about these questions:

“The anniversary of the Baltimore uprising is coming up. Instead of asking whether more windows will be broken, why are we not asking what laws have changed? What has changed in our communities?”