The Power of Unapologetically Black Spaces

As a student at the University of Minnesota in 2012, I remember vividly former president Bill Clinton's stop at my university to stump for Obama. I arrived hours before doors opened and got a spot front and center. When Clinton took the stage, the crowd erupted in an uproar and listened intently. After speaking, he left the stage, walked near the crowd, and shook hands with the guests. I got to shake Clinton’s hand.  But when I look back at that experience more than three years later, I chuckle at the giddiness and excitement I had in that moment. I now have more questions and critiques instead of cheers and agreements. Like most political campaign stops, it was geared toward a predominantly white audience with little regard to communities of color. With the exception of First Lady Michelle Obama visiting Patrick Henry High School in 2014, I cannot remember a space of that magnitude created directly for Black residents in their own backyard since I started organizing.

Black America Forum With Sen. Sanders

Photo by Adja Gildersleve.

So when NOC set out to create A Community Forum on Black America with Bernie Sanders, there was only one goal on my heart: that this space be unapologetically Black from the inside on out. Too often when I am in spaces with “distinguished” officials, Blackness has to take a back seat. However, the political is personal. Black lives are politicized on every level imaginable, and if I cannot bring my whole self to the table, white supremacy will continue to be perpetuated. That is exactly what our community did: they brought their whole selves to a space created for them, while simultaneously allowing a presidential candidate to experience the complexities and nuances of Blackness in the American context.

I am not sold on any candidate, and I was not seeking for my vote to be bought from this forum. The story out of #BlackForumMN is not in Sen. Sanders’ answers, but in our questions. It was in our music, our spirit, our embracing our Blackness for the rest of the country to see. Leaders in the Black community were uncensored and unapologetic in their asks to Sen. Sanders. They got to push back, clarify, come from the crowd, and be wholly Black in all of it. This level of interaction with a presidential candidate was unprecedented for me; I have never been in a space like it. It was tense and messy at times, but this is at the core what democracy looks like--not a stump speech, but organic rule of the people.

Community Forum on Black America - Neighborhoods Organizing for Change - Minneapolis

Photo by Tony Webster.

And the effects of the Forum--the effects of Black people taking up space in the political arena--are rippling through this election & beyond. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke on issues of mass incarceration in the heart of Harlem earlier this week. Sen. Sanders kicked off an HBCU College Tour at the Atlanta University Center (home to Morehouse, Spelman, & Clark Atlanta), where former NOC intern Shiranthi pressed Sanders on the same questions we asked, and found that his answers are evolving. Black people are pressuring candidates to focus their promises directly on dismantling the systemic racism plaguing our lives more unapologetically than ever before.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change Panel at #BlackForumMN

Photo by Tony Webster.

This forum was not about creating space for candidates or electeds, but creating space for ourselves and allowing them access on our own terms. Seeing people there from every step on my journey in Minnesota not only showed me that we met that goal, but also that once again, you cannot tell me that my people do not care about our future as a community and a nation. As we move out of the age of Obama, it is becoming more clear that Black votes will not be easily won. Our electeds are taking notice. The time is now to build our power and to be unapologetically Black in every aspect.

Crowd at Black America forum

Photo by Adja Gildersleve.

Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

Donate to NOC Upcoming Events Volunteer Sign-Up


get updates