On Sunday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m., UConn Collaborative Organizing (UCCO) held their second event from Black Liberation Night School (BLNS) via Zoom focusing on Black feminism and the Combahee River Collective. The hour-long event stimulated informative and eye-opening discussion amongst UConn undergraduates, graduate students and community members.
Najha Zigbi-Johnson, a recent graduate of the Harvard Divinity School who earned her masters in African American/Black theological studies, led the conversation. While at Harvard, Zigbi-Johnson created a year-long graduate course entitled “Freedom School: A Seminar on Theory and Praxis for Black Studies in the U.S.” The course was open to fellow Harvard graduate students as well as Boston community members. It focused on the study of Black radical thought and the creation of community organizing and democracy building campaigns.
The major mission of BLNS, an ongoing series of events put together by UCCO, is to educate the community on Black radical theory and history. As stated in their Instagram post first introducing BLNS on June 16, the series will “be hosting guests from the UConn community and beyond to help us read important works, discuss critical topics and apply them to the ongoing country-wide uprising.” The first BLNS installment entitled “Unpacking Racial Capitalism” occured on June 28. Each speaker provides suggested reading material that goes along with the specific topic covered to enhance the conversation.
After introductions by the UCCO e-board, Zigbi-Johnson opened the conversation by emphasizing just how important the work of Black feminists like the Combahee River Collective is, especially when we look at the reality of the everyday tragedies that take place in the lives of Black womxn like Breonna Taylor. The overwhelming injustice that occurred when it was announced this past Wednesday, Sept. 23 — that no police officer would be charged for causing Taylor’s death — shows how the Combahee River Collective’s statement rings just as true today as it did 43 years ago, when the document was first written.
And what exactly is the Combahee River Collective? The group is a collective of Black lesbian feminists that first began meeting in 1974. These womxn felt the need to create their own group to address the oppression unique to Black womxn as society placed them in “two oppressed racial and sexual castes.” While many activists within the Combahee River Collective were involved in Black liberation movements as well as the women’s liberation movement, the sexist oppression they faced by Black males and the racist oppression they faced by White females demanded that a space be created by themselves, for themselves. As was stated in their 1977 Combahee River Collective Statement, “We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us.”
“As an intersectional advocacy organization, the Combahee River Collective was something that we wanted to incorporate into our social justice curriculum,” Brittany Diaz, president of UCCO and a fifth-semester political science and human rights major said. “In order to achieve liberation for all people, we must talk about intersectional issues and identities to unite in solidarity for social change.”
Zigbi-Johnson provided introductory information on the Combahee River Collective in her opening statement as well as articulated the fact that Black feminism is inherently abolitionist and anti-capitalist. She also noted the importance of acknowledging the work that Black feminists like the Combahee River Collective did in terms of setting the stage for current day abolitionist movements, like the abolishment of the police and the prison system.
The conversation then opened up and included an array of topics from spirituality to capitalism to White supremacy. As a recent graduate of the Harvard Divinity School, Zigbi-Johnson came at the conversation from a particularly intellectual yet spiritual lens, although claiming that she personally wasn’t religious in the conventional sense. An especially interesting point Zigbi-Johnson raised was the fact that racial capitalism stems from a tradition of materialism. Yet materialism is the antithesis of spiritualism, and thus spiritualism plays an integral role in abolitionism.
This spiritualistic role was also present in the conversation centered around White supremacy. Zigbi-Johnson noted that in addition to the abject harm and oppression White supremacy causes for people of color around the world, White supremacy also denies White people from truly understanding their full selves and their White identities. Yet in our White supremacist, capitalist society this mental capacity and ability to “show up in our full complexity,” as Zigbi-Johnson put it, is denied.
The conversation was wrapped up with some powerful and spiritual words by Steve Núñez, a philosophy PhD student at UConn who also earned their masters at Harvard Divinity School, along with Zigbi-Johnson. The entire event not only created an eye-opening dialogue on traditionally overlooked topics, but also fostered a strong sense of community.
“Last night’s BLNS was one I will never forget because it provided a different perspective on Black feminism, abolition and also, as Kat Morris [former president of UCCO] mentioned last night, radical love,” Kimberly Escobar, the vice president of UCCO and seventh-semester finance major with minors in Spanish and digital media and analytics, said.
And there’s no doubt that this radical love was a guiding factor in this installment of BLNS. Follow @collaborativeorganizing on Instagram to keep up-to-date on future events.