The University of Connecticut H. Fred Simons African American Cultural Center held their annual Black History Month opening ceremony yesterday evening featuring guest speaker Patrisse Cullors. Cullors is an artist and activist who co-founded the Black Lives Matter Global Network.
The event began with opening remarks from Dr. Wilena Kimpson-Price, the director of the AACC, President Thomas Katsouleas, Provost Carl Lejuez and Franklin Tuitt, the chief diversity officer.
This was followed by the playing of “Life Every Voice and Sing,” which Price said is often called the “Black national anthem.”
Cullors’s initial remarks included the misinformation campaign against the Black Lives Matter movement, a reflection on what it means to fight for the rights of Black people in the future and political commitment.
Cullors said that it is important to understand the history of spreading misinformation to discredit social movements and acknowledged that Black Lives Matter was not the first to be targeted.
“When we started our work, we were wholly unprepared to respond to misinformation and disinformation,” said Cullors of her and her fellow activists. “We were young organizers with very little visibility or a platform, and so we were confused why anyone would go after us.”
Cullors said now the Black Lives Matter Global Network has a bigger online presence and staff to fact check people online, but all people must challenge misinformation.
Cullors also spoke on fighting for the rights of Black people that she would never meet, a question posed by Dr. Lewis Gordon, a professor of philosophy at UConn.
“A lot of the framework of our network, for the audience, is that we’re fighting,” she said. “I actually don’t believe that that’s the correct framework to exist inside this work. Because if you’re fighting all the time, you will burn out.”
“I believe the work that we’re doing is a prayer,” said Cullors. “It’s an offering, it’s a meditation.”
““I believe the work that we’re doing is a prayer. It’s an offering, it’s a meditation.”Patrisse Cullors, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter Global Network
Cullors said she believes we live in a culture that does not value human life and that the movement’s framework should be based on respecting that value.
“I’m interested in fighting,” she said. “It’s not because I’m interested in focusing on Black death. This movement is actually about our lives and not just survival, but thriving.”
Protests, voting, art and culture are what Cullors described as “tools” for challenging white supremacy.
In her elaboration on political commitment, Cullors said in 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement was mainly focused on getting former President Donald Trump out of office. However, she said much of 2016 was focused on challenging the Democratic party.
“The Democratic party had a history of milking Black votes without actually giving us what we deserve,” she said.
““The Democratic party had a history of milking Black votes without actually giving us what we deserve.”Patrisse Cullors, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter Global Network
Cullors said people criticized the Black Lives Matter Global Network for supporting the Democratic party’s defeat of Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Cullors referred to this as “political immaturity,” and said it is unacceptable not to vote because one’s preferred candidate is not on the ballot.
Pauline Batista, the AACC program specialist, moderated the Q&A portion of Cullors’s talk and began by asking about the influence of having her family members incarcerated on her activism.
Cullors said it is a pillar in her work and said it is why she identifies as an abolitionist. She defined abolitionism as “the abolition of courts, police, prison and surveillance.”
“Public prisons: They are an industry and they are not about care, accountability
, or rehabilitation,” she said. “We know that Black people are the number 1 people inside of jails and prisons across the country and when people come home from prison and jail, they’re not coming home in better shape, they’re often coming home in worse shape.”
““We know that Black people are the number 1 people inside of jails and prisons across the country and when people come home from prison and jail, they’re not coming home in better shape, they’re often coming home in worse shape.”Patrisse Cullors, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter Global Network
Cullors described the public prison industry as a “public health crisis.” There is also a need to hold communities accountable and begin a transformation to ensure that they do not do harm and violence, she said.
However, there are certain methods that Cullors said the Black Lives Matter Global Network did not approve of, like body cameras. She said they instead endorsed defunding the police, because body cameras do not stop the real problem: racist policing.
Cullors emphasized that organizing in individual communities does not require her or the other co-founders to be present or lead, and that anyone can organize.
The Black Lives Matter movement was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Cullors shared her gratitude for the consideration and said the nomination will help bring more attention to the movement, regardless of the winner.
The AACC will be hosting events throughout Black History Month. The details of each event are outlined on aacc.uconn.edu.