Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
At Bryn Mawr College’s Thomas Great Hall, Founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto Janaya Khan spoke to the values of black liberation, indigenous sovereignty, and justice on February 2. Set to begin at 7:00 p.m., the event ultimately started at 7:16 due to the unprecedented number of individuals present. There were many Bryn Mawr students, a significant number of Haverford students, and a few Swarthmore students, as well as professors who came to watch the presentation.
Khan began by commenting on the origins of the Black Lives Matter Movement. They explained that it took time to build, and that the cause, too, was great. Tear gas, they noted, was used in Palestine, as well as Ferguson, to silence protestors: this fight for justice in the face of government adversity, in their experience, was universal and wholly necessary. They continued to note that, in the face of injustice, those who remain neutral are guilty of the act as well. Kahn said, “Every time that you don’t say something it means something,” relating to the decision everyone must make on whether to participate in the work or not.
This segued into the topic of black consciousness. Kahn differentiated here between the terms “black power” and “black consciousness,” saying that Nelson Mandela advocated for the former and was imprisoned, while Steve Biko pushed for the latter and was killed. This illustrated, in their opinion, the overwhelming significance of the latter. The Black Lives Matter Movement, they explained, while for black power, is overwhelmingly for consciousness, which poses a greater danger to the restricting establishment.
Before opening the floor to a question and answer session, Kahn brought to light the worry that haunts many: that the Civil Rights Movement is simply an element of the past, and that the spirit of the effort is no longer. They countered, “You don’t need to wonder—it’s happening now,” referring to the struggle for liberation, and the importance of recognizing that it has not ceased. Kahn continued to state that truth is maintained by those who believe it, and that it is informed by those who imagine it. For too long, they showed, a truth of subjugation imagined by few had been believed by many. They said, “We have to be the destructors of truth. We have to be the diviners of change.”
They then thanked the organizers of the event, and invited the crowd to ask questions. Khan announced after the first question that all discussion from that point onwards would be considered private. Over the roughly one hour and thirty-minute-long discussion, topics such as intersectionality, allies, religion, art, and mixed-racial roles were introduced by audience members and enumerated on at length by the speaker.
After the event had concluded, many students continued to discuss the issues introduced. Tyrone Clay ’18 said, “This was one of the few events that I’ve gone to that actually does tell me something that I didn’t know about myself.”
Bryn Mawr College has scheduled events surrounding Black History Month for every week, centering around the themes of gender and sexuality, prison and education, professionalism, and health. Swarthmore College, too, has programming throughout the month which will be covered by the DG.
Featured images by Jacob Demree ’19/The Daily Gazette