The words of activist Brittany Packnett empowered everyone in the audience. The Black Lives Matter symposium was an event that attracted people of all ethnicity and ages who came together to discuss the state of race relations not just in the U.S. but around the world.The symposium was held on Nov. 6 on Xavier University’s campus. Packnett, the executive director for Teach For America in St. Louis, Mo. was the event’s keynote speaker. She recently rose to the national spotlight when she was appointed to the Ferguson Commission and President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. “I’m not a social worker, therapist, psychiatrist or a survivor or even a next defender, I can’t offer you a statistical analysis of crime patterns or have a medical understanding of crime,” Packnett said. She told the crowd her insights come from simply being an African American woman in this time. Black people can only succeed if as a people they organized to bring about change, she said.
Protests can be taken in many forms by going out on the streets, going into the classrooms, by doing the work in the church house, or even spreading the movement by mouth, Packnett said. “It’s going to take all of us to stop the vulgar language, tear gas, pepper spray, and the beatings,” she said. “We have to create a different world for our children if we don’t pick up the work, who will?” The events of Ferguson forever rocked Packnett out of her slumber that America was not post-racial. Packnett tweeted “One day I’ll write about how Ferguson has challenged my black middle class existence and how disappointed I am in other black folk like me.”
She explained that when she wrote that tweet on Nov. 6, she felt angry and disgusted that some African Americans were not taking this recent events seriously. The St. Louis native said she witnessed first hand bloodshed in the streets, as she had been working to organize protests. Before Ferguson landed on the national consciousness, she said it was physically and emotionally dangerous for activists early on. Being outside protesting until two in the morning took her out of her comfort zone, Packnett added. The fact that she had to entrust her life with strangers that she met five minutes before was terrifying, she explained. “You didn’t know if you would walk away with your life,” Packnett said. African Americans would run away from Ferguson saying this is not the fight for me, she recalled. But somehow she said she found the determination to run in the direction of the fight. She wants young people to shift their priorities to champion a purposeful life. “Being able to afford a Mark Jacobs bag doesn’t free me, I still can die at the hands of police,” Packnett said. Black Twitter and other social media are new platforms that she sees her generation can use to redefine the struggle. “Black is creative, our melanin is gold, and our hearts are rich. Black ain’t broken and black is not in need of your fixing,” Packnett said.
Next Genenration Confronts Racism
Curdarence Chambers who attends DeSoto High School in DeSeto, Texas traveled with 25 of his classmates to the symposium. Chambers, who is a senior, said his experience with racism is a deeply personal one. As an athlete he had been exposed to racial slurs, had been taunted with the N-word and with people making fun of his name, he said.The racial slurs continued on and off the field during his high school athletic career, Chambers said. He grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and came to the symposium to learn how his generation can combat racism today. “A country that is supposed to be accepting to us but somewhat is neglecting us at the same time,” Chambers said. “Black lives Matter to me is more than just a hashtag it’s a movement, and it’s a statement that needs to continue,” Chambers added.
Students from neighboring universities also attended the symposium.symposium. Carlantha Roberts, from Little Rock, Ark. is a senior at Loyola University who came to the symposium because she was tired of being judged for the color of her skin, she said.“I’ve felt the marginalization caused by being an African American when getting racially profiled at night for driving,” Roberts said. She remembers being a kid and her peers would invite her over to their house but would always decline the offer into her home.
“It was hard to face the fact that these Caucasian friends did not trust leaving their child in the hands of a black family,” Roberts added. Roberts attended the symposium to feel empowered and to learn how to speak up for herself. She wanted to educate herself on how to become more engaged in a new era for civil rights. Having insightful conversations is easy with her peers about how the justice system is failing, but after the conversation they don’t do anything, she explained. “We need to take action and go into the community to fix the
problems we are frustrated with,” Roberts said.