February 29, 2016

Lecture discusses Black Lives Matter movement

Sherrae Hayes, Ph.D., described the Black Lives Matter movement and its principles in a Feb. 24 lecture, “Black Lives Matter(ed): What Our Great Leaders of the Past Would Say About Our Problems of the Present,” sponsored by Cleveland State University’s Black Studies Program.

Hayes explained what the Black Lives Matter movement stands and fights for, according to its website, which says, “Black Lives Matter is a chapter-based national organization working for the validity of Black life. We are working to (re)build the Black liberation movement. This is not a moment, but a movement.”

She also noted many principles of Black Lives Matter that are lesser known, such as its fight to affirm LGBTQ blacks and confronting ageism.

According to Hayes, something that many people are unaware of is that three women founded the Black Lives Matter movement – Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors, Hayes said. She said they identify as black queer women who have suffered from people stealing their work and ideas without being consulted.

“Perhaps if we were the charismatic black men many are rallying around these days, it would have been a different story,” they said, “but being black queer women in this society (and apparently within these movements) tends to equal invisibility and non-relevancy.”

Hayes said she is an unapologetic ally of the LGBT community. “They are very much a part of our community, and if we don’t honor that, we’re doing ourselves a disservice,” she noted. “Whatever your personal or religious beliefs are, they may be blocking you from moving us forward as a collective.”

Hayes asked the audience to name great past black leaders that first came to mind. The names said were W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and President Barack Obama. At this point someone asked “Where are all the women at?” and then people named Jane Pittman, Rosa Parks, Madam C.J. Walker, and Harriet Tubman.

“We named all those people, by their first names,” Hayes said. “They are institutions in our minds on who is considered to be a great black leader.”

The lecture then turned interactive as Hayes had placed post-it notes under some seats. Whoever had a note under his seat read a quote aloud from one of those famous leaders.

Hayes then elaborated on ageism. She said many black leaders who started when they were very young such as Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks, are remembered at the age at which they died, not the age when they began their work. She said that the disconnect between generations began a long time ago, and then requested input from the audience members about how they felt about that.

“When you take away a people's culture – their names, the way they dress, their food, and their religious systems – there is a total disconnect,” responded audience member Linda Thomas Jones.

“I teach African drums and dance to young people,” Jones continued. “They have no idea who they are. They have no idea about rites of passages. They don't have the information they need to move forward as strong African American people. These young people have nothing to hold onto, so they are creating their own madness.”

Hayes highlighted the activities of some present-day young people making a difference, including Dante Berry, who started the “Million Hoodies Movement for Justice,” and 7-year-old Natalie McGriff, who in an effort to promote literacy and reading, raised more than $16,000 in a crowd-funding effort for her comic book, “The Adventures of Moxie Girl,” a heroine who battles monsters that are trying to destroy library books.

Hayes, 29, received her doctorate in African American and African Studies from Michigan State University in May 2015.

Michael Williams, Ph.D., head of Cleveland State's Black Studies program, said that originally Hayes was supposed to teach a class at Cleveland State.

“She came in for an interview, and we talked about it, and I said 'I need her for more than just teaching this course,'” Williams said. “She's going to be doing a series of presentations for us.”

She will be giving a presentation on March 9 about women's history and will also be speaking at an event during Black Aspirations Week, April 18 to April 23.

Williams closed the program by stating his desire that someday Hayes will take over for him as the head of the Black Studies program.


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