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Black Lives Matter Ithaca plans to spread awareness to local schools

A panelist performs poetry at a community gathering for Black Lives Matter Ithaca on Feb. 3 at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School.
A panelist performs poetry at a community gathering for Black Lives Matter Ithaca on Feb. 3 at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School.
By Sara Kim and Taylor Zambrano

Community members and students gathered the evening of Feb. 3. at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School to engage in a discussion about the founding of Black Lives Matter Ithaca.

Russell Rickford, a professor at Cornell University who specializes in black political culture post-World War II and the black radical tradition, was one of about eight speakers who spoke at the rally.

The rally was the first official meeting of the Black Lives Matter Ithaca Chapter, and community members and students were able to engage with members of the Black Lives Matter movement and ask questions about how they could become involved.

“New waves of anti-racist activism are sweeping campuses and communities across the country. How do we help sustain this energy and channel it to a positive change in our area?,” Rickford said.

With the state of unrest sweeping across the nation among black members of the community, especially on school campuses, students have been protesting and bringing awareness to address their concerns for their safety and human rights.

Ithaca College has hosted a series of protests and rallies across campus within the past 4 months addressing the increasing racial tensions and issues that many students have come forth with.

Before the rally, Cornell University had hosted a separate event at 4:45 p.m. Feb. 3 at Sage Chapel on Cornell University’s campus. The co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, participated in a panel discussion that was open to everyone.

Reverend Dr. Kenneth I. Clarke, Sr., Director of Cornell United Religious Work, said the event was filled to capacity with a long line between 100 and 200 students waiting outside to attend.

The public elementary schools are slowly beginning to become involved in these discussions about civil rights as well.

The Tompkins County Office of Human Rights’ hosted their 28th Annual Human Rights Arts Competition during the month of September, for students from kindergarten to grade 12, and each one was tasked with creating visual art or poetry reflecting the theme based on the 30 Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Black Lives Matter Ithaca chapter discussed its plans to involve community members in the worldwide discussion about the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Ultimately, if it’s going to be a sustainable movement, it has to be indigenous, it has to be grassroots, and it has to be built by the people themselves,” Rickford said.

The event began with a few speeches and spoken word poetry performances from the group’s members.

Cornell graduate student Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo performed a spoken word piece about her own experiences growing up and when she began to realize the racial tensions and inequality surrounding her.

“Being back in this place has forced me to question a lot of things and think about what is my identity, what does my blackness mean here in Ithaca, what does my blackness mean period,” Lumumba-Kasongo said.  

However, she said that Ithaca’s racial climate and how issues within the community are addressed are beginning to change positively.

“I felt isolated, but my sense is that students now have a better sense of how what’s happening to them is connected to things that are happening nationally, like college struggles or struggles that have happened historically,” Lumumba-Kasongo said.

Clarke said as an Ithaca community member, he had noticed that his children would come back from school with stories about racial inequalities they had faced there.

“As a parent who had two kids graduate from this high school who are now in their mid-20’s, my wife and I certainly had to deal with some issues with some of the teachers in this district because of their racist practices, the way in which they dealt with our son or our daughter.

He said as a parent, he had to address those issues.

“It’ll be interesting in seeing how the Black Lives Matter chapter here evolves in the extent to which public school students become involved in it.”

At the end of the performances and speeches at the rally, the floor was open for community members to openly give feedback and ask questions about how they could help support the movement and its members.

One particular community member, Isaiah Flores, gave his opinion regarding Rickford’s opening comments of the rally, as well as his own feedback for how he plans to help and participate in the Black Lives Matter Ithaca chapter.

“So as a white person, they have a lot of unpacking to do in terms of what it means to be white,” Flores said. “So in order to be helpful to the cause, one needs to be educated and show up for these types of events and obviously do as much as you can on your own to educate yourself and come to the table with something to offer.”

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