NAACP Blacktivism Conference brings social-justice awareness to campus, features activists

The Syracuse University chapter of the NAACP hosted a conference for those looking to become better activists and more aware of the plight of Black people in America.

The NAACP SU Chapter held an all-day Blacktivism Conference on Saturday at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications to bring awareness to and encourage black activism through lectures and panels.

Olivia Johnson, president of the chapter, said she and her team organized the conference in order to fight against the persisting injustice toward students of color on social media and on the SU campus. Johnson said the tweets from the White Cultural Club and the cut in the funding of the Cold Case Justice Initiative, which sought justice for racially motivated murders during the civil rights era, especially stood out as injustices. 

Photo: Daniel Hinton
Conference attendees discuss how to gain allies in and outside of their communities during the "Not a Me Issue, It's A We Issue" panel.

“It was necessary for students of color to meet with the activists and learn from them, so we could move forward efficiently,” Johnson said. “The conference is for people who are not conscious, people who want to become more conscious and people who are seeking for and spreading consciousness.”

The following are some lectures covered by the NewsHouse staff.

Lecture: Parallels in Activism

Speaker: Bobby Seale, political activist and national organizer of the Black Panther Party

Seale spoke about presenting truthful black history and how activism could benefit low-income black communities.

Seale said the ideology that black people were inferior persisted in the 1960s. He combated this ideology through taking anthropology courses at his alma mater, Merritt College, where he found that a lot of agricultural products were cultivated in Africa, including cotton.

Seale also recalled a tutorial program he founded in Richmond, California. Together with other founders, they trained people from low-income black communities to become teachers and paid them $390 every month. 

“For the low-income communities, those little paychecks were going to those households. That, to me, is activism,” Seale said. “It’s one thing that we talk a bunch of ideology and political promises, but for me, you have to do the real thing.”

Panel: The Myth of Radicalism 


Herbert Ruffin, associate professor, history and African American studies at SU 

Janis Mayes, associate Professor, African American studies at SU 

Taurean “Sankofa” Brown, activist, writer and speaker

The panelists pointed out that the social oppression of black people was radical itself, and that radicalism should move beyond local communities.

Brown defined the social system that denied low-income black communities access to healthy food and good education as radical itself. “I am radical because the oppression that we built is radical,” he said. “The fact that African American have been oppressed for 500 years is a radical situation.”

Brown also pointed out the difference between equality and liberation. He said equality meant having the same access to oppressive social systems as the privileged groups, while liberation meant defining things for blacks themselves.

Ruffin said black activists needed to have unified plans to move forward, using the effective protests of black student athletes at University of Missouri as an example. Ruffin said they based their coalition on the fact that they played an irreplaceable role in college sports, where their contributions involved millions of dollars and white sports fans.

Mayes urged the audience to think about radicalism beyond community and national borders. “There were always ways of putting the gaze on this community, say in Mississippi, but somehow missing what was happening in the Congo and the migration from West Africa to the diaspora in Paris and London,” she said.

Panel: Looking Forward - Activism in 2015 and Beyond


DeRay Mckesson, black civil rights activist 

Gretchen Purser, associate professor, sociology at SU 

Claudia Chen, communication and rhetorical studies senior and student activist at SU

The panelists talked about decriminalization, battling microaggression and envisioning a social structure that does not harm anybody starting from Syracuse community.

Mckesson said black activism should focus on decriminalizing people jailed for minor misconducts and establishing social structure that did not hurt anybody. He pointed out that the suspension of black students caused their poor academic achievements. “The kids are not learning. Even if their bodies are at school, they are not learning anymore,” Mckesson said.

Chen said her first two years at SU was isolating as one of the few people of color in most of her classes, where she was often asked where she really came from. To address the unintended discrimination on campus, she founded a Facebook page called “SU Microaggressions.” She added that she believed that social media was a powerful platform for activism.

Purser pointed out that Syracuse had one of the highest racially concentrated poverty in the entire nation, but people were reluctant to address the visible problem in the city. “Syracuse is a perfect place to begin a movement for racial and economic justice,” Purser said.

Purser also encouraged the audience to think about alternatives to the current job market, where there were many poor paid jobs for people of color but relatively fewer high paid ones. “The coolest thing about being in college is that you have the opportunities to think about the big picture and to question the society where you live in. To me, that is an activist practice,” Purser said.

African American studies and citizenship and civic engagement sophomore Asile Patin described the conference as enlightening. “It has definitely called for future conversations,” Patin said.

Public administration graduate student Pamela Davis said the conference gave her a lot of food for thought. “But I also would like to see it being transformed into actions,” she said.

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