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UCLA students, alums attend national conference by Black Lives Matter

By Eliza Blackorby

Aug. 6, 2015 9:34 a.m.

The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Devin Murphy is a UCLA alumnus. In fact, he is a rising fifth-year student. Also, Patrisse Cullors' name was misspelled.

Denea Joseph left Los Angeles on July 22 at 1 a.m. in a packed bus with other black activists from the L.A. chapter of Black Lives Matter and a dozen young children who led chants and songs during the ride.

Two days later, they arrived in Cleveland to meet more than 1,500 black activists from around the world who gathered for The Movement for Black Lives Convening, a weekend-long inaugural conference by the Black Lives Matter campaign.

According to its website, the Black Lives Matter campaign, which began in 2012 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, is a political movement which aims to combat all forms of anti-black racism, especially the violence many black people face at the hands of law enforcement officials.

The convening featured workshops, speakers and trainings to organize resistance towards the racism black people face, including police brutality, mass incarceration and lack of access to educational institutions and economic opportunities.

Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement and a UCLA alumna, said organizers began planning the event in January and later reached out to other chapters and organizations for input on what they wanted to feature.

In addition to political organizing, a primary goal of the conference was to facilitate healing and solidarity against the trauma of anti-black racism, Cullors added.

She said the group chose Cleveland as the site for the national convening because of its historical significance to black Americans and because of its location in the Midwest.

“Cleveland is, in a lot of ways, the epicenter of anti-black racism in America,” she said. “It’s where Tamir Rice was murdered.”

A Cleveland police officer shot and killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black child, in November 2014 after Rice brandished a toy gun.

Joseph, the undergraduate representative on the Associated Students UCLA’s board of directors, said she felt attending the convening was an opportunity unlike any other.

“I realized Black Lives Matter is far more than a hashtag,” she said. “It is a movement intended to secure a more vibrant future for black people.”

Devin Murphy, a rising fifth-year political science and Afro-American studies student and former undergraduate student government president, said he thinks the conference emphasized black women’s and black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people’s contributions to Black Lives Matter through the number of LGBT people present and the workshops dedicated to their involvement.

The Black Lives Matter movement was founded by three LGBT women, Murphy added.

He added the conference also focused conversations around the varied issues towards the disabled, immigrants and elderly black people to target the specific challenges those groups deal with.

Joseph said she appreciated being surrounded by so many other black people, especially because of UCLA’s low black student population.

“It’s rare to find more than a couple hundred black students at UCLA, even on our campus of 29,000,” she said. “Especially here (at UCLA), we need to create more safe places where black people can come together and heal.”

Joseph said she came away from the conference with hopes that the undergraduate student government will encourage discussions about racism through town halls and sponsor forums to bridge communication between students and the UCLA administration.

She said she hopes students can reach out to community organizations from the greater L.A. area to connect UCLA to other parts of Los Angeles.

Murphy also said the conference encouraged his view that UCLA must recognize what he feels is a responsibility to uplift black students, not only by sentiment but also by financial support. He added he thinks the university should invest in programs and advocacy measures to support black students’ access to higher education and retention.

“If we asked black students what they want and then funded those initiatives, that shows that Black lives matter,” Murphy said.

Both Murphy and Joseph, as well as Cullors, said they thought the next big push for the movement will be organizing around the 2016 presidential election.

Joseph said that she thought one of the most exciting workshops at the convening was about how to engage young voters in conversation about the election.

“We need to be organizing in the way of candidates who will represent the interests of black people and students as well,” she added.

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