An update on the Rodney Mitchell campaign, a fifth annual toy drive and a discussion on the safety pin trend, were all on the agenda at the Black Lives Matter Manatee-Sarasota meeting, held on the New College campus in ACE Lounge this past Wednesday.
The meeting began with a reading of the Black Lives Matter mission statement and a reminder of the Manatee-Sarasota (Manasota) chapter’s goal: To work on the movement towards equality and dignity of black lives on a local level.”
Introductions were made with a focus on new faces, who were welcomed to share what brought them there and how they hope to contribute to the movement.
“It’s great to see the people that are returning every week,” Shakira Refos, a chapter leader and the meeting facilitator, said. “There’s enough dedicated people that we’re getting two major projects off the ground.”
One of the projects Refos referenced is a youth leadership summit intended to be held at New College during Black History Month. The Black Student Union is partnering with the chapter’s Education focus group to organize the event and Sociology Professor Mecca Zabriskie has been working with Booker High’s dance director Melissa Lodhi to develop a curriculum.
The chapter decided back in August to hold meetings on the New College campus, keeping in mind the school’s location on the border between Sarasota and Manatee counties. Refos also notes New College as a dependable ally to the movement for black lives.
“New College has traditionally been powerful advocates for social justice and we see the people trying to make a difference and using the resources that the school provides to assist us,” she said. “That’s what Black Lives Matter Manasota is– it’s about us using our resources to empower the [black] community.”
Though Black Lives Matter Manasota is not yet a registered chapter, the group is officially recognized by the movement and is working with the Tampa chapter to become formally registered – an intensive, paperwork-heavy process.
Updates were given on group projects and new initiatives and wider discussion opened as the meeting unfolded.
The Restorative Justice focus group presented an email letter composed to be sent to local news media demanding that they cease the “use of victims’ mugshots in reporting on unrelated crimes,” as the subject line reads in the email draft.
Natasha Clemons announced that her court case fighting for justice against the deadly shooting of her son, Rodney Mitchell, by the Sarasota Police Department is being taken to Supreme Court. There are several fundraisers in the making to support her campaign.
President of Manatee county’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Rodney Jones, attended the meeting with several of Sarasota’s high school activists in tow to promote a protest happening that Saturday against racist policing.
At the meeting, the group addressed a new movement to express solidarity for oppressed or marginalized groups by conspicuously wearing a safety pin. Several people of color present expressed concern with the trend being overwhelmingly ally-centered.
The discussion ended with the all-encompassing point that the safety pin trend focuses on individual racism rather than systemic racism.
Chapter meetings meet bi-weekly and are an essential way for anyone to get involved with the movement for black lives. Project updates, direct action info and community promotion are all recurring agenda items. The Manasota chapter is on the move.
“An important thing we did is getting with the Links organization, an older group of African American women that are very curious about what we’re doing and want to support us,” Refos said. “They created a platform for us to speak and they’re 100 percent behind us.”
There were several members of Links present at the meeting and one member expressed that the organization could potentially sponsor the youth summit project. A key benefit from the new association with Links is that it “legitimizes the chapter in the eyes of elder community,” Refos explained.
An obstacle that has shown itself clearly for Black Lives Matter Manasota is a wide gap between older and younger generations.
“I think that historically there have been a lot of people that have utilized the black struggle and made it into some sort of pet project, white guilt thing,” Refos said. “So I think that a lot of it is, with these projects, being able to show what we’re doing as opposed to saying it.”
Deidra Larkin, one of the chapter’s leaders, spoke to the potential benefits Black Lives Matter Manasota has to offer Newtown as a Historic African American community. Larkin grew up in Newtown and spoke to how the Manasota chapter can empower the community.
“[The chapter] can educate people about the things that we see but don’t quite understand, it can help develop community pride as an organization that stands behind them and gives them a voice,” Larkin said. “Some obstacles are just being divided and how we’ve allowed the system to divide us and how, a lot of times it’s the new generation against the older, fearful generation. There’s a common ground now: our lives do matter, and we can move forward from that.”