In light of recent events, let me be open/clear via a loose timeline of my undergrad experience (in the context of student activism):
Freshman year at Eastern Michigan University
- Attend my first rally compliments of EMU-NAACP in protest of the murder of Trayvon Martin
- This is the first time I ever hear the phrase “No Justice, No Peace”
- Also the first time screaming it at the top of my lungs
Fall 2012–Winter 2013
- Year spent attending class and learning student org life.
- Demarius Reid (student athlete) is murdered in off-campus apt complex.
- Black community meets to decide next steps.
- We organize a march/rally in opposition of multiple violent acts in the area surrounding campus as a show of unity.
- The race of the people committing the acts is irrelevant, it is what the acts represented we were standing against.
- This is the first time I take my drum to an action
- A joint agreement between EMU and local policing agencies is reached to improve student safety in the surrounding community.
Senior year, part 1
- Mike Brown is murdered, Ferguson erupts and ignites around the globe in opposition to militarized police states and fascist abuses of power.
- I start searching “black man killed by police” for updates on Mike Brown and instead find new names every other day.
- My inclusive and diverse campus had little to nothing to say about what was happening across the nation.
- We start having die-ins in solidarity with the folks in communities affected directly by extra-judicial killings
- As general silence and complacency continues the die-ins shift to protests with the simple goal of “no more business as usual.” The university didn’t want to talk about it, nor take preventative
- measures to ensure our fates weren’t left in a cop who “feared for his life”
- Once the protests become disruptive the olive branches for sit-downs with administration and Ypsilanti City officials start rolling in.
- Aura Rosser (black woman struggling with mental illness) is murdered by Ann Arbor police 15 minutes from EMU’s campus
- *Take a breath*
- Our protests were in the hopes of starting proactive conversations/implementing policies to protect black folks before a “rogue” cop resurfaced in the area.
- Meet up with some activists at Aura Rosser protests who align with disruptive sentiment.
- Start sitting down with Ypsilanti City manager & Ypsilanti Police Chief
- Begin attending community forums with cops
- What is uniform in all these meetings, forums is that all these entities (cops, city manager, university admin.) all sought the same goal, and also saw cops as the victims needing protection from scrutiny.
- Their goal was not to actively avoid police misconduct, rather to avoid an uprising; how they all framed it was “We don’t want another Ferguson”
- In my mind that’s exactly what we needed though—consistent, unwavering action, and willingness to stand in the face of a system that was willing to kill you, and (probably) get away with it.
- These meetings, and simultaneous protests aimed solely toward disruption and building awareness, continue into winter
- Protests of University support of EAA and its negative effect on Detroit’s black youth arise and the Board of Regents meetings become a site of discourse/target audience for students of color to amplify our plight along with folks organizing against EAA.
- Middle Eastern students violently arrested while protesting mismanaged screening of American Sniper.
Senior year, part 2
- “Lost Voices” garners millions of views over the summer, inadvertently bringing attention to Eastern Michigan University since it is the school we represented at the competition.
- Over the summer a resolution is also issued on behalf of Poetry Society by the Board of Regents, after some nudging.
- THE PROTESTS CONTINUE, INDEFINITELY
- Racist graffiti is found on the campus of the University of Missouri
- We are paid to perform at a dinner in honor of the university’s donors, because of the attention drawn to “Lost Voices”
- Subsequent direct actions lead to an issuing of demands from black students which ignites a network of actions in solidarity and demands from black students to administrators of PWI’s all over the U.S.
- #BlackStudent10 Point Plan is born from this sentiment and delivered to interim president and other admins during a forum on Institutional Racism
- Direct actions are planned and carried out with the intent to keep public eye on the demands and the development or lack thereof made by the university in completing each demand
- We decide last minute to attend a Regents meeting to promote the BS10 and to protest its continued involvement in the EAA, which ends in blocking two of the Regents in the parking lot, who then had to be escorted off the premises by officers because their cars were blocked in.
- Protests continue
- Attention dies down, folks are tired of meetings, and delays, and have to graduate.
- I am accused of breaking 16 parts of the student code of conduct during an action in Pray Harold, in which an alt-right conservative group uses footage to slander and further demonize protesters. One even went so far as to report to police that she thought the sound of my drum was an active shooter.
- I am placed on deferred suspension with the university (which is essentially an attempt at a muzzle, and stipulates that if I were to get in trouble again they’d activate a one-year suspension)
- I am arrested at Applebees after performing a poem at the request of our waitress.
- Spend the weekend in jail
- This arrest is trumped up to a felony and misdemeanor charge
- Upon release I see video of black folks conversing about my arrest, dismissing it as “another disruptive action gone wrong,” when in fact I was arrested on the fly during a conversation with cops.
- Stress from dealing with trial and arrest leads to less than desirable attention to writing-intensive course; I request incomplete from professor, who grants it.
- I walk across stage, drum in hand, at commencement.
- Trial start is delayed to early Fall 2016
- I plead to a lesser charge for a deferred sentence (dismissal once probationary period is up)
- Restricted to Michigan for duration of period, and I’m still delaying finishing final paper in order to receive degree (you get up to a year to satisfy an incomplete)
- Racist graffiti is found on campus
- Multiple actions are planned, aimed toward creating safe spaces for black students to gather on campus and reiterating the #BS10 which is a proactive plan to combat racist ideas and expressions and which was born from the same incident on another campus
- During one action students spend the night in the student center as a show of reclaiming and cultivating their own safe space in the absence of any steps by the university itself to do so
- Soon thereafter, students are found and threatened with sanctions for their part in the action.
- Having not turned in paper to satisfy incomplete grade yet, I am considered a student and brought in as well, even though not actually enrolled in classes.
- Racist phone calls are made to resident halls referring to black students as monkeys
- Protests continue except now with an added focus on dropping sanctions against all students involved.
- Long story short: after the final meeting, the university announces no students will face sanctions. This follows months of organizing and stressing over what sanctions might mean, missing class, etc.
- White Supremacist flyers are posted and business cards are found in the library.
- I turn in paper to satisfy the incomplete at the very last minute. Am no longer a student.
- Reports of a black man arrested and arraigned for the multiple counts of racist vandalism which sparked protests all over the previous year.
Nothing has changed. This is the same university it has always been. Tradition remains as it always has been: to seek out, silence, and destroy disruption with more force and effort than is given to eradicate institutional racism. The list created by black students, which is representative of concerns that have existed on campus and in the U.S. for decades is still floating somewhere in limbo. I maintain that when a university wants something done, it gets done. When they didn’t want people gathering by the Eateries anymore, gates, locked doors, ID swipers, and walls sprang up seemingly overnight. When they wanted prettier landscape, money was allocated for artificial hills to be put in place. This will be one of the last times I’ll mention my alma mater, because I’ve received what I went there for; but I hope the folks who come after will take something from this, and everything else will be available to them. We all have a choice when navigating spaces, I chose to shut as much shit down as I could while not failing all my classes. I chose protest as a means of civic engagement. I chose to skip classes some days; I chose to drum alone most of the time; I chose to be a target. It’s up to you to decide what side you on, or #WhatYouGonDo when action comes knocking on your door. A degree later and most of what I learned had nothing to do with my studies. There are administrators who still praise my (finally) leaving because they believe it means silence—I hope they’re wrong. I hope the noise we made doesn’t fade to an echo, but even if it does I regret nothing: not the sanctions, the arrests, the professors I pissed off, the ones I made proud, the delayed graduation, the noise, the hopelessness, the misunderstandings, the freezing cold marches, the warm chants, none of it. If I had to, I would do it all over again, LOUDER.
The protests will continue, indefinitely.