Afrikan Black Coalition Gathers Black Students From Across California

Black students from across California convened at UCI this past weekend for the 12th annual Afrikan Black Coalition conference.

The conference’s theme was “Educating Minds, Revisiting Society” and sought to educate attendees about the challenges that Black people still face in the aftermath of slavery, including mass incarceration, racialized gender violence as well as other injustices related to class, sexuality, disability and education.

“Especially given the fact black students across the UC system have horrific retention rates and the fact that University of California system does exceedingly little to ensure that recruitment, admission and enrollment of black students increases, given the fact that at UC Berkeley black students–nearly one out of every two–feel like their identity isn’t respected on campus, given the fact that campuses like UC Irvine have blackface incidents, this conference is a phenomenal opportunity to be in a space where people can relate to them,” said Salih Muhammad, the executive chair of the coalition.

According to conference organizers, over 650 students were in attendance from across 20 California universities and colleges. As a reference, the latest statistics show that only 400 black students attend UCI.

“For most of the people inside this conference they’ve never been to a classroom or an auditorium on any UC campus where there were more people in the room that look like them,” said Muhammad, who also noted that this is the largest conference of black students in California.

“Since there’s not too many of us on any individual campus, we recognize the power of our numbers on the campuses across the system,” said Mohammad.

Thirty-seven workshops were hosted across topics that included the police brutality and killings, black feminist discourse, the prison industrial complex, black relationships and inequities in academia.

In one of several workshops geared towards addressing the experiences black women, Jade Turner used quotes from prominent black women in order affirm and inspire female students.

“We have history of carrying heavier burdens,” Turner said, referring to the intersection of racial and gender discrimination that black women have faced.

“I cannot be comprehended except by my permission,” Turner said as she quoted poet Nikki Giovani.

“Being a black woman is not just one thing. We are multi-faceted and there are many ways to be a black woman and express yourself,” said Turner. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong.”

Angelique McGrue, one of the conference’s co-chairs, said that creating a space where black students could come together and be with each on such a large scale, an experience unseen across California universities where black students represent a minute percentage, was what motivated her to put in sleepless nights planning the conference.

Jared Sexton, UCI professor and chair of the African American studies program, facilitated a caucus in which students discussed the specific challenges that black men face and put forth progressive criticism of gender relations.

“There is nothing wrong with us, right now,” Sexton affirmed, reminding attendees to resist forces that seek to convince them otherwise. He cautioned, however, that there is a distinction between self-acceptance and a willful ignorance of ways that black men can improve in their treatment of black women.

“Black men cannot afford to appropriate the gender prerogatives of white men,” said Sexton, citing professor Hortence Spiller from Vanderbilt University.

He acknowledge that black women have been the driving force behind major civil rights movements from the 1960s to today’s #BlackLivesMatter, even if they have not been acknowledge for it.

“Collectively, black women understand black men’s issues, but not the reverse,” he said. “If you’re not aware of the conversations black women are having among themselves, you’re at a disadvantage.”

Keynote speakers included Dr. Christina Sharpe, Dr. Wade Noble and Elaine Brown. Sharpe is an associate professor from Tufts University whose courses include subjects in Africana and women’s studies. Wade is a former professor from San Francisco State University who is the founder and director of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Family, Life and Culture in Oakland.

Brown, a former leader of the Black Panther Party, critiqued mainstream politics, urging students to keep black leaders accountable to their communities. According to her, in order to achieve social, economic and political parity for black people, a radical redistribution of wealth and resources must occur.

“Make up your mind about as to what you’re willing to do,” said Brown, who suggested that students focusin on specific issues around which they can mount tangible projects. As an example, she cited the Black Panthers’ efforts to provide food and medicine to those who needed it.

“Either you make this a priority or not,” she said. “You can’t be an organization half-stepper.”

“A tree isn’t a tree unless it bears fruit,” said Muhammad, who, after the conference had ended, said he was optimistic that the conference succeeded in sparking the next generation of black student leaders.

“This is an opportunity for black students to come and to affirm themselves, to reexamine the need to love themselves and to find ways to make stronger and deeper relationships with themselves.”