American Baptist College Hosts Youth Activists From Ferguson, Chicago, Nashville

Nashville Scene
Posted By
December 31, 2014

“There is an African traditional way of saying ‘Good morning, hello, how are you?’," said Dr. Iva Carruthers on the campus of Nashville's American Baptist College Wednesday morning, "and it is embedded in the words of, ‘How are the children doing?’”

That question — and the answer suggested by the controversial deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police in 2014 — brought youth activists from Ferguson, Missouri, Chicago, Atlanta, and Nashville to a retreat hosted at the historic black college over the past three days. The school's history as what college president Dr. Forrest E. Harris calls a "incubator of social justice" reaches back to the birth of the civil rights movement.

“We stand here supporting a trans-generational opportunity to converse, to think, to celebrate, to heal, to strategize at this historic institution embracing the spirit, the ancestral memories that are a part of the legacy of this institution as we respond to this responsibility to say the children are not doing well and we have a collective responsibility to address that,” said Carruthers, general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference and a trustee of the ABC, the organizations that partnered to host the gathering.

But the movement, Carruthers and Forrester agreed, is led by the youth, and it was the young activists' voices that dominated the discussion.

Ethan Veits VanLear, 19, referenced his work in Chicago with a group called We Charge Genocide.

“With We Charge Genocide about a month ago, me and a few of my comrades went to Geneva, Switzerland to charge genocide against the Chicago Police Department and police departments in general in the United States," VanLear said. "We did that to the Committee Against Torture, and when we were out there, one moment that really stuck with me was when one of the members of that committee against torture said, ‘It appears the United States is in a state of warfare against the black population of its country.’ And I think the events in Ferguson and the continued devaluing and killing of black bodies and black lives shows that it is truly a warfare.”

An analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings by ProPublica earlier this year found that young black males stand 21 times greater risk of being shot dead by police than young white males.

Rondriguez White, 24, a lifelong Nashvillian, said he had been traveling back and forth to Ferguson in recent months and was heartbroken by the "racist regime" the people in St. Louis were living under. He described the ABC retreat as a spiritual experience.

“It let me know that there are times when I may feel like I’m alone, there are times when I may feel like no one understands me," White said. "But I can just look behind me and see that this is only the beginning and with a group like this, we can end this. We can definitely take this down. It has to end. If not now, then when? This is the generation that it’s going to end with. It’s too much. It’s too long. There’s no reason we should have to live like this. Enough is enough.”

The group had spent the past few days, Harris said, “strategizing and building strategies for next steps in a movement.” Before they left to return to Ferguson and Atlanta and Chicago, they launched a call and response that grew louder and louder as it echoed off walls that oversaw the planning of marches and sit-ins. The words they recited were those of Assata Shakur, the former Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army member who was convicted of murder, fled the United States in the early '80s and still lives as a fugitive in Cuba:

"It is our duty to fight for our freedom
It is our duty to win
We must love, support, and protect each other
We have nothing to lose but our chains."

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