In participation with “Black Lives Matter, a Northwestern Dialogue”, the Theta Alpha Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. hosted a candlelight vigil in Alice Millar Chapel on Sunday night. The vigil was held in order to honor the black lives lost to police brutality, race-based violence, gender-based violence, and sexuality-based violence throughout the final six months of 2016.
The event featured a recital of poetry written by Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and Audre Lorde, the listing of the names of each month’s victims, and a moment of silence. Soul4Real, Northwestern’s premiere African-American a cappella group, and the Northwestern Community Ensemble, the school’s premiere gospel choir, performed at the event as well.
Nneoma Oradiegwu, a McCormick second-year student, said it’s good that the Black Lives Matter conversation and activity is being brought to campus and the Evanston community. She also spoke on how easy it is to get stuck just having conversation on social media and not in the real world.
As you entered the event, one was given a program which listed the names of the 133 victims between the months of July and December of last year. The names were spoken aloud month by month throughout the program.
“How long it took to finish one month [of victims] made it more real,” Oradiegwu said.
Many names rang bells, such as Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Korryn Gaines, as their deaths were at the hands of police officers and caused major public outrage and protest.
The list of victims also included seven transgender Black women, as Black trans women are disproportionately targeted in hate crimes and violence.
Within these first two weeks of the new year, a Black trans woman’s life has already been taken. Mesha Caldwell was found dead January 4 outside of Canton, Mississippi. Initial reports of her death also mis-gendered Mesha as male.
As the Black Lives Matter movement has grown, one major critique of activists and participants has been how largely ignored sexuality-based violence and gender-based violence has been, especially regarding Black transgender women.
This has spurred a conversation about whether ALL Black lives matter or if only cis heterosexual Black lives matter.Since the latter’s lives seem to get the most acknowledgment within the movement we must ask: who is Black Lives Matter actually fighting for?
Though many have made this observation about the BLM, one of their guiding principles says “we are committed to being self-reflexive and doing the work required to dismantle cis-gender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.”
The Black Lives Matter Organization was also started by three Black women who, themselves, are a part of the LGBTQ community.
The inclusion of victims of sexuality-based and gender-based crimes is something that does not always happen at vigils for Black lives, such as the one the Theta Alpha Chapter hosted. Kieara Reed, the Theta Alpha Chapter president said it was important to the chapter that they highlight the losses and honor the lives of all Black lives, including those of different identities.
Violence inflicted upon Black lives by police is important, but the violence based on sexuality and gender is equally important. And it’s those narratives we should always remember to honor.