ITHACA, NY – Nearly 100 people from a variety of backgrounds attended a rally at the Beverly J. Martin School on Wednesday to introduce the Ithaca chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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The event took place immediately following the speaking appearance of the founders of the national Black Lives Matter movement at Cornell’s Sage Chapel – an event which filled the venue to capacity and left dozens of would-be attendees waiting in vain outside the doors.

The assembled crowd at BJM School on Wednesday. (Photo: Ithaca Voice)

The event kicked off with a passionate spoken word performance by Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, a Cornell PhD student and rapper also known as Sammus.

Lumumba-Kasongo’s piece, called “Perfect Dark,” lamented the lack of role models of color in the cartoons and video games she consumed as a child. Here’s a snippet:

You prolly think I’m reaching
But when I started sketching
The first thing I could think of
Was drawing yellow tresses
Over pink-skinned faces
Red cheeks, and painting
Big tits in lace, and I’m envious of her race
You got a black girl sketchin’ out Aryans

Related: Meet Sammus, an Ithaca rapper with rising star power

Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, after finishing her spoken word piece. (Photo: Ithaca Voice)

Organizer Dubian Ade then spoke about the history of black activism in Ithaca as a precursor to Black Lives Matter Ithaca (BLMI).

He referred back to the 2010 case of Shawn Greenwood, an Ithaca man who was shot and killed by an Ithaca Police officer, which led to the activist group Shawn Greenwood Working Group being formed.

Ithaca has had other incidents of racial tension that led to public outcry, such as a 2014 incident where an IPD officer pulled his weapon on two unarmed black youth. The city also saw a series of disruptive protests in solidarity with nationwide demonstrations following the death of Black youth Mike Brown at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

Related: Ithaca police sergeant pulls gun on unarmed minority teens; mayor promises investigation

Ade provided the following statement of purpose: “BLMI will address the many dynamics of Ithaca which launch a continual assault on Black lives. These include but are not limited to: poor housing, gentrification, food insecurity, policing, job discrimination, white supremacy, class oppression, violence against women, LGBTQ oppression and everything else that degrades Black lives.”

Organizer Dubian Ade. (Photo: Ithaca Voice)

Anti-racist vs. “not a racist”

Russell Rickford, Assistant Professor of History at Cornell, read a lengthy statement further outlining the purpose of the Ithaca chapter of Black Lives Matter and how the group plans to move forward.

“New waves of anti-racist activism are sweeping campuses and communities across the country,” Rickford said, explaining that the formation of BLM Ithaca was an attempt to seize the political moment and find a way to sustain and channel that energy.

Rickford framed BLMI as a grass-roots, bottom up movement built on the concepts of community and solidarity. He said the purpose of the group is to provide “agitation, mobilization, and education” for the community and to build Black political power.

Rickford drew a clear distinction between anti-racism and the passive of act of not being racist or claiming “color-blindness.” The latter approaches, he said, requires no effort and does not threaten the deep rooted issues of white supremacy in American society.

He also made the point that, “The affirmation of blackness is not a condemnation of white people.”

Rickford framed the issue in a broader perspective, saying, “The Black political struggle is a central part of the struggle to democratize society for all.”

The event concluded with organizers opening the floor for questions and a dialogue with the audience.

Russell Rickford, Assistant Professor of History at Cornell. (Photo: Ithaca Voice)

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.