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Opinion: What we mean when we say Black Lives Matter

Curtis Renee and John Sloan III

Every company, large or small, has a prewritten statement of platitudes. It’s ready just in case they need it; sitting on the hard drive of their newly minted Director of Diversity & Inclusion. It’s been written, rewritten, vetted, reviewed, edited, sanitized and watered down so many times no one is really sure what it means.  

And now almost all of them add ... #BlackLivesMatter. But while millions of people share these sentiments, very few are actually clear with their intentions. So, while we cannot speak for them, we will speak for ourselves.  

What do we mean when we write, speak or shout Black Lives Matter?

We mean that the current societal intersection of governance and commerce was built upon a system that values the lives of black bodies as inherently less than those of our white counterparts.

Or, said differently: Our society was intentionally built to be racist!  

Our society was built this way — not our systems of government, commerce or policing independently — but our entire way of being.

A rock in Romeo reportedly was defaced with racist messages, but has been restored to 'Black Lives Matter.'

Black bodies are beaten, vandalized and mutilated by police forces across the country. But to focus only on police brutality is to address merely a portion of the problem. Instead, we look at the entirety of what it means to value black life. Here, in Detroit, we support and organize youth arts programming, because we recognize that our children aren’t given the same access to education as their white counterparts.  

Here, in Detroit, we work to support local urban farms because we understand that our communities aren’t provided the same access to nutrition.  

Here, in Detroit, we believe in dismantling a predatory system of cash bail.

Here, in Detroit, we fight to redefine the concept of safety, because we believe that only by centering control within the community can we truly guarantee equitable safety for all neighborhoods. 

Here, in Detroit, we care about keeping black bodies alive, and giving them the access to truly live.

The official Detroit chapter of Black Lives Matter has yet to organize a protest action.  But we have seen the violence with which protesters have been met. 

So, here is what we are doing:

► Starting on Juneteenth we will be launching a series of free virtual teach-ins, trainings and forums. We firmly believe that to organize effectively we must be organized, and it is our obligation to arm members of our community with the education, knowledge and training necessary to accomplish our goals.  

► This is a virtual series because we also recognize that the same systemic forces that have brought us to this moment have also created an environment where COVID-19 can disproportionately affect our community; and we value physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. 

► We will work with community leaders, and provide community members with an opportunity to voice their grievances.

► We will hold a march and rally this fall (date TBD) where we present a list of clear and direct solutions to our local and state government. These solutions will address the full breadth of systemic issues at the root of our society’s bias.

We are all angry. We are all hurt. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery were not the first. We remember Ayana Stanley Jones. We remember Malice Green.

We remember Sandra Bland, Tony McDade, Tamir Rice, Atatiana Jefferson, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Michael Brown. We remember Trayvon. 

We are angry, but we are organized. Here in Detroit, in Lansing, in Philly, and across the country. We are the living record of all our ancestors have done, and everything our youth have yet to accomplish.  

We are the Black Lives Matter Movement, and we know what that means.

Curtis Renee and John Sloan, III, are co-lead organizers of BLMDetroit.