Millennials in the Movement: BYP Spotlight with Blake Simons
You just don’t wake up one morning and start enacting social change. There is a moment when you become racially conscious and from that day on, you cannot shake this political awareness–it sticks with you. Everyone’s path to wokeness is different. No matter the different paths that are taken, young Black people are doing good work, changing what it means to be a Black activist today.
In this edition of our Black Youth Spotlight series, we highlight Blake Simons. He is the Deputy Communications director for the Afrikan Black Coalition, a Black organization in the UC colleges that strives to promote Black culture, awareness, and leadership. Blake believes that the celebration of Black History should not be limited to a single month—it should happen everyday. Right now through the Afrikan Black Coalition, he is spreading his political awareness of what it means to be Black during a time where innocent lives are lost and threatened due to senseless acts of violence.
Jennifer Chukwu (BYP): Can you tell our readers here at the Black Youth Project a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with the Afrikan Black Coalition?
Blake Simons: So I am a student at UC Berkeley. I am a political science major and minor in African American studies. I am an activist, organizer, and I was a student athlete at Berkeley for three and a half years. I stopped playing and got really involved politically on campus with the Black Student Union, and then became a part of the Afrikan Black Coalition (ABC), which is a coalition of Black Student Unions. ABC functions as an umbrella organization. A lot of folks start with the BSUs and then move on to ABC if they want. Normally, ABC’s executive staff is made up primarily of people who have already graduated. As a kid, I grew up in the Bay Area around the time of Oscar Grant. I was probably a in junior in high school when that happened. I remember that happening and not necessarily knowing exactly what was going on but I became very politically aware. I also have family in the Black Panther Party. So, politics have been in my family.
JC: Would you say that having politics in your family, such as them being involved in the Black Panther Party and growing during the Oscar Grant situation is what made you want to become involved in ABC?
BS: I would say with Oscar Grant, I wasn’t aware at the time but it made me more aware, and I think the issues that I have myself with the police. While in college, I have been pulled over in front of my house a few times and also been racially profiled on my own block. UC Berkeley had a lot of racist incidents my freshman year. I remember “Nigger” being carved on my dorm wall outside of my dorm on the floor below me. There are only two or three Black people in the building. It was a threat and also a wake up call in a lot of ways. Like “dang, this is really how it is even though Berkeley is supposed to be progressive.” Then the Mike Brown incident happened and when that all happened I tried to find my roots. I learned about my family being in the Black Panther Party. My uncle is one of the longest held political prisoners in the United States. He has been in prison for 45 years. For me, I try to have a sense of who I am because of my ancestors. Also, it’s a sense of duty.
JC: How do you see yourself and ABC a part of the Black Lives Matter movement?
BS: I see Black Lives Matter as a rallying call. It’s a beautiful moment where a lot of Black people are rising up and organizing against the conditions that we’ve faced in regards to white supremacy. I see it as a movement that is able to liberate Black lives not only in America, but also throughout the diaspora. Our organization is a Black Nationalist organization. Our mission is different from other organizations. We don’t believe in nonviolence. We believe in protecting ourselves. We believe in revolution, and we know what happens during a revolution. So I think that our critiques are a bit different than the mainstream critiques, and I think that is what makes us different. We want land eventually, and we want our forty acres and a mule. We will defend ourselves and not afraid of talking about defending ourselves.
JC: During a time where Black Nationalism is on the rise, it is important for Black youths to rally together and raise awareness of the incidents of racism that are happening everyday. While ABC works to bring Black students together, did ABC face a moment when different organizations or different students on campus were trying to push back against the good that you were trying to do?
BS: I believe that anytime you organize against white supremacy there will always be a pushback. So we saw the rise of white student unions. We recently just had that issue of prison divestment, and that caused a lot of controversy for the professors. A lot of them were wondering why UC Berkeley is divesting their money in prisons. We know that we are on the moral and ethical side, but anytime you fight against white supremacy there’s always pushback whether it’s from students, the professors, or the police. I think that the heightened violence too that we’ve been facing throughout the country is a complete reaction to us standing up for our dignity and our community. It makes me realize that we have to unite as Black people against our common oppressor because Black unity will bring us freedom.
JC: On the website it says “Thus UC-ABC was founded to preserve the cultural traditions and political fervor of Diasporic Africans, within the student population of the UC System”. What programs or campaigns does ABC have to achieve this objective?
BS: So I would say that we have two programs throughout the year that train Black student unions throughout the state. We are a collective of coalition of Black student unions in California in the University of California’s school system—we have UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, other schools in the UC system, and we also have the Cal State schools. We put on two different trainings in the summer and in the fall. We put on camp UHURU, which is a transitional leadership camp for Black student unions, and we go over Black political education, and we go over history of Black activism, Black liberation, and we provide technical leadership skills. For example, we did a series of debates like last year we did reform vs. revolution or non-violence vs. self-defense. We want to get people politically engaged and thinking about deep questions with critical thinking. We will also put on Black student leadership training in the fall, which is training for all Black student unions in the state and we opened it up to community members. This year we probably had over sixty people. We have different workshops like self-care, the history of Black activism, or communications training, for grassroots organizations training. We see that as our political education. Malcolm X once said that you can’t expect the sleeping people to wake up and organize, you have to wake up the people first. I think that these two camps that we put on during the beginning of the year serve as a political education for our communities and also help with the political consciousness.
JC: Earlier you mentioned self-care is an important part of the workshops. How do you see self care and Black Lives Matter interconnecting with one another?
BS: I think in order to sustain yourself in a long-term movement you have to act and react very fast. After you react so many times, it can become repetitive, and it can take a toll on your body, and you have to take a step back to organize and get yourself prepared. So that next time you are more prepared for when things happen. I believe in what Audre Lorde said with self-care being a revolutionary act because it’s necessary to sustain yourself in a serious movement for the liberation of our people. Personally, working out is one way that I practice self-care and then poetry and writing is another way. I also surround myself with friends, and try to not talk about what’s going on. It helps keep me motivated and keep my mind fit.
(Photo credit: Black Simons/received from Simons)
Correction: ABC includes 9 UC campuses total not just UCLA, UC Berkeley, and UC Irvine.