*I have included the timestamps where the speakers are specifically quoted from.
Immigrants Rising — a project of Community Initiatives in support of the education of undocumented students — hosted its first virtual webinar titled “The Village Speaks: Black Immigrants & The Current Movement” on June 11 in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Hundreds of people around the nation tuned in to listen to an important and urgent conversation about the intersections of being Black and undocumented in the United States as well as taking action to stop the ongoing dehumanization and terrorism of Black lives.
In particular, the event highlighted each speaker’s experiences with intersectionality, which recognizes that identity markers (e.g. “immigrant” and “Black”) do not exist independently of each other, rather each informs the other, often creating a complex convergence of oppression.
The virtual event was moderated by Kai Martin, a Masters of Public Policy Candidate at George Washington University, and streamed live for over an hour with esteemed speakers including Denea Joseph, a national immigrant rights activist; O. Edem Tomtania, owner of Audilus and Sead Publishing; and Dr. Cheryl Grills, a clinical psychologist from Loyola Marymount University.
More than 600 people registered for the event which opened at 5:30 p.m. but didn’t begin until 5:40 p.m. due to a few technical difficulties involving the Zoom capacity needing to be adjusted.
The event began with a brief period centered around mental and physical well being, where Dr. Cheryl Grills led the audience through breathing exercises to highlight the importance of setting aside time for self-care. Speakers began by diving into their own personal experiences, as well as answering questions from the chatbox and discussing examples of racism.
Denea Joseph came to the United States from Belize in Central America at the age of 7 years. During the event, she stressed the importance of being aware of intersectionality, and reflected on the impact it’s had on her well being.
“As a Black immigrant woman living in America, I haven’t been well,” Joseph said to introduce herself. “I always have to initiate the conversation about my immigrant status by saying that I am undocumented and Black. I am neither one or the other. I am both.”
Reflecting on their lived experience as undocumented Black women with ancestors who “were forcibly taken from their land,” both Denea Joseph and Kai Martin use their unique insight to progress the movement from education to action.
“We have to center Black immigrants in these conversations because we are under attack. If you need a video to believe that Black Lives Matter, there is a problem. Because we are telling you that we are under attack and that should be sufficient. We have to call it out, and we have to be transparent and we have to say ‘enough is enough,” Joseph said.
She went further to highlight the lack of media coverage around the cruelties Black immigrants face in detention centers and her thoughts on the weaponization of Black bodies.
“When we talk about what’s going on in the Immigrant Rights movement, we have to be considerate of how Black and Brown immigrants are disproportionately impacted by the systems that exist. Be understanding of the history of how our Blackness has been weaponized in this country,” Joseph said. “We need to not call our Black brothers and sisters who are immigrants, allies. I have been called an ally as an immigrant…it is disrespectful.”
Martin added by telling the audience, “While we thank you for taking this time to be educated, we are going to talk to you beyond what you are going to get in a classroom. I sit in a University and I won’t tell you that this is something taught in a class of public policy.” (41:30)
Moreover, at the age of 11, Martin immigrated from Trinidad, South America to the United States. As someone who went to school in a predominantly white institution, she had to experience systematic racism early on in her life. She explained that racist stereotypes are harmful and degrading no matter where you are in the world.
“I’ve understood clearly what colorism is in my own country of [Trinidad], knowing that the darker your skin the less you’ll be treated,” Martin said.
After Martin, Edem Tomtania, who immigrated from West Africa in the 2000s, revisited the systemic takeover of African culture prevalent in United States history. He discussed the casual ways derogatory references of African culture were used in entertainment and the normalization of African murder.
“If I say in my song that I am going to murder my brother, it is okay. But I can’t even say I am going to murder my dog on a record, without getting censored,” Tomtania said. “Is the life of a dog more important than mine? We have to live through that, we have to live through the fact that our lives mean nothing: less than the life of a dog.”
The event ended with Dr. Cheryl Grills expanding on the weight of the burden that the color of someone’s skin has on defining every part of their humanity. Her words echo the beliefs of prominent civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., and the urgent need for psychological and emotional self-care in order to do the work that leads to social justice.
Audience members such as Taariq Elmahadi, actively expressed their appreciation on social media once the event was over on Twitter.
“Thank you @DeneaRandeen for clarifying some of those links between anti-immigrant policies and our Black undocumented communities. #TheVillageSpeaks #AllBlackLivesMatter,” Elmahadi wrote in a Tweet.
Because of the magnitude and importance of this conversation, Katherine Gin, Co-Founder & Executive Director of Immigrants Rising, recognizes the importance of hosting and promoting virtual discussions such as this one.
“We must create a space where people of diverse backgrounds in our community can lean in, listen and learn from one another. It was affirming and energizing that over 600 people registered to listen in to this conversation! We must speak up — boldly, decisively and loudly — to stop the dehumanization and terrorism of Black lives,” she said in an email.
Now more than ever it is important to continue the momentum surrounding the collective Black Lives Matter movement to generate the change needed to create a compassionate and equal world.
The full live recording of the webinar can be found on the Facebook page of Immigrants Rising or to request a full Zoom recording, please email Immigrants Rising’s Executive Director, Katherine Gin.
Additionally, Immigrants Rising has compiled a list of resources “List of Civil Rights Organizations & Educational Materials on Racism.”