SAID hosts BLM activist and co-founder in conversation


Charles Wallace Thomas mediates a Q&A with co-founder of Initiate Justice Richie Resada, and Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors Dec. 3. / Photo courtesy Federico Toro Uribe

Yunkyo Kim, news correspondent

Activists Patrisse Cullors and Richie Reseda came to Blackman Auditorium on Monday to discuss their experiences with modern activism and mobilization.

The talk, hosted by Northeastern Students Against Institutional Discrimination, or SAID, consisted of speeches, conversation with mediator Charles Wallace-Thomas and an audience Q&A. Cullors, who co-founded Black Lives Matter, and Reseda, co-founder of Initiate Justice, both emphasized the intersectionality of feminism, racial justice and prison reform at the forefront of societal progress.

SAID’s organizers —Wallace-Thomas and fourth-year speech-language pathology and audiology major Maya Wong — explained that the club’s mission is to utilize unconventional political education for student activism at Northeastern and in the Boston area. They saw a need to invite Cullors and Reseda as these activists represent a movement and an inspiration that the organizers hope to foster on campus, they said.

“The impetus for this conversation is that [Reseda] and [Cullors] really represent a lot of what needs to happen, and they’ve done what needs to happen as well,” said Wallace-Thomas, a second-year economics and mathematics major. “And by focusing on prison abolition, and focusing on the fact that black lives matter, and not all lives matter until black lives matter, they take the approach that this is something that needs to happen from bottom up. This is something that needs to happen from the margins.”

The Black Lives Matter movement, which Cullors co-founded in 2013, now has a network of more than 40 chapters in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. Describing the motivation of what she calls this generation’s civil rights movement, Cullors highlighted the lack of governmental attention to black lives and said there needs to be a change in the perception and treatment of African-Americans.

“We’re having a conversation about black life,” Cullors said. “And a challenge to this country, a challenge to us as individuals who live inside this country, is that we are so obsessed with black death that we are unable to imagine black life.

“So our work, our work for folks inside of this room, not just in this conversation, but as we continue to go out there and organize, is will you build an organization? Will you build a collective? Will you build a movement that is able to imagine black people thriving?”

Initiate Justice, an organization that engages incarcerated people and their families to write and implement California ballot initiatives favoring restorative justice, currently has more than 8,000 members in prisons and 175 organizers in California prisons. Reseda spoke about his experience in the U. S. criminal justice system and his work at the organization.

“We understand that in order to truly change a problem, you need to engage the people who are most affected by that problem. So that’s why we do our organizing in prisons, ” said Reseda, who was once incarcerated himself.

Emmanuel Nicolella, a fifth-year biochemistry major, praised Reseda’s ability to channel his experience into organizing, noting that many advocates for prison reform and abolition have never been incarcerated.

“To hear from a prison abolitionist who has actually gone through the system … was really powerful,” said Nicolella.

Erica Lezama, a fifth-year business administration major, said she observed a positive stride toward progress through the event.

“I think a major takeaway was the aspect of hope, the aspect that solution is possible because it is really easy to get stuck in a mindset that this is the way it is and this how it’s gonna stay and this is how it’s existed for centuries,” Lezama said. “It’s really inspiring to hear people making a difference.”

Cullors and Reseda concluded by saying it’s essential for youths, people of color and allies to mobilize. They both promoted legislative action toward transformative justice — a spin on restorative justice that improves communities previously influenced by racist laws.

“I don’t want to sound corny, like ‘write your senator!’,” Reseda said. “But for real though, write your senator.”