Miami alumna speaks on Black Lives Matter movement and the importance of allyship
By Patricia Jjemba ’12
“Black lives matter!”
Our voices are muffled behind masks, but they are mighty and strong. The world has been at a standstill for the past three months since the onset of a global pandemic. But it took the killing and viral virtual consumption of yet another Black body for people to say to hell with the pandemic and to take to the streets in protest. On May 25, 2020, a video circulated showing the killing of a Black Minnesota man named George Floyd. Those who could bear it watched as a white police officer clamped his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, until he robbed Floyd of both life and dignity. Since then, protests have erupted globally.
It was not long ago, in 2012, that I had taken to the streets of Oxford, Ohio, marching for another Black life – Trayvon Martin. I remember being a senior at Miami University, marching for some of the same things that I have been advocating for in the last few weeks since George Floyd’s death: the acknowledgement of Black lives, justice for unarmed Black men and women, and systemic change to undercut racial biases and human flaws. I have learned that with life experience comes change in tactics. So, activism looks different for me now. Not only am I marching in the streets, but I am also having hard, open and transparent conversations with people.
One of the conversations I have had in the last few weeks was with a group of first-generation American Black children and their parents about the racial unrest in this country. Children of all ages shared about the fear for their lives, the frustration with people in leadership positions in their orbit such as their teachers, coaches and principals for showing consistent patterns of racial bias, and the hurt from the silence of their non-Black friends who have kept quiet in these times.
Through that discussion, I realized that these children have some of the same feelings that I have as an adult. Acknowledging my pain and theirs, we discussed the differences that they face as Black children as opposed to their white counterparts and how those differences cannot be ignored or understated. Unfortunately, the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others were not the first unjust killings or mistreatment of a Black person that their young eyes have seen. So, in an effort to provide these children with some hope, I then shared my perspective on what makes this time different. We talked about the importance of allyship.
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an ally refers to a person or group that provides assistance and support in an effort, activity or struggle. I place emphasis on allyship because racial bias and injustice is not a burden to be carried by Black people alone, not if we want to see tangible change. There has been a shift in the efforts of non-minorities to mobilize social, practical and systemic change on behalf of Black people in this country. The shift is happening on a global, national, corporate and personal level.
First, people across the globe are finally identifying with the pain and injustice of Black people in this country. They are going a step further by calling out injustices in their own systems and cultures. And ultimately, they are demanding change. This is what allyship looks like at the global level.
Second, here in the United States, legislators are drafting and seeking to implement laws to address systemic racism. The days of sacrificing moral dignity for the sake of votes or reelection are disappearing. They are being replaced by true allies who are willing to risk it all in order to be on the right side of history. This is what allyship looks like at the national level.
Third, universities, alumni and the corporations we work for are also being forced to take a stance. Leading the way are those employers that are not only issuing statements in support of Black people, their lives and interests, but those that are going further; employers that are providing mental health support and resources to help employees process the trauma associated with the images we have seen and the realities that some of us face on a daily basis. They include the leadership that has organized company-wide virtual roundtables to discuss company culture and what can be done to be more inclusive. And they are those supervisors, team leads and colleagues who are reaching out to their Black staff and employees to check on their well-being, affirm their existence in the workplace, and listen to their personal experiences inside and outside of the office. This is what allyship looks like at the corporate level.
Ultimately, principles are being lived out or else revealed for the facades that they are. This is particularly true in communities of faith. People are simultaneously coming to and leaving from faith groups as a result of how these groups have chosen or not chosen to show up as an ally to Black members and those who value living in community with them. Finally, personal relationships are key. Having uncomfortable conversations and showing empathy in truth and love leads to changes in the most intimate spaces. These conversations can then extend to larger spaces and into rooms that Black people do not always have access to. This is what allyship looks like at the personal level.
The mission of the Black Lives Matter movement has not changed since I was on Miami’s campus in 2012. Black lives still matter. The difference is that we are now gaining allies who are willing to provide support and assistance in the ongoing effort, activities and struggle to make Black lives matter to everyone, everywhere.
Patricia Jjemba ’12 is an attorney in Chicago, Illinois. She graduated from Miami University in 2012 and obtained a Bachelor of Arts in diplomacy and foreign affairs, and a minor in Black world studies. While on Miami’s campus, she served as president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Lambda Mu Chapter; health chair for the NAACP; resident assistant; and student worker for the Office of Diversity Affairs.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.