We All Have Work to Do in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

by Candace Simpson

On Black Friday, some friends and I helped to organize a Blackout Friday action in Brooklyn. We stood in front of Atlantic Terminal with our “Black Lives Matters” signs as we chanted and sang. Since then, I’ve participated in other actions. I’ve been paying attention to news coverage of protests, and I must admit, we’re doing a bad job of recognizing the power of protest in its many forms.

During this winter break, I had the time to reflect on what protest actually means. I had a hard time articulating what “protest” meant, until a former student of mine called me right before I was headed out to an action in Midtown. Third grader Leah, who has the biggest eyes and the kindest heart, was my timely reminder. She may never know it, calling me to say, “I hope you’re learning a lot in seminary school because we miss you,” was her own way of protesting that my life mattered. That’s when I realized that there are many parallels between the classroom and protest spaces.

Every classroom needs multiple jobs. In my primary school classroom, pencil sharpeners, board erasers, line leaders, and library organizers were all important. If I spent my classroom time trying to affirm only the students who presented as “good students”, I would have lost 23 children in the process of saving one. Every student will not be able to do everything. But whatever students are good at should be encouraged, because building a community requires the skills and assets of everyone. I had a student who was really shy and didn’t want to sing at the winter concert. But she made cards for her classmates who did. Another student couldn’t play during Field Day because her asthma was bad. She helped pour water for her classmates. Another student had terrible handwriting. He struggled to hold a pencil. But he was a great partner for his peers during turn-and-talks. The same student who struggled with building blocks during math was great at clapping out patterns. If I graded each student according to one assessment, I’d never know how brilliant and talented they were.

My mentor teacher always kept a binder of different anecdotal notes. She encouraged me to adopt this system. We soon learned who was the singer of the class, who was social, who could draw elaborate scenes from memory, who could recall facts from documentary shows, who likes to make believe. In September, we didn’t know much about our classroom. But by December’s winter concert, we knew much more about our students’ gifts and were able to encourage their contributions.

Likewise, we’ve got to make sure that as we are praising those of us who are able to participate in direct actions, that we don’t stifle the abilities of others. If we really believe that all #BlackLivesMatter, we must be empathetic to the unique dangers that undocumented Black people experience in direct engagement with police forces. We must remember that not everyone of us can afford to take off of work to disrupt Macy’s. Some of us can’t walk in the street for hours because we have health-related conditions that make this task difficult. That’s okay.

Perhaps some of us are really good at baking. Protesters like to eat. Some of us may have access to church spaces or school buildings. Protesters need places to meet. Some of us write grants, some of us pray, some of us can babysit, some of us write, some of us speak at public events. We need to do a better job of assessing our own gifts and finding out how we can be of use to the greater cause.

Every one of us isn’t going to be out at #ShutItDown or #BlackBrunch. Everyone isn’t going to signal boost the latest news on Twitter. Everyone isn’t going to vote. And everyone isn’t going to be everywhere all the time. In fact, asking everyone to be present at all those actions isn’t sustainable. However, we can all agree that everyone needs to do something. When Black people can live out the fullness of their talents, that is protest. Our very presence is resistance. But if we continue to behave as though protest only looks a certain way, we will lose momentum. Burnout is real.

For many of us, protest means we will continue to disrupt and subvert the status quo from our own positions. We must honor the contributions of nurses, teachers, bus drivers, parents, and everyday people who do the work of the revolution every day. I’m grateful for the professors I’ve had this semester who have not been able to participate in direct protest. Though they could not march with me, they have offered extensions and kind words. Lawyers can be involved as Legal Observers at protest demonstrations, and EMTs can provide medical support at protests. We can also disrupt our home spaces. The monster of Oppression is big enough to sit in the courthouse and tap its foot in the church. We must tackle this beast from all ends. Trust me, there’s enough work to be done for everyone to be busy.

Though it is no longer Christmas season, I think we can learn something from the song of the Little Drummer Boy. He was poor, but he had a drum. Playing to his heart’s content, he contributed something that no one else was able to give. May each of us find our tune.

Photo: Shutterstock

Candace Simpson is a Brooklyn native and a seminary student. She is a regular contributor at For Harriet. You can follow her on Twitter: @candyCornball.

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