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Activist discusses racism, working together to promote equality

| Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Bree Newsome, an activist, filmmaker and musician, delivered a lecture on her work fighting racism Tuesday night in an event sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Student Programs and Services. The lecture also served as the keynote address for Walk the Walk Week.

Newsome opened her remarks with a discussion of consciousness, which she defined as being aware of unconscious behavior. Newsome said she is conscious that she “live[s] in a particular time and place in human history where racism” exists.

She said her sociopolitical consciousness on this issue arose during the summer of 2013 when she and her family visited the Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, South Carolina. That same year, the U.S. Supreme Court declared parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional.

Chris Collins | The Observer
Activist Bree Newsome delivers the keynote speech of Walk the Walk Week. Newsome discussed her efforts to fight racism, including her role in removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol.

To speak out against the changes, Newsome participated in one of the Moral Monday protests against the changes to the Voting Rights Act. Newsome said she came to several realizations as a result of her participation.

“One was the realization of how quickly our rights could be taken away,” she said. “… What was I really doing to ensure that these rights exist for myself and future generations?”

Newsome was arrested after participating in a sit-in at the North Carolina state capitol over the issue.

“There was no moment where I said to myself, ‘OK, I’m going to be an activist now,’” she said. “That was never the thought. The thought was just, ‘Oh my goodness, this is a moment of crisis and we have to draw attention to what’s happening here.’”

Around the same time, Newsome said Trayvon Martin was shot and killed, which sparked a new movement and awareness.

“Like many, I was deeply disturbed by the facts and circumstances surrounding Trayvon’s death,” she said.

After the Charleston church shooting in 2015 when nine African Americans were murdered at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, among other events, Newsome said a group of people decided they needed to take down the Confederate flag that flew next to the South Carolina state capital.

“[The Charleston massacre] shook me to my core that here we were in the year 2015 and this level of racial hatred and terrorism was still happening,” she said. “ … A sense of shock and demoralization had overtaken the movement. The United States and South Carolina flags were lowered to half mast, yet the Confederate flag remained high and fully unfurled.”

While Newsome said she did not want to get arrested again, she thought the cause was strong enough that it was worth risking the climb to take the Confederate flag down.

After a day and a half of training to scale the flag pole, Newsome climbed the pole to take down the flag while James Tyson, a white activist working with Newsome, stood guard and helped to deescalate the situation with the police.

Newsome said she worked with the team to accomplish the task and there were many roles to fill.

“We discussed it and decided to remove the flag immediately, both as an act of civil disobedience and as a demonstration of the power people have when we work together,” she said. “… For us, this is not simply about a flag. It is about abolishing the spirit of racism and oppression in all its forms.”

Today, Newsome said, Americans live in a tumultuous time, which makes it the right time to fight for equality — something everyone must work together to promote. She said people don’t have to participate in marches to be on the front lines but should be working to make changes in the systems in which they live.

“It is true that the darkest hour is right before the dawn,” she said. “I embrace this as a time of transformation and promise.”

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About Alexandra Muck

Alexandra Muck is a Notre Dame senior majoring in business and economics. Originally from Dallas, she currently lives in Howard Hall.

Contact Alexandra