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Black Lives Matter activist discusses human rights, racial injustices

| Monday, March 1, 2021

Frank Leon Roberts discussed the importance and the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement in a lecture hosted by the Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights on Friday afternoon. This talk supplemented a number of other events for Walk the Walk Week, all aimed to examine diversity and inclusion efforts.

Roberts is a professor at New York University and is currently teaching a class on the Black Lives Matter movement. He is the founder of Black Lives Matter Syllabus, a curriculum that provides suggestions for teaching Black Lives Matter in schools and communities. In addition, he is working on a book titled, “The Black Lives Matter Syllabus: Key Writings from the Movement for Black Lives” with Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement

Roberts’ began by defining the Black Lives Matter movement according to its members and leaders. He said the BLM movement is at its core a human rights movement rather than a civil rights movement, which alters the goals of the movement itself.  

“There is often this assumption that when Black people are out in the streets raising their voices, that it always has to be that they are fighting for some particular law to be changed,” Roberts said. “But human rights movements are not simply, or even primarily, about changing that law.”

He argued it’s already illegal to kill unarmed civilians without just cause. Changing laws won’t stop this from happening, Roberts said.

“Human rights go beyond an appeal to the law,” Roberts said. “They go to an appeal to the soul.”

Roberts addressed the All Lives Matter slogan, and clarified why the Black Lives Matter movement focuses on Black people.

“The Black Lives Matter movement would be the first to affirm that all lives matter,” Roberts said. “When we say Black Lives Matter we don’t mean that anyone else’s life is less important, we simply mean that Black lives matter too…. It is not Black people who need to be reminded that all lives matter.”

Roberts also discussed the intersectionality of the Black Lives Matter movement with feminism and LGBTQ rights. 

Mia Bellafante | The Observer
New York University professor Frank Leon Roberts spoke at a virtual lecture Friday, discussing the Black Lives matter movement.

To support the movement, Roberts outlined key steps any American could take. He began with urging people to accept the existence of racist individuals and structures within the nation.

In order for “real work” to be done, Roberts said the reality of the nation must be acknowledged. 

 “We can’t have healing until we have honesty,” Roberts said. “We can’t have trust until we have truth.” 

He also said the current racial crisis in our nation is qualitative, not quantitative. 

“There are more people in this country that love rather than hate,” Roberts said. “The people with hate, hate with conviction, so we have to learn to love with conviction.” 

He also emphasized the Black Lives Matter movement is not a fight against specific people, politicians or even political parties. Instead, he said, it is a much broader struggle against unjust powers and principalities that have existed in this country in various forms since its beginnings.

To conclude his lecture, Roberts challenged activist to be “troublemakers.”

“If you want to get your names written in the history books, you gotta be willing to be a problem,” Roberts said. 

He called students to remain firm in what they believe in and who they stand, and be “willing to engage in some good trouble.”

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