Black Power: Recognizing the Bigger Picture

Black Power, Black Lives, and Pan-Africanism Conference: Honoring the Legacy and Building for a Self-Determining Future, is a conference that was held June 16-19, 2016 in Jackson, Mississippi. This three day conference was sponsored by Cooperation Jackson, an organization whose vision is to, “to develop a cooperative network based in Jackson, Mississippi that will consist of four interconnected and interdependent institutions: an emerging federation of local worker cooperatives, a developing cooperative incubator, a cooperative education and training center (the Lumumba Center for Economic Democracy and Development), and a cooperative bank or financial institution.” Cooperation Jackson strives to better their community for their fellow citizens and for future generations by engaging them and informing them of ways to get involved. One of these informative sessions was this Black Power, Black Lives, and Pan-Africanism Conference, which aimed to: “…start a process of collectively developing a “program of action” to build and attain Black Power, Self-Determination, and Social Liberation for Afrikan people wherever we reside – within the lands presently colonized by the United States government, on the Afrikan continent or throughout the wide Pan-Afrikan world.”

The symbol of Cooperation Jackson, which incorporates symbols of the Asante people of Ghana called adinkra to represent values that they consider essential to a virtuous life.

The conference was comprised of several different components: discussion, question panel, and then breaking out into thematic groups. The discussion section was titled, “Black Power Isn’t, Black Power Is,” and focused on criticizing historical developments of the Black Power Movement, and ways to improve on those weaknesses going forward. What these discussions were based on was not a “list of demands,” as the Black Power Movement has made in the past; rather, they focused on identifying problems they see within the community and nationwide, and coming together to implement foundational steps to solve those problems. The key issues that they selected were: capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism, and speciesism. The speakers of this conference are arguing that historically in all of these areas, black people have been oppressed by white people dating back to the western Europeans of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. They emphasize that in order to make progress, we must identify these issues, their consequences of oppression, and address them in a practical way that will enable us to move forward in the battle for equality.

The panel section of the conference dealt more with dissecting the historical shortcomings of the Black Power Movement. They discussed the rise of the movement, how people understand Black Power, areas where there are room for improvement, and how they can “better define and come to some consensus on the definition and meaning of Black Power.” After these plenary sessions, the attendees of the conference were divided up into smaller groups, and were each tasked with developing tangible steps that could be taken to achieve equality in a certain domain (e.g. capitalism, colonialism, etc.). The goal of these was to

“…develop the outlines of a program of action for building and attaining Black Power, Self-Determination and Social Liberation in the 21st century.”

By discussing the specifics of each of these issues, this conferenced aimed to create a united front that would make progress in areas where the Black Power Movement failed. They are focused on fighting institutional racism in a peaceful but effective way, by identifying societal problems and coming up with realistic plans that, if implemented, could help heal the rifts in our society. (View this post about “Black Perspectives on the Contested use of Violence for Liberation”).

While open to all, this conference—as well as the Black Power Movement—was and is focused around African Americans. No one is excluded in supporting the ideas and movement, but the goal is to bring about equality specifically for black people. However, this equality cannot be achieved without the support of other members of the community, and the combined effort of all of us working towards a better future. The Cooperation Jackson website addresses the role of allies in solidarity with a quote from Samora Machel, the first President of Mozambique:

“International solidarity is not an act of charity: It is an act of unity between allies fighting on different terrains toward the same objective. The foremost of these objectives is to aid the development of humanity to the highest level possible.”

Samora Machel: first President of Mozambique and a leader of FRELIMO, the dominant political party of Mozambique.

If implemented by widespread support of various communities, these changes would not only bring about equality for the black community, but for other oppressed people as well: those in poverty, any people of color, people in countries that are still suffering the consequences of colonialism and imperialism, women, and members of the LGBTQ community.

I believe that the Black Power, Black Lives, and Pan-Africanism Conference: Honoring the Legacy and Building for a Self-Determining Future conference should be recreated and held in various types of communities all over the nation. The discussions and panels were working to counteract the memory that has been established for so long concerning all different types of groups of oppressed people. It recognizes the roots of the Black Power Movement, but critically analyzes the mistakes shortcomings that have happened historically. By doing so, the people present at the conference were able to determine the issues within their community and our larger society, establish a direction, and create a plan of action that hopefully, if implemented, will improve the lives of many nationwide.