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Conference Focuses On Intersectional Experiences Of Black Immigrants

The Black Immigrant Network held its biannual conference in Los Angeles, pictured here.

CREDIT: Pexels.

Many believe America has entered a post-racial era, but recent history says otherwise.

There was the verdict of the Trayvon Martin case in July 2014, which, after more than 15 hours of deliberation over two days, found defendant George Zimmerman, a mixed-raced Hispanic man who shot the unarmed teenage boy, not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter. For many, the outcome of the high-profile case was incredibly frustrating and caused “a lot of pain,” even for President Barack Obama himself.

The frustration, however, did not stop there. Even more ugliness ensued that same month when a camera captured video of six New York police officers pushing an unarmed “neighborhood dad” named Eric Garner to the ground using a chokehold that led to his death shortly afterwards. The mistreatment of black men occurred again later that summer in Ferguson, Missouri, when Michael Brown, a black teenager, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, on August 9, 2014. Then, just two days later, a 25-year-old man named Ezell Ford was shot to death in Los Angeles by two officers attempting to confront him as part of an “investigative stop.”

In the months that followed, demonstrations roiled from coast to coast across the nation in protest of what many Americans feel is a national epidemic of racial discrimination, and in the latter cases, racial profiling. Though the long withstanding and deeply troubling national problem is said to be illegal under the U.S. Constitution, the “targeting” of various people of color continues to be a prevalent and egregious form of discrimination in the U.S. “This unjustifiable practice remains a stain on American democracy and an affront to the promise of racial equality,” notes the ACLU.

Needless to say, there has long been a strenuous battle to ensure equal opportunity and legal treatment for African Americans. From the Civil Rights movement to more recent events, inequality and discrimination continue to plague black communities—even after having made some minor progress.

Groups such as the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) know this to be true, which is why it seeks to create a more equitable society through the creation of a “national network of people serving black immigrant and African American communities who are focused on supporting fair and just immigration, as well as economic and social policies that benefit these communities and all communities of color in order to create a more just and equitable society,” according to its official site.

Founded in 2006, BAJI, which is based in Brooklyn and helps support the coordination of the BIN Network, sees all too often that numerous African Americans and Black immigrants from countries in the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, and Latin America continue to be overlooked. Further, there seems to be a rapidly increasing population of black people in the U.S., even as “racial divides and ugliness” continue to spread throughout the country, as noted by CNN.

The tragedies that occurred what is now almost two summers ago only highlights on the “anti-Black racism and complicating factors we continue to face,” said Tia Oso, the National Organizer for BAJI. “We must work together to address these issues.”

As the only black-led national network linking racial justice to migrant rights, the organization was created in order to address the massive outpouring of opposition of immigrants and their supporters to repressive immigration bills that were then under consideration by the U.S. Congress. “We’ve built this network because black communities are among the most marginalized in this movement for immigrant justice,” Opal Tometi, Executive Director of BAJI and co-founder of Black Lives Matter, told Generation Progress.

“We are tired of not being at the policy table, nor provided with resources to uplift the voices of the black community. Black immigrants and African Americans have the highest unemployment, highest incarceration, lowest wages and many more challenges facing us! This is our attempt to rectify that because our communities deserve justice and dignity, and we should have a fighting chance.”

In order to further uplift voices, provide resources, and as Oso puts it, “to provide hope and help [to] everyone,” BAJI holds its Black Kinship Assembly, a national convening occurring every two years in a different major city. The meeting strives to provide a space centered on uniting and building kinship among people of Black descent to help achieve social, economic, and political power for racial justice and migrant rights.

The biannual assembly, last held in 2014 in Miami, has been welcomed with open arms from a large community that continues to struggle with race-related issues such as Ferguson or the Martin-Zimmerman case. It has successfully garnered the full support of well over 40 organizations since its first Baltimore-based conference in 2009.

Just last month, more than 350 participants came together during the weekend of April 8-10, 2016 for yet another helpful, hopeful, and healing gathering. Held at the historic Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, the fifth convening Kinship conference allowed individuals to partake in training, networking, and strategizing sessions that would help further “group together the network, build relationships,” and to spark more conversation “around issues happening in the black immigrant communities,” said Oso. There were also various skill building opportunities available to help build on and widen up the network.

“This is a very important time for black communities to come together,” noted Oso. “We have been through a lot as a community in the past couple years—which left us with a very clear view that there’s this whole kind of bullying of black immigrants nationwide.”

She added: “[We see that] with African American youth being bullied and black immigrants being denied entry into universities because of the Ebola crisis [and] the disproportionate amount of policing, incarceration, detention, and deportation of black immigrants. There hasn’t necessarily been the opportunity or space to generally mobilize communities against the state and we really saw that we needed to come together in an organic way to foster natural resistance on the streets.”

Working under the theme “Black Love Beyond Borders,” the weekend event aimed to open up hearts and to “really acknowledge the trauma that we are facing and trying to address that,” Oso said. The theme was infused in more than just the hypothetical: the conference offered a healing space, complete with various therapies for attendees to use.

“Sometimes with this kind of work, the urgency of the action is what we focus on. But we need to make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves and each other,” said Oso.

From various workshops including “Khemetic Yoga,” “Zumba with Garifuna Flavor,” or “Gourd Instrument Crafting,” the 2016 convening received assistance from local practitioners in the L.A. community who offered free acupuncture, outer body work, and massage sessions. Various discussions outlining the physical effects of racial trauma and migration on people, and how it can be difficult sometimes for health, were also held.

In a day and age where African Americans experience trials, tribulations, and heartache, “we are a group that says this must stop,” said Trina Jackson of the Boston, Massachusetts-based Network for Immigrants and African Americans in Solidarity. “We [must] embrace and love one another, and know that our commitment to justice is a commitment to all of us!”

“This was the first year for the healing sessions. The impact and the response [to the Assembly] was great. It was always packed out and there was always a line! I myself went in and got a little therapy,” Oso said proudly.

“There was a whole lot of love to be felt. It was really beautiful and really needed right now.”

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