Rutgers Muslim Student Association, Black Lives Matter host panel on movements' intersection
More than 100 people attended a panel hosted by the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and the Rutgers Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement on Feb. 18 to educate MSA members about the modern Civil Rights Movement and how Muslims can support the cause.
“According to the Pew Research Center, about 23 percent of American Muslims are African-American,” said Taufeeq Ahamed, president of MSA. “Sadly the demographics of many of our Muslim communities, including the Rutgers MSA, do not hold true to that.”
The purpose of the event was to address rarely discussed issues in the Muslim community so MSA members could tackle the injustices faced by the black community, said Ahamed, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
“Whoever sees an evil, let him change it with his hand. And if he can’t change it with his hand, let him change it with his tongue, and if he can’t change it with his tongue, then let him change it with his heart,” Ahamed said, quoting the prophet Mohammed in his introduction to the event.
Ahamed then passed the microphone to Sean McJunkins II, an executive board member of the state and University chapters of BLM, who explained that the phrase, “Black Lives Matter” was first used in 2012 after George Zimmerman was indicted for shooting Trayvon Martin in Florida.
Zimmerman was acquitted for the shooting, outraging groups who believed Martin's life was dismissed because of the color of his skin.
The movement was formed in 2013 with the goal of creating a safe space where black Americans could discuss systematic inequalities, said McJunkins, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
McJunkins cited socioeconomic disadvantages, education, health and wealth gaps, structural racism and the prison-industrial complex as problems African-Americans discuss under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter.
These injustices are being addressed at Rutgers, McJunkins said. The organization is working toward creating a civilian review board to change how New Brunswick courts operate. Ideally, the system would offer better solutions for black students facing issues with local police.
Dionne Owens, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, went on to explain the tactics the BLM movement use to spur change.
Teach-ins and "die-ins" are non violent protests. In a die-in, protesters simulate death, often intended to disrupt "white spaces.” When BLM protesters disrupted a speech by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sanders hired a new press secretary, who was black and a BLM supporter, Owens said.
Owens believes disrupting these events brings awareness to issues that might not have otherwise been discussed.
Within a movement there are different tactics, and no strategy is better than the other, Simmons said.
When BLM shut down Route 18 during a protest in December 2014, they did not come from a mindset of violence. Simmons said no one is going to change their system by having a teach-in in a classroom.
“You’re not harming their money, you’re not harming their racist system, you’re not harming their power and you’re not affecting their time,” she said.
Different methods might be better-suited depending on the situation, McJunkins said.
McJunkins said they have attended town hall meetings, spoken with Rutgers Chancellor Richard L. Edwards and emailed University President Robert L. Barchi, who yielded nothing.
Nyuma Waggeh and Taqwa Brookins, both black Muslim School of Arts and Sciences sophomores, discussed the challenges for the BLM movement.
“It is crucial that black people start taking control of their own narratives and using their power to speak their truths,” Waggeh said. “Until lions start writing down their own stories, the hunters will always be the heroes.”
Brookins discussed cultural appropriation, emphasizing that the phrase, "Black Lives Matter" is not meant to devalue the lives of others. She went on to explain why the #MuslimLivesMatter hashtag is problematic for the black community.
While its intentions are sincere, it robs black people of their voice in the BLM movement, she said.
After the panel presentation, BLM speakers fielded audience questions. Simmons detailed non-black use of the "N-word."
“Our history, our legacy, our culture and the way we’ve been treated in America is the reason why I never, ever want anyone who is not of my culture using anything that has been used to oppress me," Simmons said.
Bushra Hasan is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. She is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @Hasanabanana for more.