Racial justice giving is booming: 4 trends

Racial justice giving is booming: 4 trends

There’s been an outpouring of giving in honor of Ahmaud Arbery and other victims of racial injustice.
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

The tragic, high-profile killings of George Floyd and other Black Americans in 2020 have sparked a reckoning on race. As researchers of philanthropy, we’re keeping an eye on how this national awakening is affecting charitable giving across the nation.

We are seeing an outpouring of donations from individuals, corporations and foundations that began to grow as soon as protests and other activities in support of racial and social justice started to spread across the country.

Much of this funding will likely support Black-led groups engaged in criminal justice reform and fighting for education equality. Wealthy donors in the first half of the year gave nearly US$6 billion in donations of $1 million or more, but people of at various income and wealth levels are also increasingly supporting racial equity causes and organizations.

1. Crowdfunding related to victims of racial injustice

The GoFundMe pages crowdfunding to seek justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake have all attracted at least $1 million so far.

Floyd’s GoFundMe memorial campaign has garnered more donations than any other campaign in the online platform’s history, raising over $14 million with 500,000 individual donors from 140 countries worldwide. Many of these gifts to the impacted families of police violence were for $5 and few were for $50,000 or more.

2. Direct support for grassroots organizations

After Memorial Day weekend, when Floyd died while in custody of the Minneapolis police, many Black-led grassroots organizations began to draw much higher levels of support as the protests garnered more participation and attention.

For example, when protests erupted, the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which advocates for a more equitable system of cash bail, turned its attention to bailing out arrested protesters. Once the fund reached a total of $20 million in donations, its organizers urged donors to support Black-led organizations.
Other grassroots organizations and networks also received support, such as the National Bail Fund Network, which received $80 million in donations in late spring.

Even before the protests erupted, the Movement for Black Lives had received $5 million in the first five months of 2020 to support Black communities affected by the pandemic and to address broader issues of racial equity. This was nearly double the $2.7 million the group, founded in 2014 following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, raised in all of 2019, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The Libra Foundation announced that a dozen grant-making organizations were joining together to give a total of $36 million to Black-led organizations and social movements like The Black Youth Project and the National Black Food and Justice Alliance.

These numbers provide only a partial estimate of total giving to these causes, and it will take at least until mid-2021 for the IRS to begin to release the official records and statistics needed for a fuller picture of giving to these groups. Based on data from Candid, a research group, institutional funders and large donors have contributed $5.9 billion for organizations primarily engaged in in racial equity work to date.

3. Shoring up HBCUs

Historically Black colleges and universities, often called HBCUs, and related groups that fund scholarships for the students who attend them, are getting more donations in 2020.

HBCUs in the past received fewer donations of $1 million or more than other institutions, a pattern our colleague Tyrone Freeman has been studying for years. As a result, HBCU endowments are relatively small.

All told, the roughly 100 HBCUs have a total of only $2 billion in their endowments. By comparison, 54 predominantly white colleges and universities have $2 billion or more in their own endowment.

In 2018, for example, there were seven of these major gifts totaling $48 million. In contrast, there were at least 33 of these donations by mid-September of 2020, totaling $347 million, according a list of these donations of $1 million or more compiled by The Chronicle of Philanthropy and tracking by statistician Xiao Han of additional news reports and public information disclosed by donors and the schools.

These philanthropic lifelines for Howard University, Morehouse College, Spelman College and other schools have totaled in the hundreds of millions of dollars from donors like MacKenzie Scott – Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife – Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Corporate giving for Black colleges and other causes is also on the rise. In early June, the Financial Times reported that Microsoft, Google, Amazon and other large corporations had recently pledged at least $458 million to support progress toward racial equity, including support for higher education. All told, Apple has said it donated $100 million or more to assorted racial equity initiatives.

4. Black philanthropists are leading the way

Donors from all backgrounds have turned their attention to increasing calls for racial equity. While new donors are turning their giving to racial equity issues, wealthy African Americans have contributed to causes that support racial justice and equity.

In recent years, we have continued to see affluent Black people, such as the entertainer and fashion icon Rihanna and basketball great Michael Jordan, make significant philanthropic commitments.

Along with other colleagues at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and in partnership with the Bank of America, we are conducting a long-term research project regarding affluent donors. Based on our findings in our 2018 report, at least half of all wealthy Black donors supported African American causes, compared to 6.5% overall of all surveyed donors.

Additionally, 43.8% of the wealthy Black donors surveyed indicated that they made giving to groups that aim to improve race relations a high priority, as opposed to an average of 5.7% all donors.

A diverse range of donors are also increasingly participating in providing large racial justice gifts. These gifts include Kroger supermarket chain CEO Rodney McMullen and the hedge fund investor George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

In mid-September, philanthropist Susan Sandler announced that she was giving a total of $200 million to an array of racial justice groups. Sandler’s disclosure echoed Scott’s announcement, in July 2020, that she was giving $587 million to HBCUs and racial justice organizations.

That means established civil rights organizations such as the NAACP and the Urban League, and newer racial justice groups like the Equal Justice Initiative, which aims to end mass incarceration and advance racial equity, and the Center for Policing Equity, a think tank focused on improving racial equity within police departments, are all getting a boost.The Conversation

Kim Williams-Pulfer, Postdoctoral Research Appointee-Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy, IUPUI and Una Osili, Professor, Economics and Philanthropic Studies; Associate Dean for Research and International Programs, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, IUPUI

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Racial justice giving is booming: 4 trends

Racial justice giving is booming: 4 trends

There’s been an outpouring of giving in honor of Ahmaud Arbery and other victims of racial injustice.
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

The tragic, high-profile killings of George Floyd and other Black Americans in 2020 have sparked a reckoning on race. As researchers of philanthropy, we’re keeping an eye on how this national awakening is affecting charitable giving across the nation.

We are seeing an outpouring of donations from individuals, corporations and foundations that began to grow as soon as protests and other activities in support of racial and social justice started to spread across the country.

Much of this funding will likely support Black-led groups engaged in criminal justice reform and fighting for education equality. Wealthy donors in the first half of the year gave nearly US$6 billion in donations of $1 million or more, but people of at various income and wealth levels are also increasingly supporting racial equity causes and organizations.

1. Crowdfunding related to victims of racial injustice

The GoFundMe pages crowdfunding to seek justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake have all attracted at least $1 million so far.

Floyd’s GoFundMe memorial campaign has garnered more donations than any other campaign in the online platform’s history, raising over $14 million with 500,000 individual donors from 140 countries worldwide. Many of these gifts to the impacted families of police violence were for $5 and few were for $50,000 or more.

2. Direct support for grassroots organizations

After Memorial Day weekend, when Floyd died while in custody of the Minneapolis police, many Black-led grassroots organizations began to draw much higher levels of support as the protests garnered more participation and attention.

For example, when protests erupted, the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which advocates for a more equitable system of cash bail, turned its attention to bailing out arrested protesters. Once the fund reached a total of $20 million in donations, its organizers urged donors to support Black-led organizations.
Other grassroots organizations and networks also received support, such as the National Bail Fund Network, which received $80 million in donations in late spring.

Even before the protests erupted, the Movement for Black Lives had received $5 million in the first five months of 2020 to support Black communities affected by the pandemic and to address broader issues of racial equity. This was nearly double the $2.7 million the group, founded in 2014 following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, raised in all of 2019, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The Libra Foundation announced that a dozen grant-making organizations were joining together to give a total of $36 million to Black-led organizations and social movements like The Black Youth Project and the National Black Food and Justice Alliance.

These numbers provide only a partial estimate of total giving to these causes, and it will take at least until mid-2021 for the IRS to begin to release the official records and statistics needed for a fuller picture of giving to these groups. Based on data from Candid, a research group, institutional funders and large donors have contributed $5.9 billion for organizations primarily engaged in in racial equity work to date.

3. Shoring up HBCUs

Historically Black colleges and universities, often called HBCUs, and related groups that fund scholarships for the students who attend them, are getting more donations in 2020.

HBCUs in the past received fewer donations of $1 million or more than other institutions, a pattern our colleague Tyrone Freeman has been studying for years. As a result, HBCU endowments are relatively small.

All told, the roughly 100 HBCUs have a total of only $2 billion in their endowments. By comparison, 54 predominantly white colleges and universities have $2 billion or more in their own endowment.

In 2018, for example, there were seven of these major gifts totaling $48 million. In contrast, there were at least 33 of these donations by mid-September of 2020, totaling $347 million, according a list of these donations of $1 million or more compiled by The Chronicle of Philanthropy and tracking by statistician Xiao Han of additional news reports and public information disclosed by donors and the schools.

These philanthropic lifelines for Howard University, Morehouse College, Spelman College and other schools have totaled in the hundreds of millions of dollars from donors like MacKenzie Scott – Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife – Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Corporate giving for Black colleges and other causes is also on the rise. In early June, the Financial Times reported that Microsoft, Google, Amazon and other large corporations had recently pledged at least $458 million to support progress toward racial equity, including support for higher education. All told, Apple has said it donated $100 million or more to assorted racial equity initiatives.

4. Black philanthropists are leading the way

Donors from all backgrounds have turned their attention to increasing calls for racial equity. While new donors are turning their giving to racial equity issues, wealthy African Americans have contributed to causes that support racial justice and equity.

In recent years, we have continued to see affluent Black people, such as the entertainer and fashion icon Rihanna and basketball great Michael Jordan, make significant philanthropic commitments.

Along with other colleagues at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and in partnership with the Bank of America, we are conducting a long-term research project regarding affluent donors. Based on our findings in our 2018 report, at least half of all wealthy Black donors supported African American causes, compared to 6.5% overall of all surveyed donors.

Additionally, 43.8% of the wealthy Black donors surveyed indicated that they made giving to groups that aim to improve race relations a high priority, as opposed to an average of 5.7% all donors.

A diverse range of donors are also increasingly participating in providing large racial justice gifts. These gifts include Kroger supermarket chain CEO Rodney McMullen and the hedge fund investor George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

In mid-September, philanthropist Susan Sandler announced that she was giving a total of $200 million to an array of racial justice groups. Sandler’s disclosure echoed Scott’s announcement, in July 2020, that she was giving $587 million to HBCUs and racial justice organizations.

That means established civil rights organizations such as the NAACP and the Urban League, and newer racial justice groups like the Equal Justice Initiative, which aims to end mass incarceration and advance racial equity, and the Center for Policing Equity, a think tank focused on improving racial equity within police departments, are all getting a boost.The Conversation

Kim Williams-Pulfer, Postdoctoral Research Appointee-Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy, IUPUI and Una Osili, Professor, Economics and Philanthropic Studies; Associate Dean for Research and International Programs, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, IUPUI

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

After a fellow Black girl was detained for not doing her schoolwork, I fought for her freedom

After a fellow Black girl was detained for not doing her schoolwork, I fought for her freedom

Ama Russell Courtesy photo

This article originally appeared on Detroit.Chalkbeat.org


Black girlhood leaves me exhausted, as I take on adult battles. Because society doesn’t see Black girls as the children we are, I had to grow up a lot quicker than my white counterparts.

I am the co-founder of Black Lives Matter In All Capacities, an organization formed amid the dual pandemics of coronavirus and racism. When my co-founder, Eva, and I realized that our voices and cries as Black girls — soon-to-be Black women — had been erased from this fight, we knew we had to step up.

First, we organized a #SayHerName protest, on June 20, for Black womxn and girls killed by the police. We have since planned several virtual and in-person actions, including Instagram takeovers, political education work, and our advocacy on behalf of Grace, a 15-year-old Black girl who was sentenced to juvenile detention for not completing her online schoolwork during the pandemic. (Grace’s story was first reported by the nonprofit news organization ProPublica.)

Even as I hold America accountable for its promise of liberty and justice for all, I have seen enough to know that this country doesn’t love me, and that it grants girls like me no mercy. We aren’t allowed to make mistakes.

I must rally for Grace because she lives, because her life and freedom are intertwined with my own. I refuse to fight for Black women and girls solely after they die. As we live together, we must fight for each other.

To that end, Black Lives Matter In All Capacities organized a July 22 sit-in at the Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac, Michigan, where Grace was sentenced. We chanted and shared our outrage. We demanded Grace go free. As our sit-in ended, our fight was far from over.

Ama, right, with her Black Lives Matter in All Capacities co-founder, Eva. Courtesy photo

The next week, we organized an overnight occupation for Grace. I live and attend school in Detroit, and had never gone to Pontiac, Michigan, before these actions. I drove an hour out and would drive 100 hours to fight for my people.

A letter Grace wrote to her mother, which was printed in ProPublica, spoke to her extreme isolation and trauma while in detention. With our overnight effort, we wanted to show Grace that we see her and love her. We wrote letters of encouragement to her and other youth at the facility, known as Children’s Village. Representatives from advocacy groups, such as Every Black Girl and Detroit Will Breathe, participated in the event. So, too, did state Sen. Rosemary Bayer and state Rep. Brenda Carter, who addressed the crowd. Grace’s mother blessed us with her presence and shared her remarks. The nonprofit When We All Vote, registered voters at the event. We all watched the documentary “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools” until the sun rose for morning yoga.

Our purpose was for Black girls to stand with Grace and emphasize that this case is not an anomaly. Too often Black girls are criminalized and treated as adults.

At 17, fighting for human rights has taken a toll on my soul, but I find peace in working for justice and equity. The harsh reality is that I will continue to see my people abused and killed until we dismantle the systems that oppress us. This fight is daunting, but it’s worth it. Because when we organize, we win.

I am extraordinarily happy to know that Grace has been released, and her case has been terminated. I am honored to have fought for the liberation of another Black girl. But this was just one battle in a war against systemic racism. We will continue to stand up for Black girls across this nation. Readers: I ask you to join us in this fight. Because Black liberation doesn’t begin and end with an Instagram post meant to show support.


Ama Russell is a youth activist and organizer. She is 17 and a rising senior at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. She strives to liberate her people and co-founded Black Lives Matter in All Capacities in June of this year.

Mural project brought Black voices to a shuttered State Street

Mural project brought Black voices to a shuttered State Street

This story was produced by Wisconsin Watch, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative reporting organization that focuses on government integrity and quality of life issues in Wisconsin. 


On May 31, the day after violence first broke out on State Street in Madison during demonstrations in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, a transformation began.

Businesses up and down Madison’s defining corridor shuttered. Plywood sheets covered windows — some preemptively and some to cover windows already smashed by looters.

“It looked kind of dead before the murals,” said Amira Caire, a 22-year-old Madisonian and one of over a hundred artists who lent their time, talent and paint to an effort to decorate the barren spaces with colorful messages of pride, perseverance, anger, justice and unity.

Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Danielle Mielke, 19 (left), and Amira Caire, 22, worked on a mural at the University Bookstore in downtown Madison, Wis., on June 9, 2020. The mural depicts Tony Robinson, a Black teenager who was shot and killed by a member of the Madison Police Department in 2015. Mielke said the mural is a way to shed light on Robinson’s death and show people how community members felt in its aftermath. “We wish we weren’t painting Tony’s face up here.”

Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Artist Duowan Rimson, 35, of Madison works on his mural outside the Overture Center in downtown Madison, Wis., on June 11, 2020. Rimson said that his goal with the mural was to force white passersby to put themselves in the shoes of the police officer and understand how the police view Black people and Black children. “I’ve been wanting to do a mural since it started,” Rimson said of the recent movement to decorate State Street with public art. “It’s a good way to express not only our talent but our goals and messages. It’s not all about looting and rioting, that’s literally the tip of the surface.” Rimson expressed his frustration with how the mural projects have been carried out in some places. “I see some murals that don’t have anything to do with the cause. That’s exactly what Black people mean about us being overshadowed, about things being taken from us.” Asked about what change he hoped would come from the current movement, Rimson said, “I don’t know what change necessarily would come. But in order to change we need to gain understanding. These murals are helping the people who don’t want to go out and do the research. They’re eye openers . . . We’re not saying let us get away with murder. But we’ve been compliant and done everything, and we still get killed.”

Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Activist Lilada Gee (left) and artist Cassandra Marzette pose in front of their mural-in-progress on the Overture Center on State Street in downtown Madison, Wis. on June 11, 2020. Marzette and Gee were commissioned by the city for a number of murals throughout the downtown area.

The mural project began on May 31, when both the mayor and Common Council president contacted Madison Arts Program Administrator Karin Wolf to request a “rapid response” art program for the shuttered storefronts. Working with her program’s community cultural partners, Wolf reached out to artists who had worked with the city before. In the following days, as more businesses covered their windows, the Arts Program posted an open call for artists interested in participating in the project.

The mural project was funded through another program, Arts in Public Places Looking Forward, which had been established just a few weeks earlier to support artists who have lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Madison Arts Program also prioritized artists who had been affected by racial violence and injustice, Wolf said.

Over the ensuing two weeks, more than 100 murals were painted as commissions from the city. Many more works of graffiti and other public art appeared in spaces not used by officially commissioned artists. Nearly all of the pieces focused on support for the Black Lives Matter movement or called for an end to police misconduct.

“I feel that the symbolic language of visual culture can reach people,” Wolf said. “We have to reach people on many different levels to help them understand the devastating effect that racism has had on this country.”

Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Mishelle McKnight (second from left) poses with her nephews Ethan (left) and Eton Wesley (right) and her daughter Bada Scates on Lake Street in downtown Madison, Wis., on June 11, 2020. McKnight’s daughter attends O’Keeffe Middle School in Madison, which reserved a space for students to paint murals in the wake of recent protests against police misconduct and racial injustice. McKnight said she wanted to help students actively participate in the current moment, saying that, “the change that we need to see is going to be for our children.” McKnight said that both her son and the father of her children have been subject to violent policing in the past. Asked what change she would like to see, McKnight said, “treat Blacks the same as you do anybody else. Treat people like human beings.”

Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Shiloah Coley, 21, looks at a reference photo of Aiyana Mo’Ney Stanley Jones as she paints a mural outside the Overture Center in downtown Madison, Wis., on June 11, 2020. Stanley was seven years old when she was shot and killed in a police raid in Detroit, Mich., in 2010. Coley used Stanley and the likenesses of other young Black people killed by police as the inspiration for the figures in her murals. Coley, originally from the suburbs of Chicago, is a recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied public art and the criminalization of graffiti and other forms of artistic expression. “I’ve always believed in the arts as a super transformative thing,” she said. “I wanted [this mural] to be two Black teenagers with a confrontational gaze. People need to reckon with Black people in this space and taking up space in Madison.”

Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Yani Thoronka, a sophomore at Madison East High School, works on a mural outside the Overture Center in downtown Madison, Wis., on June 11, 2020. The mural was designed by the Madison-based youth leadership organization Drum Power, of which Thoronka is a member. “Everything that’s happening takes a really big mental and physical toll on you,” Thoronka said. “We want to empower Black people during this time.”

Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Richie Morales, 39, paints a mural on the Overture Center on State Street in downtown Madison, Wis., on June 11, 2020. Morales, born in Guatemala, has lived in Madison for two years. “America is a great continent,” Morales said. “But it needs to create a balance of power, of money, of natural resources. I want to unify America.” Morales also spoke about the value of art during social movements. “I think art can change lives. Art is essential. Sadly, sometimes art stays outside of the light because there aren’t a lot of profits in it.”

Wolf said the city officially ended the mural project on June 14. State Street businesses have since begun to unboard, taking down the murals from their windows and doors.

It is not yet clear what will happen to the artwork after it is removed. The decision lies with individual businesses and property owners about when to reopen their storefronts. Wolf said that Madison’s Central Business Improvement District, which works to coordinate and support many downtown businesses, was keeping some of the murals in storage while a plan is formulated. The city is currently collecting input through an online poll and conversations with artists to decide how to move forward. Options being considered include temporary exhibitions, auctions, or donating the works.

“I can’t speak for everyone else’s work, but I do hope they aren’t simply archived and forgotten,” said Simone Lawrence, a local artist whose portraits of Malcolm X and Colin Kaepernick have recently been taken down from the Driftless Studio windows near the top of State Street. “I’d like to see an exhibition. Even more ideally, I’d like to see them sold and the proceeds go to Black-owned organizations and/or directly to the artist.”

Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Chris Lewis, 23, paints over a mural on Shortstack Eatery in downtown Madison, Wis., on June 11, 2020. Lewis said that the city government, which commissioned many of the murals, wanted to replace the existing piece with a more ambitious one. “I’m covering up this shit,” Lewis said. “The city wanted us to. They wanted something bigger, something excellent.” Lewis, who has worked with his mother, local activist Lilada Gee, and a small group of community members to paint a number of murals on State Street, said that the public art projects were exciting to be a part of. “It’s been really eye opening. It feels good to get out here and be among the people, it’s a whole art community. I’m not even really an artist, but it’s been a fun experience.” But Lewis also worried about whether the murals reflected a deeper shift in tone and thinking about issues surrounding Black lives and police brutality. “I think it’s something that’s pretty to look at. They turned something bad into something good. Which kind of pisses me off. I think in part they’re covering it — you’ve put a bandaid over a wound. For some people it’s genuine, but for most, nah. Some businesses feel like they have to let it happen because other people are out here doing it.”

Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Owen Gwynne, 54, of Madison paints a mural recreating a work by DarRen Morris, a Wisconsin man sentenced to life in prison at 17 in 1995. Gwynne was invited to help paint the mural by Phil Salamone and Judy Adrian, Madison natives who Morris has developed relationships with from prison. Salamone and Adrian wanted to include Morris’ art on State Street to broaden the conversation around policing to cover the entire criminal justice system. The mural is a recreation of a work by the artist DarRen Morris, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1995. Adrian, who helped Morris to write his book “In Warm Blood,” introduced Morris to Salamone, a Madison-based artist who organized the mural as a way to broaded the ongoing conversation about policing to the entire criminal justice system. “I wanted to contribute, but I didn’t want it to be about me. DarRen represents something that people arent talking about. There are higher arrest rates, longer sentences, higher recitivism for African Americans,” Salamone said. “Paint is the strongest voice I got.”

Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Shahaney Williams (left), 14, and Yasmine Clendening, 12, paint a mural on Lake Street in downtown Madison, Wis., on June 11, 2020. Both Williams and Clendening are students at O’Keeffe Middle School in Madison, and painted on space reserved for them and their classmates by O’Keefe art teacher Kati Walsh. “I thought it was important to show that some people actually care,” Williams said, speaking of the murals as an alternative to participating in the protests for young people. “Some people want to participate but they’re too afraid to walk with [protesters], because of the tear gas and rubber bullets.”

Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Arielle Edmonds (second from right), 31, walked up State Street in Madison, Wis., with her four children to look at the murals on June 9, 2020. “I wanted to show my kids what’s going on so they can be aware of what’s going on in their community.”

Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter — parallels and progress

Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter — parallels and progress

Image 20151031 16532 vszynq.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Millions March Texas.
Elizabeth Brossa/flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Comparing the 1960s and 1970s Black Panther Party and today’s Black Lives Matter movement reveals parallels and progress.

Stanley Nelson’s recently released film The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution juxtaposes the party’s justice movement against the Black Lives Matter protest campaign.

Conceived about 50 years apart, both Black Lives Matter and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense galvanized frustration with police brutality against black people in the US.

Alicia Garza created Black Lives Matter, with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, as a call to action after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for killing 17-year-old unarmed Trayvon Martin in 2013. The Black Panther Party was formed, in part, in reaction to the police killing of Matthew Johnson, an unarmed black 16-year-old, in San Francisco in 1966.

The commonalities between Black Lives Matter and the Black Panther Party are more striking when they are compared to the mid-20th-century civil rights movement, which took place when segregation was legal and black people protested politely and defensively.

Looking ‘proper’

According to filmmaker Stanley Nelson, it was important for civil rights leaders to win the hearts and minds of the press, a majority white American public, and a cautious black middle class. In an interview with NPR, he goes on to explain that civil rights organizers insisted, “‘we’re going to look proper…’ to show the difference between them and the mobs that would be chasing them or screaming at them.”

The Black Panthers were not interested in mainstream press or general public approval. They had their own newspaper designed, art-directed and heavily illustrated by Black Panther Party artist and Minister of Culture Emory Douglas. It showed images that would never appear in the mainstream press.

As I observed in a 2007 essay on Douglas’s work:

“Part of Douglas’s genius was that he used the visually seductive methods of advertising and subverted them into weapons of the revolution. His images served two purposes: to illustrate conditions that made revolution a reasonable response and to construct a visual mythology of power for people who felt powerless and victimized.”

_Black Panther _newspaper cover 1968.
© 2015 / Emory Douglas / Artists Rights Society, New York
Time magazine cover April 2015.

The Black Panther newspaper showed photographic evidence of police brutality along with editorial drawings and cartoons illustrating black people fighting back.

Black Lives Matter uses cellphone photographs, videos and commentary that often quickly go viral through social media.

Each movement used available media to reach broad constituencies and stimulate action.

The Panthers’ messages were instructive, visual, and covered a range of ambitions, included in the party’s 10-point platform.

The phrase “Black Lives Matter” may seem deceptively simple to those who receive the words as a veiled threat. Perhaps they believe that equality has been achieved and systemic and institutionalized racism no longer exist.

In the 50 years since segregation and legal discrimination ended and the US tried to “move past” its racist history, much of that history was ignored and effectively forgotten. Blacks and whites have differing perceptions of how much progress has been made on racial equality. Polls show that white millennials have about the same racial viewpoints as baby boomers.

This racial knowledge vacuum does not allow some people to believe that black people and other people of color are routinely treated more harshly by police and law enforcement officers. Black Lives Matter’s insistence on presenting evidence of inequality is disturbing to these deniers.

At the time of the Black Panthers, just a few years after civil rights legislation, most black people still lived in poverty with substandard everything – from housing to schools to health care. Even though the political establishment disagreed on what should be done to change it, no one denied there was a problem.

Disruption and pushback

As activist Deray McKesson points out, “protest is confrontation and disruption.” In addition to protesting at the time and scene of controversial police events, Black Lives Matter protesters disrupt everyday life and activities, which creates pushback.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton responded to last summer’s #BlackFair protest against the small number of black vendors at the state fair by saying, “I just think the way they’re proposing to deal with it is irresponsible.” Another peaceful protest for Black Lives Matter at the Twin Cities Marathon on October 4 2015 brought disagreement between supporters of the movement. Ashley Oliver, a member of Black Lives Matter in Minneapolis and legal chairwoman of the city’s NAACP chapter, told the Star Tribune newspaper that disrupting the marathon was the wrong way to get the group’s message out. “Our message will get lost,” she claimed.

Black Lives Matter organizer Netta Elize explained why the protests must happen at seemingly nonrelated events. She said, “Black people in the US do not have free space to live. The ability to participate in everyday activities without having to think about race is a privilege.”

In their time, the Panthers were marginalized and vilified, limiting their main sphere of public operations to college campuses and other left-friendly venues. Only the most fear-producing images of Panthers appeared in mainstream press, reiterating the FBI’s claim that the organization was the greatest threat to national security.

A group of Seattle Panthers on the steps of the Capitol in Olympia.
Seattle Black Panther Party History and Memory Project

Visual tactics

Like the Black Panther Party, Black Lives Matter protesters use elements of “visual theater.” The Panthers’ carefully constructed visual presence included uniforms for members, creating icons for party members that represented strength, purpose, and discipline. As Stanley Nelson’s film points out, the Panthers understood media and the power of visual images.

Black Lives Matter uses visual tactics such as light brigades and more theatrical “die-ins,” to convey an omnipresent threat of violence or death.

People taking part in a Black Lives Matter demonstration stage a
Original image, 1976. © 2015 / Emory Douglas / Artists Rights Society, New York.

To comment on current conditions for black people in the US, artist Emory Douglas repurposed one of his drawings – 39 years after its original appearance in November 1976 in the pages of The Black Panther newspaper – to promote Black Lives Matter.

The original image, he said, was about justice in general, not a specific event. In the new version, Douglas made the scales of justice even larger.The Conversation

Colette Gaiter, Associate Professor, Department of Art and Design, University of Delaware

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