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Activists Aim To Expand Reach Of Black Lives Matter Movement


Hundreds of black activists from across the country met in Cleveland over the weekend. Organizers talked about the Black Lives Matter movement, which exploded on social media responding to police killings of African-Americans. The question is what activists want to do next. Here's Adrian Florido of NPR's Code Switch team.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: For the conference's opening ceremony, close to a thousand black activists gathered in an auditorium on the campus of Cleveland State University. On stage sat the families of many of the dead black Americans whose names have become synonymous with racialized violence.


MICHAEL BROWN: My son's name is Michael Brown Jr.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: We're the family of Emmett Till.

WANDA JOHNSON: I'm the mother of Oscar Grant.

GWEN CARR: My son was Eric Garner.

MAUVION GREEN: I am the daughter of Tanisha Anderson.

SAMARIA RICE: I am the mother of Tamir Rice.


FLORIDO: Backed by a choir, each one shared a memory. And then Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, asked those in the audience to stand up if they'd had a loved one killed by police or vigilantes, as she put it.


PATRISSE CULLORS: I'm going to ask you to just say your loved one's name.


CULLORS: Just keep repeating their name.


FLORIDO: Tears flowed freely. But as people left the auditorium, many said they felt empowered. Since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Mo., last year, thousands of African-Americans have turned out to protest online and in the streets. Many have wanted to take their activism further but haven't really known how. That's why the organizers put on this conference. And that's why law student Ashley Braxton came from Columbus, Ohio.

ASHLEY BRAXTON: I want to try to figure out where I would be most helpful as a lawyer. Like, I want to listen to other people say, hey, this is what we need lawyers to be doing. So I'm just trying to figure out, like, where to put myself best to, you know, win the fight.

FLORIDO: She attended a workshop about the successful campaign to win reparations for victims of police torture in Chicago. She said it gave her good ideas. In another session, San Francisco-based activist Samuel Sinyangwe explained how people can scrutinize police contracts back home.


SAMUEL SINYANGWE: You got to look through the contract in the investigations and discipline section and read, like, what are the things in there that can prevent an officer from being held accountable. So getting in on the front end is really important to changing these contracts before they get instituted for three years, five years, 10 years.

FLORIDO: But this conference wasn't only about how people can change policy back in their communities. It also offered ways to cope with the stress of racism, something many people here talked about. People got massages and went to yoga and meditation workshops. Tiffany Flowers, a union organizer from Washington, D.C., said that for her, one of the best things about the weekend was meeting so many people she's shared outrage and sadness with through Twitter - but only through Twitter.

TIFFANY FLOWERS: So many people, literally, that I've seen and met today are - is like my timeline coming to life.

FLORIDO: As we talked, she spotted a familiar face.

FLOWERS: Excuse me. Excuse me. I'm sorry, I just wanted to introduce myself. My name is Tiffany Flowers, and...


FLOWERS: ...I know you from my timeline. I just wanted to say I really appreciate you?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Me? Are you sure? Me?

FLOWERS: Yeah, So Hum Studios.


FLOWERS: Yes. I know you.



FLORIDO: Flowers said social media has done a lot to mobilize people to protest in the last year, but she said when it comes to organizing, nothing beats meeting in the flesh. It's still not clear where the Movement for Black Lives is headed. The conference was only meant to be a start. But good organizing, Flowers said, is what the movement needs to stay strong. Adrian Florido, NPR News, Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.
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