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Photo: Rémi Yuan

Organizers of Black Lives Matter call on U of O allies to remain active

Organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement from across Canada and the United States gave a keynote speech opening the second annual Activist Assembly hosted by the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) on Nov.  6.

“We think it’s really important to host this kind of event just because education is becoming more and more inaccessible for a lot of groups of students as it becomes continually privatized,” said SFUO campaign coordinator Justine De Jaegher.

“This Activist Assembly also had an important focus on anti-black racism and addressing that on our campus and our community, so I think it’s really important that students have come out to talk about it,” she said.

There were also numerous workshops held on campus throughout Saturday, Nov. 7. The workshops covered climate change, racism, transphobia, mental health, Islamophobia, and more.

U of O students Kiki Brown and Jenny Meya discussed how to be better allies to marginalized groups in their workshop BlakCollectiv: Allyship.

Meya thinks that the workshop can go beyond its participants. “Hopefully they can go on and educate their community… and just be in support of us,” she said.

The Black Lives Matter movement has grown rapidly since its creation, following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin’s 2012 murder. However, deep seeded anti-black racism isn’t new.

In September, a mural in downtown Ottawa in memory of Sandra Bland, a woman whose death in a Texas jail cell sparked  protests against racial violence, was defaced.

“I think the time period addressing anti-blackness is always. It’s very pervasive, something that’s invisible. No one likes to talk about racism, it makes people uncomfortable and specifically no one likes to talk about anti-blackness,” said Brown.

Brown and Meya encouraged allies to actively call out racism, regardless of whether a minority member is there to validate their allegiance, while not derailing the conversation or talking over them.

Meya emphasized why a university setting is a fitting place for these discussions.

“I think it’s because we’re just part of an institution that grants us information,” she said. She continued that in such an environment it’s easier to “teach people who are willing to learn things that are difficult, things that are critical.”

Vanessa Dorimain and Alexandria Williams presented their workshop, Safe Spaces. The session focused on how to make lasting safer spaces around campus, be it in relation to race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability or other factors.

Dorimain is the vice-president of university affairs of the SFUO and a founding member of BlakCollectiv, while Williams travelled from Toronto, where she is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter: Toronto Coalition, and is a student at York University. The two have previously collaborated on similar workshops.

“If anything, what I always want from participants is to actively have questions,” said Williams. “That’s what keeps these conversations going and that’s what creates more information to be shared to make spaces more open.”