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Black Love in Cleveland

Written by Sean Thomas-Breitfeld

This past weekend, I had the honor to attend the Movement for Black Lives convening in Cleveland. It was a historic gathering of more than a thousand black organizers, activists and families from around the country.

Given the justified outrage over people being pepper sprayed by cops after the conference ended and the media’s bias in reporting on the huge protests against police violence this past year, people who weren’t there might think the convening was about black anger. But the gathering was really about black love.

“Black love” was a constant refrain at the convening. We said it as part of call and response during plenaries. We said it as we snapped our fingers in agreement with comments made during workshops. We said it to remind each other to embrace the full diversity of black people who came from near and far to be together in Cleveland for three days.

Black love wasn’t just a phrase or a slogan, it was a verb put into action throughout the weekend.

The first day of the conference ended with a plenary where the family members of black people killed by police officers and vigilantes spoke about their loved ones. Between the choir, the pictures of the dead, and the memories of the living, it was an incredibly moving event that had the crowd in tears.

As I sat there with a friend who organizes in the LGBT movement, tears streaming down both of our faces, the woman in the row ahead of us lifted her hand from her husband’s shoulder, the other arm cradling her daughter, and reached back to hold our hands as we cried. I can’t think of a purer expression of black love than that.

The conference wasn’t without struggles and pain. As with any family reunion, there were fresh misunderstandings and old wounds. But it was a space where we could embrace the challenges and the pain. Just as the mother reached out to me, the conference’s organizers – notably led by a diverse group of black women who were straight, queer, cis- and transgender – created a place for healing and black love.

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