Janaya Khan spoke to an audience of about 60 people about the future of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the intersection of being a Black, queer and gender-nonconforming activist on Monday night. The event was moderated by Rackham student Adrian King and LSA senior Jolyna Chiangong. Khan was also joined by Dr. Martino Harmon, University of Michigan vice president of student life.

Khan’s talk concluded a series of events commemorating Black History Month sponsored by the University’s Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs. The series began at the beginning of the month with a conversation with activist and scholar LaTosha Brown about civic engagement and Black history.

Engineering sophomore Taylor Scott, student leader and marketing chair for the University’s Black History Month series, said this year’s theme of “Remembering Our Mark: For Our Culture, For Our People, For Us” aims to recenter Black people in their own narratives of racial justice during what she said was a particularly tragic and difficult year for the Black community.

“Our theme … aims to, one, acknowledge the struggles and achievements in spite of our obstacles, of our people, to inspire us to persist in a digital age where evidence of past and present racism is that of a fingers click,” Scott said. “And two, to remind us to be proud of our Blackness and all the many different facets of being Black.” 

Chiangong, one of the organizers of the event, said this event was important because it reminded people that there is a place for vulnerability in activism.

“It’s important to highlight the importance of activism and movement,” Chiangong said. “But also how we have to take care of ourselves within that, and that isn’t always the focus of the conversations.” 

Khan also spoke about vulnerability, acknowledging the deep pain queer and Black people feel and saying activism must become a place of community, not individualism. 

“At the heart of (activism) is being for someone else who you needed most in your most vulnerable moments,” Khan said. 

Elizabeth James, program manager for the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, began her remarks by remembering all of the Black people who have fought, resisted, worked and died over the years in the name of achieving racial justice.

“Let us never forget the ones whose names we will never know who did the difficult thankless work, the unsung heroes,” James said. “May we remain vigilant in our duties to uphold their legacy as they guide us, as always with their wisdom, brilliant as the North Star.”

One attendee asked Khan about their place as a non-binary person in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement. Khan said identity has always been an entry point into movements and that compromising one’s identity can be detrimental. 

“Were I to accept the script that I was born into would have been to accept my own destruction,” Khan said. 

Khan was also asked about how the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests against various incidents of police brutality have changed their view of activism. Khan said the struggles of 2020 made it clear that movements must change to actively oppose oppression and threats to democracy.

“That’s our job as a movement of people who believe in a kind of change,” Khan said.
“We’ve got to do the work of making fascism and authoritarianism unfashionable.” 

In order for activist movements to reshape themselves around a framework of care, Khan said, they need to encourage people to take care of themselves and be gentle with one another.

‘Instead of saying, ‘What the f— is wrong with this person, what’s wrong with you,’ I want us to ask, ‘What am I missing?’” Khan said.  

Khan said that when they are on the streets protesting, the movement’s culture of protection and curiosity reminds them that thinking for themselves and seeking truth is the most important thing they can do.

“When we’re not looking for truth, we become an agent of the system in which we live, become a defender of it,” Khan said. “You start to operate for it, unthinkingly.”

Khan concluded the discussion by calling on the audience — specifically college students involved in racial justice movements — to remember how important their role in these movements can be. 

“We are the defenders of the dead and we are the liberators of the living,” Khan said. “So all we have to do is live up to it.”

Daily Staff Reporter Paige Hodder can be reached at phodder@umich.edu.

Correction: A previous version of this article used the wrong pronouns for Taylor Scott. Taylor Scott uses she/her pronouns.

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