Black Ivy Coalition calls for awareness, policy shifts

by Noah Goldstein | 10/13/14 6:40pm

One week after Darren Wilson, a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, students at Yale University created a Facebook chat to talk about what had happened. Over the next several days, the chat grew, as students invited anyone they thought might be interested in contributing to the conversation. Out of this online group formed the Black Ivy Coalition, a group of 16 black Ivy League student leaders — two per school — dedicated to changing a culture they say led to the death of Brown and others like him.

Last month, the group released a call to action, stating its purpose and goals, including “compel[ling] our society to revalue Black lives” and “correct[ing] the misconception that the Civil Rights movement is over.”

“That call to action was a wake-up call — not only to ourselves, but to people all over America to let them know that we are actively trying to do something to stop this from happening,” said Yale sophomore Isaiah Genece, a member of the Yale Black Men’s Union.

Kevin Gillespie ’15, president of the College’s NAACP chapter, said Dartmouth students plan to hang a banner in the Collis Center and a collage in Baker-Berry Library of those affected by police brutality.

Sarah Cole, a Harvard University junior who is president of the university’s Black Student Association, said she has observed that many non-African American people do not see the deaths of Brown, Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin as major issues.

Cole recalled a conversation with a co-worker who did not understand her emotional reaction to Garner’s death in July.

Yale all-Ivy coordinator Reine Ibala, a junior, said participating in the coalition is meaningful to her because she identifies with stories like Brown’s and often worries about her younger brother’s safety.

“The idea that I can’t protect him, and that one day he could walk on a street and something could happen to him,” Ibala said, “is absolutely frightening.”

The coalition’s primary goal is to remind people that “black lives do have worth,” Genece said. To him, it can often feel like others see the recent deaths of unarmed black men as individual incidents, rather than interpreting them as indicators of a larger problem.

Ibala said the coalition must generate passion among black youth and portray the incidents as an American issue, not just an African American issue.

“The one common thing between all these cases was that these were men who were unarmed at the time of their death, these were men that whether or not they committed these crimes, did not receive their due process,” Ibala said.

Coalition members have formulated three long-term goals: changing local, state and national policies, creating a national network of black students to organize demonstrations and reaching out to people in local communities impacted by these issues, said Denzel Cummings, a University of Pennsylvania senior who co-chairs UMOJA, a coalition of black students.

The coalition structure allows student leaders to coordinate activities across campuses, Cummings said. At Penn, students organized a widely attended town hall meeting, followed by a group reflection. Harvard University and Yale also held town halls, Cummings said.

Genece said several schools organized a “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” campaign, in which students took a photo with their hands up to symbolize the defenselessness of shooting victims, an image that has gained national recognition in the wake of Brown’s death.

Other plans, coordinated by the Black Ivy Coalition as a whole, include campaigns combatting media misrepresentation of black people, demonstrations in major cities including New York and legislative and policy changes, Genece said.

The group is focusing on legislation related to issues of police brutality, Cummings said.

Possible legislative efforts include changing how police officers are trained to interpret cultural and social situations and requiring officers to wear cameras, Genece said.

“We’re looking at policies in regard to campus security, to see how those can be changed to be more helpful for students in a variety of communities on campus,” Cummings said.

The coalition members hold weekly Google hangouts to discuss how to best achieve their goals, including ways they can make their voices heard, Cole said.

As students at Ivy League colleges, the coalition members have significant access to resources, but students must make good use of them in promoting their goals, Genece said.

Soon after the coalition released its call to action, students at non-Ivy institutions like Stanford University, the University of California at Los Angeles and Tuskegee University reached out to join the network, Cummings said.

The coalition aims to address issues that all black people, not just students, face, he said.

For Genece, a major part of the coalition’s work is trying to ensure that members of his community feel safe.

“Regardless of where I am or what circumstances I find myself in, I still don’t feel safe walking around the streets,” Genece said, “and it’s just a matter of the circumstances into which I was born, that of the color of my skin.”

Madison Pauly contributed reporting.