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At a forum a couple of months ago, Dr. Melina Abdullah and former Black Panthers Hank Jones and Sekou Odinga spoke to an audience of mostly white middle class Occidental College students and a smathering of middle-aged sixties activists about the nexus between the Black Lives Matter movement and the Black Panthers of the 60s. All three speakers are committed to equality and justice. The audience sat at the edges of their seats as they listened to the stories told by the illustrious panel.

Melina Abdullah

Melina Abdullah, Guiding Light—Dick & Sharon

Then Melina said something that intrigued me. Melina is the chair of the Pan-African Studies Department at Cal State Los Angeles, who for the past couple of years has emerged as one of Black Lives Matter’s guiding forces, clearest voices, and most recognizable faces.

At that forum at Occidental College in Eagle Rock, she told the audience that it was the Black Lives Matter movement that truly awakened the real activist within. Wanting to hear more, we invited Melina to our home for pizza and conversation.

Following is what we learned:

Dick & Sharon:Tell us a bit about the events and thinking that led to what we are all now calling #BlackLivesMatter.

Melina: Trayvon Martin’s murder was a spark for what has become the Black Lives Matter movement. Sadly, there have been a series of murders that has kept the movement going but, for many, that was the beginning.

D&S:You have your three children here with you today. How do the children play a role in the BLM movement? We’ve heard you say that you came up in a family of activists. Tell us about your upbringing.

Melina: My Dad was a union organizer, a socialist organizer in Oakland. I don’t remember a time when there were no weekly meetings in our home. So I was brought up in a home where activism was modeled for me. But after I left home, my own personal involvement wasn't sustained until recently. Now I'm working all of the time to fight injustice for my people. And, yes, I include my kids. We built BLM so that children can have a role. Its essential that our kids understand that their involvement is just as important as others, so my kids are with me all the time.

D&S:LA Progressive and similar independent news sources exist to counter the narrative that corporate mainstream promotes. We belong to The Media Consortium, an organization that attempts to promote independent media but it's hard because resources are scant. How can we, with our limited resources, help to provide more coverage of the local BLM movement.

Melina: The conservative movement has always had movement-building communications. We need to be able to do the same. Right now, for example, we need someone to cover the latest trial involving BLM activists that’s wrapping up this week.

D&S:That kind of coverage is just what we'd like to do. The problem is always funds. People don't like to pay for media. Corporate media, which is funded through commercial enterprises, has no shortage of access, but they consistently fall short on telling it like it is. What is happening in Los Angeles with BLM?

Melina: Los Angeles is the only city that is prosecuting BLM activities. BLM-LA is the largest chapter, with the largest ally network.

LA’s Mayor Eric Garcetti is one of the worst mayors for black people. It’s the same thing in Oakland, where neoliberal politicians have created a new kind of racism. It’s okay to be black so long as you’re quiet. They want one black person at the table, but not everyone.

D&S: The Left is so fragmented, particularly along racial lines. No more so than the rest of the country���but it just seems like the progressive movement touts itself as being “progressive” so one would expect to see more racial cohesion. As we’ve seen in recent primaries, that's hurting Bernie Sanders. Clearly, there is a lot of work that's needs to be done in the political arena.

Using the tactic of disruption and challenging respectability politics, we've been able to bring more attention to the crisis that exists and has existed for a long time in our communities.

Melina: We haven’t done very well on the Left to frame a viable alternative. Older black women honor tradition but our people know we need real change. They're just not convinced that Bernie can win, so they go with Hillary. But BLM is not taking a position politically. For now, our focus has been on police violence. Using the tactic of disruption and challenging respectability politics, we've been able to bring more attention to the crisis that exists and has existed for a long time in our communities. But we also see the need to educate our members on political matters. So what we’re doing now in BLM is having constant political education.

The movement was once dominated by people in academia. Now it has attracted new members, many without college degrees. So we've started a once-a-week BLM scholars group—because you can’t very well tell them to read Frantz Fanon or “We Will Shoot Back, Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement” without discussions on these topics.

But regarding political candidates and elections, even though BLM is not endorsing anyone, I personally feel it is important to vote. So many of our ancestors died trying to do just that so I’ll be voting—we must honor the ancestors.

D&S:The BlackLivesMatter movement seems to continue to gain momentum. Where do you see this going?

Melina: BLMLA has high school students, community college chapters—we've made inroads into unions. UTLA [United Teachers Los Angeles] will likely endorse one of our platforms. The California Teachers Association is umping on—SEIUI, CFA, Unite Here! We’re expanding our efforts to include opposition to state-sanctioned violence and continuing to build our infrastructure, which currently has 35 chapters.

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D&S:Are you concerned that this kind of rapid growth, while good for the movement, can present its own set of problems? For example, are you concerned about infiltrators, which did so much damage to the Black Panthers Party years ago?

Melina: I'm less concerned about infiltrators than I am about surveillance. We have mechanisms in place that not all information can be shared. We've learned our own lessons about whom to trust. For example, in a period of two weeks, five of us had our cars broken into. Jasmine Richards’ house was broken into. Nothing of value was taken, but our things where thrown around, sending us the message that we’re we’re being watched, that we’re vulnerable.

Technology is in place to shut us down, to monitor us. We know that. But I figure that if you’re going to be monitored anyway, you might as well do the work.

D&S:You're becoming a high-profile individual in the movement. In some ways, even though you and others insist that this is a leader-full movement, your face is becoming the face of BLMLA. As a professor and department head at Cal State L.A. Are you concerned about the impact this will have on your career?

Melina: So far, my job hasn’t really come after me. I believe there’s some hesitancy around the fact that I’m a department chair. But one of the problems I deal with is that daily I get hate mail that often goes to the college president. At least once a week I get a death threat. With my three young children, that’s certainly a concern.

A few weeks ago, the right-winger Ben Shapiro was invited to speak at Cal State LA. His speech was called “When Diversity Becomes a Problem.” I think it was an attempt to bait me, to shed a negative light on me and my work.

So, yes, there are probably forces that want to threaten my job. I love teaching. I love being around the energy. I don’t imagine myself ever moving away from that. My plan is to continue to do both.

Melina Abdullah

Melina Addullah (left) and Sharon Kyle (right) seated in the home of Dick and Sharon with lots of pizza

D&S:You recently returned from a trip to Mississippi?

Melina: Yes, I was honored to speak at this year’s National Conference of Black Political Scientists. It was held in Jackson, Mississippi, which is 89% black and the center of so much civil rights ferment back in the day—The March Against Fear from Memphis to Jackson in 1966, Fannie Lou Hammer, Bob Moses, Chokwe Lamumba, the lawyer who wound up running for mayor of Jackson and who died recently, leaving a void in black leadership.

We visited Medgar Evers’ home, which left me with the recognition that we have to honor the tradition of Medgar and Fannie Lou, who literally died for our right to vote.

The airport is named for Medgar Evers. The white populace is trying to take over it, even though it’s well-run and profitable.

Clare McClinton, a sister from Flint came to talk about Black Belt determination.

It was a moving time for me.

D&S:If you could see into the near future, what would the movement look like?

Melina: There is interest in doing a regular convening, like last year’s Movement for Black Lives.

My hope is that the existence of BLM can push the NAACP to deepen and broaden its commitment to be more like the NAACP of old. The Black Lives Matter movement, as it currently exists, can't be all things to all people. There are other organizations that can and should be energized to do their part. That is my hope.

dick & sharon

[dc]W[/dc] thank Dr. Melina Abudullah and her lovely children for coming to our home and spending time with us. It was an enjoyable and enlightening afternoon.

Dick Price & Sharon Kyle
Editor & Publisher, LA Progressive