“Powerful people cannot afford to educate the people that they oppress,” Rosa Clemente began, “because once you are truly educated, you will not ask for power. You will take it.”

With that quote from the 20th-century historian and Pan-Africanist scholar John Henrik Clarke, Clemente launched into a speech titled #SayHerName—in reference to a social media hashtag that seeks to acknowledge violence against Black and Latina women—sponsored by the Black Students’ Union (BSU) as part of its schedule of events for Black History Month.

The speech centered on the importance of education while touching on activism, racial identity, and women’s rights in America.

Clemente is a doctoral student in the Afro-American studies program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In addition to her academic career, she is a journalist and an activist in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Clemente has been involved in political activism for many years, most prominently when she ran for Vice President of the United States on the Green Party ticket in 2008, the first woman of color to do so. Clemente is also a co-founder of the National Hip-Hop Political Convention and became involved in the Black Lives Matter movement in 2012.

In her speech, Clemente described the trajectory of her career and work. She described how she became affiliated with the grassroots Black Lives Matter movement, which grew out of controversy surrounding the shooting of unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman. Clemente remembered thinking it was crazy, she told the audience, that “Black Lives Matter” would even need to be said in an age when the U.S. had elected its first Black president. However, she noted, the current generation of college students is beginning to recognize the ongoing racial issues and tensions in America.

“We’re beginning to be skeptical of the policies coming out of the White House,” Clemente said, noting that even under the Democratic Obama administration, America is far from a post-racial society.

Clemente did not shy away from controversial topics or contrarian positions. She began, in fact, by cautioning the audience that “what I’m going to say is not going to be palatable to a lot of folks.” During the course of her speech, Clemente criticized both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and expressed her dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party in general.

Herself a Black Puerto Rican born in the Bronx, New York, Clemente also devoted part of her speech to the topics of racial and gender identity, especially in regard to the intersection of Black and Latino cultures. She noted that more and more Latino people have begun to identify as Black or Afro-Latino, and that the history of Latino activism, including the Puerto Rican independence movement, is closely associated with what she called the “Black radical tradition.”

Clemente closed her speech by returning to the theme of education, noting the contributions of students and academics to the Black Lives Matter movement. She said that the protests in Baltimore and Ferguson, two major instances of Black Lives Matter activism, were two of the major rebellions this generation of students has seen.

“You can be part of that history,” Clemente concluded. She urged students to become involved as leaders, activists, and organizers, saying, “Don’t have your sons or daughters come to you in 50 years and say, ‘I’m reading about the Black Lives Matter movement—were you involved?'”

Tagged: Race


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