I was at a bar with friends the night George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, and I remember the anger and disappointment that welled inside me. Although I hadn’t known Trayvon personally, I cared about his life as if he were my younger brother.
The ability to love each other is our people’s secret weapon in this war against the Black body, and that is revolutionary. Revolutionary love is the ability to risk it all for the love of our people, without ever expecting to see the fruits of that love.
“We must love each other and support each other.” Assata Shakur’s words have become a battle cry for a new crop of young Black freedom fighters who have decided to put their bodies on the line in the name of liberation. That chant is made even more revolutionary when you consider that many young Black Americans don’t expect to live through their 30s and when frequent images of Black death are shown in news and social media.
Black love is an act of resistance in a system of White supremacist patriarchal culture that is determined to exploit and kill our people.
Black love is a revolutionary act when we as Black people are taught to hate ourselves.
Mainstream media often perpetuate the idea that law enforcement is inherently heroic, while Blacks are inherently criminal, prone to violence and in need of constant control. Our people have always had a complicated and violent relationship with citizenship—a relationship that impacts how we are able to care for one another and how we are able to care for ourselves.
Black love was in evidence when activists at the Movement for Black Lives in July formed a blockade to protect a Black boy from the Cleveland police after they pepper sprayed him. Black love is how we stay safe, and that is how we build collective power for our communities.
With mixed emotions, I recently marked my first year as executive director of the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, a national network of young Black and Brown people determined to end mass criminalization and gun violence, founded in 2012. As I celebrated a year of personal and professional growth in this movement, I remained steadfast, self-critical and even, at times, hopeless. After attacks such as the one that took place inside the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., and on the Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis, I find myself feeling traumatized, especially when thinking about all the young Black children who cannot be simply children today; we have failed to protect them. I wake up each morning feeling both inspired and afraid. The stakes are high, and so we risk our lives for the love and protection of our people.
Why? Because we all we got.
Black love—my love for our people and our community—is what sustains me in this journey for liberation. When your existence is questioned, “We must love each other and support each other” becomes more than just a rallying cry; it is also an affirmation in a state of constant unknown, isolation and political jeopardy. Black love carried me over another day of trauma when all my comrades joined Million Hoodies for a reception to celebrate my anniversary as its leader.
Black love is the fabric of daily text reminders I get from my friends and family that say I’m loved and valued. Black love is apparent when my movement family nudges me a little harder about taking a break and healing through these days of constant turmoil and rapid response, and it is this love for my people that allows me to show up each and every day to do this work.
Revolution is a process and so is Black love. I try to take a few moments daily to love up on my people, to let them know I cherish them and that they are valued, seen and appreciated. And as is the case with any other relationship, we dream and break bread together, we argue and disagree. But we must always remember that Black love is power, and Black power builds the communities we need to remain safe. Safe to walk home. Safe to eat Skittles. Safe to wear a hoodie and play loud music at night. Safe to exist. We are in a war with a country that never loved us, and love is our greatest weapon.