Collective Blackness and Intersectional Action Executive Producer Eddie Conway speaks with ABC organizer Star Bacon about black student organizing in higher education
EDDIE CONWAY: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway coming to you from Baltimore. Considering the politics of today, with the Trump administration and a lot of pushback on the ground from women’s groups, immigration groups, Black Lives Matter groups, one of the most probably overlooked groups that are organizing and building is black students across the country. I have the opportunity to talk with Star Bacon today, which is a coordinator of one of the largest black student organizations in California. Star, thanks for joining me.
STAR BACON: Thank you for having us.
EDDIE CONWAY: Star, could you tell me a little bit about your organization?
STAR BACON: Yes. The Afrikan Black Coalition is a statewide collective of 16 campuses. We have membership from organizations, particularly the Black Student Unions from campuses within the UC system, that’s the University of California, as well as the California State University system. The work that we do is centered, one, around black student retention. Part of that work is us focusing on building campaigns within the institutions that our students attend, to produce resource centers that try and combat isolation as well as just build community. In addition to that, we also have worked to get black psychologists, really pushing the institution to provide more support for those campuses and particularly the black students, as well as focusing on campaigns outside of the institutions, so pushing the UC system to divest in private prisons. We do a lot around private prisons. That’s kind of like an overview of what we do as an organization, along with leadership development and community based organizing.
EDDIE CONWAY: I was looking at your 10-point platform and a couple things struck me as being very progressive, if I could say that. One is that you all are asking for reparation.
STAR BACON: Yes, absolutely. It’s no secret that black people built this nation, spent 250 plus years building this nation with unpaid labor. One of the things that we feel is actually necessary is to call for the US to provide 40 acres that were promised as well as reparations. The estimates are around 1.5 million dollars per person which totals to around 14.2 trillion dollars.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. I see that your platform goes even further and requests reparation for people in the diaspora in the Caribbean as well as on the continent of Africa. Why are you reaching out beyond the shores of America for this reparation?
STAR BACON: The reason why we’re reaching beyond the US is because racial oppression is global. We are African people. As a pan-African organization, we understand that we are not free here until all of our African people are free. So, it’s vitally important that organizations like the US and UN pull back the oppression that they have, the colonization that they still have on many of these nations, in which our nations are paying them money, and this is crippling their economies, it’s crippling their societies, and it’s had a profound impact.
Haiti is a perfect example of that, having to pay France 150 million dollars for the lost earnings that they would have gotten, and also at a time in which our black nations could have thrived tremendously. Haiti at one point in time had a greater economy than all of the Thirteen Colonies in the US put together. You can see that when there’s these economic restraints, like someone putting their foot to someone’s neck and just exploiting them, our nations become weak and our nations would be perfectly fine if we were left alone.
EDDIE CONWAY: It also seemed from this platform that you’re calling for the establishment of a black nation. Is that right?
STAR BACON: Absolutely, yes. We feel that it’s important for us to have our own. One thing that’s a constant struggle for black people is being able to control our own land, control our own resources. We’re constantly being exploited from all angles. Part of the request to give 40 acres in reparations that was rightfully promised to our folks who were formerly enslaved. We are calling for that land to constitute our own nation, our own black republic.
EDDIE CONWAY: Have you designated something like the five states in the south? Do you have a target location, geography-wise?
STAR BACON: There’s been conversations around where that would be, especially since a majority of black folks are still in the south but we are not organizing specifically around any particular area. The first thing for us really is based in us trying to push for just breaking down some of these systems and starting with the systems that are close to us. Yeah, no, those five states in the south, I know a lot of folks are organizing and are looking around those areas. I personally would agree with that area.
EDDIE CONWAY: The platform seemed to be anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism. How is this platform resonating among black college students in, say, California?
STAR BACON: Amongst black college students, our students, we focus a lot on leadership development and political education. So, our students are aware, and especially when they become more aware, like going through these processes of development and education…education, they become very, very supportive of the 10-point plan. Many of which were supportive of the Black Panthers’ 10-point plan. It’s something that definitely resonates because at these institutions, these public white institutions in which we have students who are at best 5% of the population out of 30,000 students, isolation is real. Being called out constantly by professors, staff members. It’s real. The institution is not trying to help.
They’re applying a lot of pressure and creating systems that aren’t, it doesn’t allow for students to thrive in the way that they should. Particularly black students a lot of times are coming from areas where we’ve already had the war on drugs in our neighborhood. We’ve already had these systems that have placed us into positions in which education is an opportunity for us to try and break away from some of these things being resources to then try and help our community. And so, to see the 10-point plan, our students were very supportive, because they understand that the United States is not for black people and never has been for black people. The idea of getting the 40 acres that our people are owed, getting the money that our people are owed for unpaid labor, and having our own sovereign nation is very appealing to people because it symbolizes liberation and freedom.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. When you say that your organization represents 16 colleges and universities, how long has this organization been in existence?
STAR BACON: We’re going into our 15th year of existence. Initially, we started off with just members of the UC system. So, we were nine black student unions. We recently, over the last couple years, expanded to the California State University system in which we inducted some additional campuses. We’re growing, expanding. We’re now the largest black student organization in California and we do have intentions on going national.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. Well, I understand recently you also had a conference in which you brought together a number of your members. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
STAR BACON: Absolutely. We had the honor and privilege of having yourself, Eddie Conway, speak to our students. We brought 800 black students from across the state. We really focused on organizing and bringing together people despite geographical barriers, so we had folks even coming from San Diego making that trek up. It’s really important because this year our theme was collective black intersectional action, and just the idea that we need to understand all of our differences, appreciate those things, appreciate that someone is Muslim, or Christian, or a woman, or what have you, where an understanding that with that our blackness is not monolithic.
We all have very different experiences within being black people. Some of us have certain powers and privileges associated with our different identities, and so the fact that we can identify what are our unique needs, like where I do need to fill in for my brother, or my sister, or my people to build and organize, and really just reset because we’re living in a time in which patriarchy is real.
Heteropatriarchy is too real, and those things really do have a very nasty impact on our people. This was a really good time and space for us to get our students educated, learn about your story, learn about, in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, how can we be involved, and just going through those nuances of understanding just how complex what we are up against is, but then also instilling that we have the power amongst us. We have the ability to change and to push against these systems that are trying to hold us down and that have been for hundreds of years.
It was just a really great time. Our students really enjoyed themselves. A lot of them walked away also feeling like they had tangible next steps and tools. We brought together a ton of great speakers, facilitators, a lot of great supporters. Thank you so much for coming. It was really good. I think your story especially really struck our audience. So, I think that that’s motivation for people to continue building.
EDDIE CONWAY: It was my pleasure. Where do you see yourself going in the future as an organization?
STAR BACON: In the near future, as an organization, one of the things that we did at the conference was we hosted a sexual violence teach-in. That will actually serve as the kick-off for our sexual violence tour. So, we’ll be going to each of our campuses and some neighboring campuses to basically just talk about the reality of sexual violence,in our community and just in our society, and then also do some healing.
That’s one of the elements that we’re doing. We’re also working on some additional political campaigns but long-term with our organization, we really seek to, amongst our organization build a group of people. Since we are connected to black students in our institutions, we really want to identify who are the lawyers, who are the accountants, who are the organizers. Having it where every single person that comes through our cohort, there is then a group of people, an alumni base, that can then be reconnected with our local black community organizing efforts to slowly but surely build out a sound structure in which we have resources amongst our institutions. That’s really where we’re trying to go. That’s where we’re trying to work tirelessly to put on these trainings, put on these conferences, organizing sessions, and really try and build up a group of people that can do something for our people, that can really try and bring about some liberation.
EDDIE CONWAY: So, do you have any final words to share with other students across the nation?
STAR BACON: Yeah. My love and my support goes out to all students that are actively working towards the liberation of all African people. The piece of advice that I would give is understand what you love, what you’re passionate about, and then at that point in time, make that the intersection where you give to our people. You give towards the movement of liberation because that’s where you’re going to in the middle of the night wake up, do the work, just because you love it. It’s absolutely necessary that we understand it’s our responsibility to actively do something because we’re at war. A lot of people don’t realize it but it’s important for us, especially folks who have gone through these institutions who have been able to see a little bit more into how the institution operates, to take that knowledge and take those resources that you gain while at the same time fighting the indoctrination of the institution, to then give to our community, because our community needs it
EDDIE CONWAY: Thank you, Star, for joining me.
STAR BACON: Thank you, Eddie, for having me.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. Thank you for joining The Real News.