Why We Sat During The National Anthem

Graduation class of 2018

The graduating class of 2018, made up of Master of Arts in Urban Affairs students and Master of Public Affairs students, recently reflected on a decision they made during their graduation ceremony. Four of the students share their experiences here.

Jessica LindquistJessica Lindquist, Master of Public Affairs

A few days before graduation, my friend Amy mentioned to my cohort that last year the Urban Affairs students sat down for the National Anthem during the graduation ceremony to protest the racial injustice and oppression that plagues America. It took only moments for us to collectively decide we, both the Urban Affairs students and the Public Affairs students, would continue the tradition. I sat down to honor American heroes: the courageous nonviolent protesters who have at times risked everything to bring attention to the thousands of people who have lost their lives to police brutality and state violence. I sat down because as a white woman, society has endowed me with a tremendous amount of privilege that I did not earn. Toni Morrison said, “if you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” I sat down to be in solidarity with all those who are fighting for civil rights amid the most blatantly racist administration we have had in modern history. I sat down because through my own research I have seen how the financial services industry has been a major culprit of institutionalized racism in our county. What we did was a small symbolic action but I know it’s just the beginning. I’m eager to see what contributions my cohort makes to advance racial equity in our communities.

Bernice Rosas Belmonte 2

Bernice Rosas Belmonte, Master of Public Affairs

At one point after the National Anthem and midway through the graduation ceremony, a woman behind me leaned forward and asked why we sat down. “As a sign of protest,” I replied. “Yes, but why?” For a quick second, I hesitated not expecting her to ask another question. “Because we are protesting institutionalized racism and police violence. We are sitting because we are acknowledging that.” The woman said nothing and slid back in her seat. Yes, we were graduating today, but our degrees represent much more than a piece of paper. Our degrees represent two years of learning about economic, class, race and power struggles in our society and exploring solutions to these problems. We spent two years highlighting injustices and working towards solutions that can create a real, positive impact in our communities. We sat because we are non-conformist. We sat because each of us has seen society’s problems and have decided to dedicate our lives to work for the common good. We sat because this one action is just one of many actions we are going to take make a positive impact. We sat because we are in this together.

Amy Dundon 2Amy Dundon, Master of Urban Affairs

I sat during the national anthem because I am unwilling to accept or tolerate (let alone celebrate) the distraction of patriotism. I also sat because we, as a group, sat; I sat because my freedom is entirely contingent on the freedom of others (Lorde 1981). I sat to honor the lives risked and lost in crossing to get to this country; I sat out of love for those wrongfully relegated to silence, to detention, to death; I sat because Black lives matter. I sat in reverence for the 2,358 lives lost to police violence since the year I began graduate school (Tate, Jenkins and Rich 2018). I sat because I had to check that number this morning. I sat out of respect of others who have sat, knelt, raised fists before I even thought to remain seated. I sat to honor those that are disciplined, ridiculed, or met with violence for their own acts of protest; I sat in solidarity. I sat because it would have been dishonest to stand.

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Bri Gonzalez, Master of Public Affairs

Our cohort had just spent the past two years learning about the racial, economic, and social injustices that plague people of color in America, so it was only fitting that we would sit during the anthem while we graduated from the institution that opened our eyes to these oppressions. We protested and will continue to protest, a country that marginalizes groups based on the color of their skin and the shallowness of their pockets. We protested because of the never-ending cycle of gun violence that kills hundreds of children and people of color each year, yet is ignored by our leaders so as to not upset the NRA and the Republican base. We protested because the groups who are being gunned down by the police are not even allowed to protest the atrocities they endure without facing repercussions. In Ferguson and Baltimore, they were called rioters and were met with more violence by the same police force that had just murdered members of their community. In the NFL, players will now be fined if they kneel for the anthem, a blatant display of oppressing black and brown men. We protested because the Second Amendment is deemed more valuable than American lives. There are many reasons why we protested, and each of us may have our own versions, but we all agree that our country cannot continue down this path. Our gesture might have been small, but it was done to stand in solidarity with those who are fighting against these injustices and it is when we are all in solidarity that change can reverberate across the nation.

Works Cited

Lorde, Audre. 1981. Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde. Berkeley: Crossing Press.

Tate, Julie, Jennifer Jenkins and Steven Rich. 2018. “2018 police shootings database: Fatal Force.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/national/police-shootings-2018/?utm_term=.41ecdc06633e

Traveling with the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars to NYC

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Janelle Nunez (’19) is a participant of the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars cohort that went to New York this January.  Here she shares her reflections on this transformative trip

 

During the University of San Francisco’s winter intercession, the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars (EMDS) got the incredible opportunity to spend a week in New York. Prior to their travel, this living-learning community spent a semester exploring issues of diversity, inequality, and social justice through the lens of hip-hop. The four elements of hip-hop (MCing, DJing, B-boy/B-girling, and graffiti writing) were examined as well as the fundamental relationship to the network of youth subcultures. From the origins of hip-hop music as it began in the Bronx neighborhoods to the multi-billion dollar business that it is today, the EMDS students analyzed this incredible journey as a means to better understand their conception of “resistance”and “social justice” that has engulfed our nation’s history. Now that you have a better understanding of who EMDS is, let me introduce myself and take you to New York on this recent adventure.

My name is Janelle Nunez and I am currently a sophomore at USF. I am a History major, Chemistry minor, and pre-med. Like many of my fellow cohort members, I have a passion for social change and have a love for hip-hop. What makes the EMDS experience so unique amongst many examples, is that all us of come from various walks of life. Our cohort has members from Southern California, the Bay Area, Chicago, and Latin America, each of us with diverse majors as well. You take all that diversity and put them together and it makes for well rounded perspectives that were applied to our New York excursion. The New York trip was an amazing experience and I know the members from my cohort who were able to take part in this will agree. However, there were three events that my cohort and I were able to participate in that exceeded all of our expectations, and that was the Art as a Weapon conference, the visit to the BOOM!Health center, and the discussion at the Apollo Theater, “Where do we go from here?” Let’s explore these experiences.

Art as a Weapon

On one of of our last days of the trip we attended Art as a Weapon, an all day conference that discussed a variety of topics on the use of art as a form of activism and healing. The conference agenda included a morning keynote address, two workshop sessions and a closing panel. One of the workshops I attended was called “Happened Yesterday, Happening Tomorrow.” This session discussed the Black Lives Matter movement, and looked at the historical context of police brutality, and racial profiling. In this small intimate setting, our groups conversed about how artists have responded to injustice with the use of poetry and performance. We were put into small groups and together made a collaborative art piece of poetry that we later shared with the larger group. What struck me most from this experience, was the realization that historically, police brutality against people of color has been an ongoing battle. From the first graphic images of Emmit Till to the case of Trayvon Martin, history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself but it sure does rhyme.

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(New York City) We are Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars

BOOM Health 

Our visit to BOOM!Health in the south side of the Bronx, introduced us to a full range of prevention. This one stop shop, provides syringe access, health coordination, housing, behavioral health, legal and advocacy services to over 8,000 communities in New York. After having one-on-one conversations with their employees, it was inspiring to see their hard work and dedication even when they left the building. The center actively works to fight the viral HIV and hepatitis illnesses that can severely harm those who are active drug users or at risk for HIV/AIDS. While we were there, my cohort and I were also trained in opioid overdose prevention. It was beautiful to see how the organization prioritized the dignity of its everyday members who receive services and made their facility a comfortable place to call home. BOOM!Health is a family that works for its communities’ unique needs.

Apollo Theater: Where do We go from Here?

Lastly, our time spent at the Apollo Theater during M.L.K. weekend discussing “Where do we go from here?” celebrated the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King. Here EMDS students were able to engage in dialogue about inclusion and what that means for our future. The Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi and Shaun King, a social justice journalist, were a part of a panel that we got to hear from. It was an empowering afternoon with poetry renditions with a theme was about igniting hope. The speakers reminded me that this country is more than our president. It is about us—the people that create power and movement for change.

Thank you for joining me in this experience of social change.

Interested in becoming an Esther Madriz Diversity Scholar? Applications for next year’s 2017-18 EMDS cohort are due on February 28, 2017. Apply here

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Resiliency – as an Act of Political Welfare

Staff Headshot (11 of 23)

 Nolizwe Nondabula, Youth Health Alliance Program Coordinator

   Engage San Francisco, USF Campus-Community Partnership

 

Reflecting back on my journey with USF’s Master of Arts in Urban Affairs program, I definitely did not see myself continuing a relationship with the Leo T. McCarthy Center after graduation in Spring of this year. My first year in the program was a critical time as the Movement for Black Lives gained momentum and the conversation between police and state violence on Black people made national headlines. My focus as a graduate student was on racial justice, which meant taking classes with an emphasis on racial policies, interning at Race Forward, and working with the Brown Boi Project and PolicyLink.

When I wasn’t in the classroom or in the office, I was on the bus to Ferguson, waking up Oakland’s Mayor Libby Schaaf, and shutting down the Bay Bridge. I was angry and determined to interrupt business as usual until folks knew that all Black Lives Matter.
And while my body told me to slow down, I refused to listen. The urgency I felt from the movement told me to find a way to balance my activism life with my academic life. And though I carried the magic of my ancestors, I soon realized that I also carried the weight of those that came before me.

As I began my last year of grad school, I burned out…hard. My anxiety was at an all-time high, I was tired of being tired, and the desensitization of Black death made it harder for me to attend class, go to work, or get out of bed.

Through the guidance and support of my tribe, I made appointments to see my therapist (and stuck with it) and I thus began to unpack my personal journey around mental health and trauma. This journey is not easy but as a Black Queer Woman living in the United States, it’s necessary. Said best by Audre Lorde, womanist, writer and civil activist,  “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political welfare.”

I believe that we will win this fight for equality, but we need the presence of everyone in the movement to do so. So what happens if, as another tactic, we focus on the resiliency of our communities? Both individually and collectively? In pursuit of my own healing, I’ve recognized my need to lean into the discomfort and stigmatization around trauma so that I can plant my seeds of affirmations and self-love.

So when I was told about the position of the Youth Health Alliance Program Coordinator as part of USF’s Engage San Francisco Campus-Community Partnership, I felt like I was planting another seed towards this continuous journey. Engage San Francisco is very hyper-local in its focus and is asset-based in its philosophy so I have had the privilege of witnessing community magic bask from within, while building relationships with different stakeholders. I’m honored to be a part of spaces where the collective passion and eagerness serves as the foundation to produce community-identified goals in the Western Addition.Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 11.23.12 AM.png

Within my position, my focus is on the emotional well-being of Western Addition youth. I work closely with Western Addition service providers, community members, city agencies and USF staff and faculty in crafting a shared vision of behavioral health. Last week, Engage San Francisco, in partnership with Rhonda Magee, USF Professor of Law with a Social Justice focus, started a 7-week course on Mindfulness and Compassion Based Skills for Stress Management. Classes are free and open to Western Service Providers and community members. And if the amount of vulnerability I’ve already seen is any indication of what’s to come, then I can only imagine how transformative this course will be for those enrolled.

I’m grateful to be a part of the conversation on youth wellness in the Western Addition. I look forward to learning from existing community partnerships while holding on to the fact that we are our ancestor’s wildest dreams. Because, in the end, we are the ones that we’ve been waiting for.

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