By Aaron Julian
“Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand, True to our God, true to our native land.”
This closing couplet of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often referred to as the Black American National Anthem,” rang out at the Luskin School of Public Affairs on May 16, 2017, marking the start of the 10th annual Sanctuary Event hosted by the Department of Social Welfare’s Black Caucus.
Inspired by the writing of Assata Shakur and themed “Nothing to Lose but Our Chains,” the Sanctuary Event is held each year at the time of Malcolm X’s birthday on May 17. It focuses on issues of importance to people of color, particularly the black community. Topics of discussion this year included the role of intersectional identities and communication among and between different communities, as well as empowering and informing UCLA Luskin students about how to proceed in the current social and political climate.
Larthia Dunham of the social welfare field education faculty described how the event’s inauguration was driven by a need to recognize black culture and its place at UCLA and in the greater Westwood area.
“We have to understand that being black is very important in identifying who we are, why we’re this way, and what our culture is all about,” Dunham said.
A traditional libation was then poured out as a way of honoring and remembering important past and present figures, as well as friends and family. Harambee, meaning, “let’s pull together,” was said in response following each of Dunham’s processions.
Continuing with the themes of traditions and culture, the Black Caucus members provided and served food described as fundamental for classic celebrations.
Dunham then detailed the historic role that food and sharing meals has had going back generations in the black community and in building relationships. “We bring food because food brings peace. If there is someone you don’t like, go have coffee, break bread and enjoy each other because you never really know what you have in common.”
Funmilola Fagbamila, activist-in-residence for the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and the arts and culture director for Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, later joined the conversation as part of a panel to provide insights about her work as an author, activist and intellectual. Fagbamila encouraged a proactive engagement in social movements, but she cautioned that striking a balance between that work and other passions is crucial in maintaining effective long-term activism.
“People think if they engage thoroughly and if they try to become what they perceive as an activist or organizer or protestor that they would have to sacrifice their joy. You don’t need to sacrifice your joy, your wellness and your happiness to be effective,” Fagbamila said.
Fagbamila further explored the topic of identity by imparting her own experiences as a woman of Nigerian descent. “My family life is very much informed by being a Nigerian person, but when I walk around in the world you can’t tell I’m a Nigerian … you can just tell that I’m a black woman.”