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'Black Life Matters Conference' attracts large crowds

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Tanner Clinch | The Daily Wildcat

Tanner Clinch / The Daily Wildcat

Imani Perry takes the podium at the Black Life Matters Conference that took place at the UA in Tucson on Thursday. Her keynote speech discussed the systematic oppression of black people in America by police, education and health care systems. The conference took place from Thursday to Saturday and focused on the topics Perry had discussed.

The Black Life Matters Conference was held at the UA last week in hopes of impacting communities locally and nationally.

“I think that the conference itself has been amazing,” said April Petillo, a member of the Black Life Matters Conference planning committee. “The turnout has been amazing. The conversations have been inspiring, uplifting, challenging, loving, hard hitting, everything you expected and nothing you expect all wrapped up into one big ball of good things.”  

The open-forum, interactive discussion addressed disparities, “Global Blackness,” sexuality, criminalizing black lives, violence in black women’s lives and immigration.

“The idea was to talk about the fact that there are these systems out there that contribute to the demise of black people in multiple ways,” Petillo said. “We just needed a space to really talk and keep it real.”

Petillo is an American Indian Studies program graduate student and the community facilitator and graduate assistant for African American Student Affairs.

“To be in a room full of people who are passionately thinking about these issues and thinking about them creatively — like-minded but also with sort of different ways of seeing it, is just incredibly nourishing,” Keynote presenter Imani Perry said.

Perry is a professor at Princeton who teaches students how to investigate African-American experiences and culture using different methodologies.

“It’s important to have those times when you’re in conversation with people who care about the same kind of issues as you,” Perry said. “Who all are trying to think about what the next step is, where do we go from here and how do we imagine differently.”

Will Thornton is originally from Flagstaff but now lives and goes to school in New York. He came down to visit friends and family, learned about the conference and changed his plane ticket so he could stay longer and attend.

“I’ve gone through a lot of emotions,” Thornton said. “Sometimes it was really sad and moving, and other times I got really angry, but for the most part, it’s been really inspiring. I’ve gotten really good ideas that I think will help me be a better organizer when I go back to New York.”

Aisha Sloan is a teacher, writer and artist who spoke at the conference.

“I think the range of approaches to talking about the question of where to go and how to move forward had been really impressive,” Sloan said.

When Sloan spoke, she asked the audience to be silent for more than four minutes as a way of re-envisioning a riot. 

“It’s been a wonderful experience being here,” Perry said. “To be completely honest, Arizona gets a bad rap on a lot of these issues. But my experience being here is that there are so many wonderful people here who are really committed and dedicated.”

Perry said she is excited to be addressing these complex “racial issues through the lens of class, sexuality and gender.”

“I want to see that people are understanding that it’s not about just talking across, but it’s about talking to your own,” Petillo said. “Black people reminding black people we got this, and we got each other.”

The entire conference was streamed live via the conference website. Petillo explained that, Thursday alone, they received 7500 views from 2000 unique visitors.

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