Thousands of people at the Black Lives Matter Tucson: Celebration of Black Lives event at the University of Arizona Mall were encompassed in heat, music, speeches and occasional sounds from a police helicopter circling overhead.
Unlike many recent events and protests against police brutality towards black people and other people of color, the Celebration of Black Lives was dedicated to the lives of those killed by police through showcasing black owned businesses, speeches, music, dance and art. Among the performers were Cash Lansky, Mattea, Flor De Nopal, Na-il and more.
Owner of AZ Fit Kitchen Robb Walker, one of the businesses featured at the event, said this organization of creativity was necessary.
“By broadening that conversation and not letting it be so narrow, it's not as easy for someone or someones to say 'That’s anti-patriotic, that's against the anthem,' no well, you can't really say that,” Walker said. “This was a peaceful protest and this was educational. This was people getting out and learning more about the community that they may or may not be a direct member of, maybe they are adjacent to the community. This was about education. So, it's harder to shift that message into 'It was just a bunch of angry people breaking and destroying things'."
To Kenna*, a UA student, the use of the word celebration was necessary, too.
“If we don’t celebrate us, who will?" Kenna asked. "You see very well that the police don't respect us and the government doesn’t bring justice to us."
The June 6 event required organizers from Black Lives Matter Tucson aided by the UA Black Student Union to plan a massive event in four days. One that would have normally had a planning period of six weeks. The planning process was not facilitated by UA officials, according to Najima Rainey**, a local musical artist and speaker at the event.
“They wouldn’t give us approval until the very last minute," Rainey said. "They promised us there would be no cops — an hour ago the cops showed up. In full cop regalia, tasers and guns. And they brought their pizza, that’s how we knew they were full of shit when they said they weren’t staying."
Regardless of initial difficulty with police, the event started off without police presence after a negotiation between the UA Police Department and event organizers, according to an Instagram post made by Black Lives Matter Tucson.
Speeches and performances followed as a large crowd stood watching. Karlyn Bradley, a speaker at the event and UA student, spoke of anti-racism as a continuous act.
“I’m not interested in celebrating resilience because to celebrate resilience means that I have to continue to remember all of the things that me and other black folks have to constantly overcome that robs of of our freedom, because some of y'all don't want to do the shit you claim you are about,” Bradley said to the crowd. “So, if you are committed to black people being free, and not us having to continue to be resilient some of the things you have to do are not just show up when it's trendy to show up for black people.”
Other contributors to the event used their creativity to explore their own identities.
Na-il, one of the last performers at the event, choreographed his dance from a soul search when he was contacted one day before the event.
“The process of putting that particular dance piece together was a soul search surrounding which injustices I've experienced living in America as a man of color," Na-il said. "I'm not only African American and a man, I'm also gay, so that's to some people a triple threat. These dances that I employ have roots in Black culture and my process through experiential injustices fuel every dance that I do. I don’t dance from a place of randomness, I dance from a place of pain and reclaiming who I am and who everybody of color is. So many of us are deemed and made invisible by the greater society because of the color of our skin.”
As the event ended, Rainey emphasized that Black Lives Matter Tucson had not planned any marches due to concerns over the safety of protesters of color.
Rainey also urged people to “Be safe. Whatever you choose. And if you really want to help black people tonight, clean up after yourselves!”
Some attendees participated in a non-BLM Tucson organized march afterward, but were stopped at the freeway overpass at St. Mary’s Road by police.
*Editor's note: Last names have been withheld to protect the identity of the individual quoted.
**Editor’s note: name was added later as the Wildcat received more information
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