Panel discusses the future of Black Lives Matter during the Biden Presidency

February 19, 2021

Angela Glover-Blackwell, the 2014 Richman Distinguished Fellowship in Public Life fellow, is optimistic for the future of the Black Lives Matter movement following the Biden administration’s calls for a “true multiracial democracy,” she said during a panel discussing the future of the movement with the Biden presidency. 

Having participated in the Black Power movement during college, Glover-Blackwell explained that the movement back then “demanded economic power and demanded political power,” as well as embracing and loving Black culture. However, “the Biden administration is different because of the way that the movement has changed,” she added. The fact that Biden is the first president to talk about racial equity, which she called “a big concept,” gives her hope for the future.

The Biden administration has not changed the struggle of the Black Lives Matter movement, according to Glover-Blackwell. The movement “by necessity always transcended presidential terms,” citing the founding of the movement during former President Barack Obama’s second term in 2013. 

Associate Professor Carina Ray (AAAS), who moderated the panel, began the discussion by saying that a new presidential administration did not fundamentally change the struggle of Black Lives Matter, which she said has “by necessity always transcended presidential terms,” citing the example of Black Lives Matter (BLM) having been founded in 2013 during President Barack Obama’s second term.

Reverend Jeffrey Brown, another panelist of the event, discussed his anti-violence work in Boston during the “Boston Miracle,” a period of time when gang violence in the Boston Metro Area steeply declined due to police intervention. He talked about working with police, saying that the police officers who were working with him were not representative of the entire Boston Police Department. The Boston Police Department, according to Brown, was torn between new community policing and old traditional forms of policing. Traditional forms of policing were supported by people who largely benefitted from the system and who perpetuated it, according to Brown. Brown said that Obama’s 21st Century Policing Initiative was a step in the right direction, but the last presidential administration enabled, and even encouraged, violent police misconduct. Brown said he sees the potential for more progress in the new administration, but the challenge, according to Brown, for Biden and Harris is not to be tone deaf. As Brown put it, the Biden-Harris administration must not “lend a tin ear” to the efforts of young people and the things they’ve been asking for and pushing for in recent years.

Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, another panelist, reflected on a talk she gave at Brandeis in 2017 in honor of the 20th anniversary of one of her books. She said that she had given thought to what had changed in the United States since she first wrote her book. According to Tatum, the changes she saw were not positive. Since 1997, there has been a rise in mass incarceration and school resegregation, as well as a decline in desegregation efforts, according to Tatum. 

Students of color were stuck in schools that lacked resources; according to Tatum, the status of schools was comparable to segregated schools in the 1950s. This time also saw the end of several affirmative action programs which had been put into effect. And while the election of Obama was good, according to Tatum, the accompanying rise of white nationalism was not. She said that she sees the fundamental struggle of today as one between chaos and community, and urged people to work for community. 

She concluded by saying that every period of progress in American history has been accompanied by a period of pushback. Said Tatum, “We’ve lived through a period of pushback, now there’s an opportunity for more progress.”

During the discussion portion of the panel, Ray said that she “saw the two faces of white America,” one in the Capitol insurrection and the other in white participation in the Black Lives Matter marches. Adding on to that idea, Glover-Blackwell said that “all we need is enough of us,” suggesting that the movement should focus on getting enough people to make a change while ignoring “the haters” that it would never be able to persuade. Brown agreed, saying that “all you need is a critical mass,” and that his work in Boston was successful with the support of only 62 of the 800 churches in the city. He added that it is more important to have everyone on the same general side than make sure everyone on your side is perfect, saying “we’re gonna be in this for a while.”