From 2013 following the Trayvon Martin shooting, to 2020 following the death of George Floyd, to now, there has been an evolution and revolution behind the Black Lives Matter and/or the Black Liberation Movement.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is an organization that has led huge street rallies and high-profile campaigns against racism and police brutality, according to the BBC. The organization was created in 2013 after the not guilty verdict against George Zimmerman, who shot and killed an unarmed Black teenager, Trayvon Martin. This movement has continued since then but has gained traction once again after protests erupted this year after the killing of George Floyd, who died in May after a police officer knelt on his neck during his arrest in Minneapolis.
Following Floyd’s death, Jassma’Ray Johnson, a sophomore in psychology and communications with a minor in African American studies and a Des Moines Black Lives Matter organizer, explained that she had mixed feelings about Floyd’s death in May.
“I didn't really have an exact emotion,” Johnson said. “I was extremely emotional because of the continuous violent acts that happen to my people, but in my head it was like ‘another one?’ It’s not a surprise, yet every one stings despite being desensitized to it. I was proud of my community for coming together to stand in something we believe in though.”
Jo Allen, a senior in journalism and mass communication with a minor in women’s and gender studies and an Ames BLM organizer, explained that she felt the need to be a part of what was going on. She said she participated in the first protest back on May 29 in Des Moines, where she said she was there to document history. However, Allen said she soon became a leader in the crowds at protests and was the person to lead chants, which led to her realizing she had to play a part in advocating for social justice.
Allen wanted to continue her drive for social justice but found it hard to commute from Ames to Des Moines, so she came up with the concept of creating a local Black Lives Matter chapter in Ames.
“I was sick of constantly driving to Des Moines to protest when people in Ames should be just as upset with the treatment Black folx have received from police for years,” Allen said. “I started reaching out to other individuals who I knew either cared or were passionate about this movement.”
Johnson, however, was introduced into organizing in Des Moines when a Black Liberation Movement founder reached out to Johnson to join the team in Des Moines.
“I was not a founder of the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement, but I knew one of the founders from high school,” Johnson said. “She thought my sister and I would be great on the team and called us in. I joined because I care about Black people and want us to be fully liberated at all costs. I will forever stand on the right side of history. I’m not only fighting for me, but for the future, present and the past.”
Following the weeks of nonstop protests in May through summer, there has been a decline in protests in Iowa and across the country. However, the Black Lives Matter and/or the Black Liberation Movement have done more than just nonviolently protest, but have continued to help and uplift their communities both in Des Moines and Ames.
Johnson explained that while the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement does nonviolently protest, there is other and more work that needs to be done. She said Des Moines BLM has had over 15 community service projects and they don’t plan on stopping.
“We have had over 15 community service events not only for Black people, but all BIPOC, people experiencing houselessness, women, etc. Some include Coronavirus Care Kits, which we raised money for and donated to centers like the JOPPA house and the YESS shelter,” Johnson said. "We have partnered with Des Moines Mutual Aid in order to create Des Moines Rent Relief where we have allowed applications to apply in order to pay their rent. We have held vigils for missing Black children in Iowa, we have brought awareness to injustices across the world and in this state, we have gotten felon voter rights lifted this summer and we have promoted Black femme entrepreneurs.
“We have had a winter clothing drive, teach-ins and Teacher Table Talks where we essentially teach teachers how to be better and more adapted to versatility, color and differences of race. We have done countless free interviews, podcasts, talks and more. The emotional and physical labor is extremely hard, but I have never met a more hardworking group of people in my life.”
Allen explained protesting is only a small portion of what the Black Lives Matter and/or Black Liberation Movement encompasses. Specifically in Ames, the Black Lives Matter organization has provided community events that center around entertainment, self-care and education. Some of these events have included drive-in movies, yoga sessions and supply drives for schools and group homes in the area.
She also said that behind the scenes, Ames BLM has been in constant contact with Iowa State’s president, Wendy Wintersteen, as well as members from the Iowa House of Representatives and the Ames City Council in order to push for change, social justice and equity in the Ames community.
As for what Ames BLM wants to accomplish, Allen said the group wants to continue to support Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) folx, as well as continue to fight for change at Iowa State and Ames.
“I think a lot of what we do is to try and help provide spaces for folx to decompress and feel welcomed,” Allen said. “We care a lot about fostering an environment where everyone feels accepted, valued and loved. Through the work we’ve done so far, I think we have accomplished a lot and have brought the community together through art and education.
“As for actual policies, I know we care about changing the name of Catt Hall, cutting ties to the prison industry and reallocating police money to other essential and important services (mental health, group homes, etc).”
Johnson, however, provided a bigger picture by saying Des Moines BLM wants to liberate Black people not only in Iowa, but everywhere. She also explains that Des Moines BLM wants to continue helping, uplifting and liberating all BIPOC folx, lower-income families and all people regardless of gender identity and sexuality. Johnson said Des Moines BLM wants to dismantle the system in the United States and the world.
Over the course of the past few months, the Black Lives Matter and/or the Black Liberation Movement has evolved and changed from where it abruptly picked up in May. Johnson said that from where it started to where the world is now, Des Moines BLM has created events and changes that have impacted the state of Iowa and the world, whereas initially in Iowa, there were mainly just protests.
Allen explained similarly that originally the Black Lives Matter and/or the Black Liberation Movement was about reacting to the injustices in the world, whereas now it has evolved into helping and uplifting the communities, as well as fighting for social, political and economic change.
“I think at the beginning we saw a lot of protests constantly taking place and now we are seeing a move towards finding ways to better help our community directly,” Allen said. “We have focused on finding ways we can help support our community because this year has been unlike any year we have lived through before.
“Money is tight this year because of the pandemic so more and more people are in need of food, help with rent and having proper winter gear. I think there is beauty and power in seeing hundreds of people gathering to protest, but there is also beauty in listening to your community and finding ways that you can help give back. I think over winter we will see a lot of attention being focused on community involvement, supporting local Black businesses and addressing problematic policies in place.”
As this year comes to an end, the world is questioning what the future holds for the BLM movement and how it will continue to evolve. The Black Lives Matter and/or the Black Liberation Movement has long focused largely on police violence, mass incarceration and other criminal justice in the United States and the world, however, there has been a transition into confronting the way Black people live and how they are oppressed, not only their repression and deaths, according to The Economist.
Johnson said the future of the BLM movement consists of the continuation of the work and growth that has already been made.
“I see this movement continuing this work and growing,” Johnson said. “Hopefully over some time, I see us being able to have this movement that does more of celebrating and giving Black people opportunities rather than grieving Black deaths. I also see this movement thriving and having more support, I see us winning.”
Allen, however, explained that the future of the BLM movement is more than just physical protests, but the involvement of protesting in different ways and continuing the mentality of the younger generations.
“I truly believe that this is something that is not going to end anytime soon. Sure, there may not be protests every day physically, but we are able to protest our ideas in different ways as well,” Allen said. “There is true strength behind millennials and Gen Z because they are the generation to say 'stop, this has been enough.' We refuse to let these poorly built systems stay in place. We refuse to watch more and more Black folx die at the hands of police brutality.
“We are fed up and because of that, we will do anything to seek change. It will be these younger generations that enact real change that will hopefully impact all of America.”
According to the Black Lives Matter and/or the Black Liberation Movement organizers, this movement is a concept of culture, growth and the fight to change the world.
Allen explained how she has never felt so seen, heard and accepted, as well as educated and opened her eyes to the Black experience in the United States and the world. She also has learned there are so many perspectives and experiences in the Black community that differ from hers as a biracial individual. Allen also said the BLM movement has provided her Black role models and Black history she and others have been deprived of in their lives.
“This movement has allowed me to see that Black lives can be leaders whether it's through organizing or talking to the community,” Allen said.
Johnson provided a different perspective by explaining how the Black Lives Matter and/or the Black Liberation Movement are a part of her and a part of the Black community as well.
“In Des Moines, we are the Black Liberation Movement,” Johnson said. “The national movement is the Black Lives Matter movement. Both of them are one in the same and they mean everything to me. They ARE everything to me — they exist inside of me — they are me. This is a part of my existence, I cannot run from it.
“I love the bonds I have created with people in my community and my co-workers and love knowing that there are people fighting for the same things as me. It gets extremely difficult but I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Johnson urges those who want to contribute to the Black Lives Matter and/or the Black Liberation Movement to show up. She said by showing up to events, both community events or protests, people can show their support and help uplift Black voices.
Johnson also said people can follow the Des Moines BLM social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and spread the information and resources they post and stay up to date on their events. She encouraged those who can to donate to their GoFundMe, their bail funds, their mutual aid partners and their rent relief fund.
Allen said people can contribute to the BLM movement by educating and informing themselves about different social issues the BLM movement is fighting for.
“In order to help and understand what this movement is really about, I always suggest individuals to first educate themselves over it,” Allen said. “Do not expect Black people to teach you everything either, grab a book or search on Google to learn more instead.
“As I stated before, our history books lack a lot of conversations over Black history. Because of this, we don’t know much about the war on drugs and how it severely impacted the Black population. So if we all just took a little bit of time every week to learn more about BIPOC history, maybe then others could understand why we are still fighting.”
Allen also said people can make small donations to Black organizations, not just Ames BLM, but others too. She said people can also do things in their daily lives like calling out racist microaggressions or remarks, correcting behavior and holding accountability for those around you.
People can follow Ames BLM on their social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and spread the information and resources they post and stay up to date on their events. People can also sign up for their newsletter here and sign their petition to rename Catt Hall at Iowa State here. Direct donations can also go to their Venmo: @amesblm.
Allen also urges people to stay informed about what the BLM movement is and to not let opinions skew the goals and meaning behind the movement.
“I think some people are unfortunately very misinformed about BLM that they make us out to be something we are not,” Allen said. “I partially blame it on the news as I’ve seen them warp the perspective of what really happened. I’ve even been told by a few people that we are a 'domestic terrorist group' and that we 'check most of the boxes.' What kind of a domestic terrorist group holds supply drives and listens to the community's needs?”
Johnson suggested people reflect on how they are contributing to Black Lives Matter and/or the Black Liberation Movement.
“Just remember what side of history you stand on and that this change will not happen overnight,” Johnson said. “Do not be a silent bystander and do not be a 'white savior.' Do not forget about us and the work that we are doing. If you get tired of hearing about it, imagine living it every single day. As Kaepernick said, 'Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.'”