The future of the Black Lives Matter movement

Past winners of the Gittler Prize and Richman Fellowship look ahead

A spray painted raised fist with BLM underneath on concretePhoto/Getty Images

Past winners of the Gittler Prize and Richman Fellowship came together to consider the future of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Brandeis hosted the virtual panel, "Black Lives Matter under a New Presidency – What Lies Ahead?" with Angela Glover Blackwell, Jeffrey Brown and Beverly Daniel Tatum on Feb. 17.

"Over the past year, our country has reckoned with two scourges, one new, and the other older than our country itself," Brandeis president Ron Liebowitz said in his opening remarks. "...Anti-Black racism has plagued our country for four centuries and requires systemic, long lasting solutions. As we all know, The killing of George Floyd last May brought renewed focus to this enduring injustice, and pushed Americans to ask what they can do to address it. In this important moment in our nation's history, and as we transition from a Trump to a Biden administration, we have the opportunity to take a step back and consider what's next in the ongoing fight against anti-Black racism and inequity in the United States."

Screenshot from the event

From top left, clockwise: Angela Glover Blackwell, Jeffrey Brown, Beverly Daniel Tatum and Carina Ray

The conversation was facilitated by Carina Ray, associate professor of African and African American studies and Harry Coplan Chair of Social Sciences, who said that work toward Black freedom has always transcended presidential terms and doesn't lighten when a Democrat sits in the Oval Office.

"The occasion of Biden's presidency does afford us, however, an opportunity to regroup and reassess both the promise and peril of this particular juncture in American history, so that the ways forward
 towards liberation, rather than towards tyranny, become clearer," Ray said.

The Richman Fellowship and the Gittler Prize, both hosted by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life on behalf of the Office of the President of Brandeis University, honor distinguished individuals whose life work, broadly speaking, reflects the university’s deepest values.

The Richman Fellowship recognizes individuals in public life whose contributions have had a significant impact on improving American society, strengthening democratic institutions, advancing social justice or increasing opportunities for all citizens. The Gittler Prize is presented annually to a person whose body of published work reflects scholarly excellence and makes a lasting contribution to racial, ethnic or religious relations. 

Blackwell, the inaugural Richman Fellow in 2014 and founder and CEO of PolicyLink research institute, reflected on her experience growing up during the civil rights movement, and becoming involved in the Black Power movement as a college student. She said she saw the Black Lives Matter movement as a continuation of the Black Power movement, but with greater backing, thanks to Black people in positions of power in government, business and academia. 

As the focus moves toward multi-racialism and becoming an anti-racist nation, advocates should focus on the "curb cut effect" — the idea that new laws and policies intended to help a specific group can greatly benefit society as a whole.

"We need to advance the narrative that what we are fighting for will certainly help the people who have been most marginalized, but will also help everybody," Blackwell said.

2017 Richman Fellow Jeffrey Brown, a Boston clergyman who has been committed to reducing gang, youth and urban violence and coalition building since the early 1990s, said the new presidential administration needs to make meaningful connections with communities affected by urban violence to address the underlying systemic issues.

"The challenge for the Biden-Harris administration is to not be tone deaf ... to the efforts by our younger people and the efforts of people like ourselves have been pushing for all these years," Brown said.

Beverly Daniel Tatum, renowned authority on racial identity and resegregation in America and past president of Spelman College, harkened back to her Gittler Prize speech in 2018, which paid homage to Martin Luther King's final book, “Where do we go from here?"

"We are standing on the precipice of chaos,
 or community," Tatum said. "I'm voting for community, but I think that we have to really lean in to make sure that it's not just a flash in the pan, and a retrenchment a few years from now.

The event was sponsored by the Office of the President; Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; and International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life. Watch the full event on the International Center for Ethics' website.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, Research

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage