Written by Alexandra Williams ‘17
On February 18, 2017 in the Grand Ballroom at the Omni Hotel, community organizer and activist, Opal Tometi, urged the room of seven hundred college students to remember that “We must invest in people of color” and that “we can’t be bystanders. We have to make interventions…both in real life and in online spaces.”
Her statements perfectly capture the mission of the 22nd annual Black Solidarity Conference at Yale (BSC). BSC is one of the largest undergraduate-run conferences in the country, with over seven hundred students from more than forty different colleges and universities joining us for four days of workshops, talks, panels, and social events. This year our theme was entitled, “A New Dawn, A New Day: Promoting and Protecting Blackness in the Digital Age.” The theme was designed to lead participants on a creative exploration of multidimensional Blackness in the digital age. By engaging with the digital platforms we often frequent (such as social media, journalism, apps, and hashtags) and bringing a diverse set of professionals and activists who use these platforms to the forefront, we sparked an analysis and discussion of technology’s role in our lives today and in the future. How does technology transform narratives, raise awareness, and provide new levels of agency and accountability to Black people across the diaspora? How should it? How can we, as students and change makers, leverage the powers of technology to better serve our different communities?
When Opal Tometi urged us to remain accountable to our own communities at our keynote event, I took a moment to look out to the dozens of tables populated with the most charismatic and driven students I have ever met. I took a deep breath and scanned the entire room. In that moment, I saw the manifestation of hundreds of hours of meetings, of mountains of emails, of funding applications, of moving furniture, of booking rooms, of serving on this board for four years. With just one look out onto the sea of beautiful Black and Brown faces upturned towards the stage, gleaming, I was overwhelmingly satisfied. I, along with my twenty BSC board members, were able to create an intervention - to create a space where all of these people of color were celebrated, empowered, and free to be as they are without constant scrutiny.
We created a space where, as one of our conference participants from a visiting school named it, everyone could “learn up and turn up.” We had lecture halls overflowing with eager students on topics ranging from Blackness in Media and Advertising featuring leading marketing executives from Pepsi and HBO to a talk from Feminista Jones on how Black women have harnessed the Internet as a collective community space. We had talks run overtime as students stayed to talk to visiting professors following their presentation on Blackness and Mental Health in the Digital Age in LC, and in WLH students kept their notebooks out to continue brainstorming following a discussion on Student Activism. But we also had students unafraid to laugh as loudly as they pleased as jokes were made on the Black Twitter panel, unbothered to break it down on the Toad’s dance floor, and willing to be themselves fully and unapologetically. This may seem “normal” or underwhelming, but for Black people it is incredibly freeing. It is often difficult to navigate predominantly white spaces when you are constantly judged to be a representative of your entire race – worried that any mistake, underperformance, laugh that is too loud, may undermine how others perceive you and your academic and professional capabilities. BSC serves as a four-day respite from that pressure. As a chance to meet new people, learn up, and turn up, without unwarranted judgment. I’d like to think it also serves as a platform for this feeling to grow, for more students to decide to continue to create interventions and spaces, both in real life and digitally, where we can feel accepted and empowered entirely as we are. I am honored and immensely grateful to have been able to serve on BSC Board for my four years at Yale and remain aware and hopeful of all that is left to be done.
Alexandra Williams is a Senior in Silliman College majoring in Political Science and served as President for Black Solidarity Conference 2017