BY RODNEY D. GANTT
Since the birth of the Black Lives Matter Movement, the group’s message has spread far and wide with chapters forming all across the country.
Black Lives Matter of Greater New York is one such chapter working for the “validity of black lives” and increasing its influence on all major fronts and proving the movement with more than a simple hashtag.
Established in 2015, Black Lives Matter of Greater New York was officially recognized as a 501 non-profit organization in the summer of 2016. The group, led by President and Founder Hawk Newsome, includes many of his longtime friends and colleagues such as Queens community organizer Kenneth Shelton, and is comprised of borough affiliates in four of the five boroughs, with no affiliate in Staten Island as of yet.
The group also has a political caucus leader and various other members. In its mission, BLM of Greater New York aims to “have a direct impact on policies that govern criminal justice, safety, education, jobs and other issues that are detrimental to the well being of black communities across the New York City region.”
“The goal of the Black Lives Matter Movement is to make change through social, economic and political power,” said Shelton.
On the political front, Shelton said that the BLM group has worked together with other organizations to help put forth legislation and increase support for things like the Right to Know Act and Age Awareness Act. In Queens and other boroughs, the group has organized several voter registration drives that encourage people to vote not just as Democrats or Republicans, but also on the issues impacting the black community.
In the summer of 2016, during the height of the presidential election, BLM of Greater NY partnered with entertainer Nick Cannon and other groups to launch the “I Ain’t Voting” campaign, which helped people understand the power of their vote.
“We were registering people to vote, but we also wanted to put an emphasis on the fact that if politicians [Democrat or Republican] on the national, state or city level didn’t take the issue of black votes and the black community seriously, then we would encourage people not to vote,” said Shelton.
Since President Donald Trump was elected, Shelton said the group has had to reverse course with its strategies and consider how to better protect black communities.
Furthering its political goals, Shelton said the group planned to be active in the upcoming mayoral and City Council elections and is looking to ally with the local grassroots organization Queens Is Not For Sale to “stop the gentrification of our neighborhoods.”
In terms of economics, Shelton said BLM emphasizes reinvesting in the black community and increasing black spending power.
“A lot of the time when economic importance is placed in black communities, black people aren’t involved and when they are, it’s when you have these mass deportations and companies coming in building high rise condos and things of that nature,” said Shelton.
Shelton encouraged supporting black-owned banks and black-owned businesses.
“You will see a turnaround in our communities, especially black people taking pride in our communities and reinvesting,” said Shelton. “We’ve seen it in other communities and we think it’s time we see it where we live.”
Popularized by the hashtag, Shelton said the BLM movement also aims to get young people involved in their communities. In Queens, he planned to visit various high schools and “really bring the message of the Black Lives movement to the forefront.”
“As a young person, I’m only 20, I think it’s important that young people take the next step,” said Shelton.
The group also runs a youth coalition whose members recently organized a march along the streets of Harlem and through Manhattan, showing that young people can and are getting involved.
“They organized it, came up with the chants and the different things they wanted to do,” said Shelton. “As an organizer, people look to me to lead, but I also try and give people the tools, so they can do it themselves.”
In regards to the future of Black Lives Matter, Shelton said, for now, it is about “shifting the reality we live in” and seeing where that change takes the movement in 10 to 20 years. He said that BLM of Greater New York is working toward “planting the seeds that will grow into the trees of tomorrow.”
The group is holding an intake session for new members on March 4, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at 50 Humboldt St. in Brooklyn.