BLM Manchester activists share their thoughts during StayWorkPlay forum

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Ronelle Tshiela on July 28, 2020. Screenshot

MANCHESTER, NH – What is it like to be an activist for Black Lives Matter in a state with a 96 percent white population? Over 150 participants got a chance to listen and learn about that topic on Tuesday.

Moderated by Victoria Adewumi, Board Chair of New Hampshire-based non-profit New African Americans, three young members of Black Live Matter Manchester shared their experiences living in New Hampshire as African Americans and their thoughts on the path to racial justice in the era of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The three participants of the panel came from different backgrouns. Erika Perez is a Manchester native and first-generation American, with parents from Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Mohamed Elhassan was born in Sudan and came to American with his family as a 3-year-old, spending time living in New Jersey as well as New Hampshire. Ronelle Tshiela is a Memorial High School grad and rising senior at the University of New Hampshire and serves on the New Hampshire Police Accountability Commission.

Perez recalled the first Black Lives Matter Manchester event in 2016 and seeing the group bounce back to action after the death of Floyd George earlier this year spearheaded protests across the country.

For Perez and the other panelists, the concept of Black Lives Matter is not connected to any one moment, but a movement for African Americans seeking an outlet to share their frustration and press for change. In New Hampshire, trying to kindle that movement has been simultaneously difficult and enriching.

“It’s overwhelming to organize an event, but people will show up if you have a good cause. People will show up if you care,” said Perez.

The trio also noted that while one of the key roles of Black Lives Matter in New Hampshire is supporting legislation helps African Americans ranging from incarceration reform to banning police chokeholds, they also noted that the movement also seeks to be simultaneously apolitical due to the wide range of political viewpoints among African Americans coinciding with the shared struggles that cut across those differing opinions.

“There are many are many different types of black people, including Republicans,” said Perez. “(But) whenever you walk into a room, people see you as black first.”

The balance between the rigidity of that core belief and the flexibility toward everything else in the movement has led Black Lives Matter Manchester activists to unequivocally support other Black Lives Matter groups elsewhere, even when their tactics may vary from Black Lives Matter Manchester’s actions. Indeed, they see those who support the movement only under certain conditions are no different than those who oppose the movement.

“What we’re doing here in New Hampshire may not be what they’re doing in Minneapolis or in other big cities, but we’re doing what works for us here, and I think that’s important for people to understand,” said Tshiela. “There’s no one-size-fits-all to racial justice. A lot of people think we’re getting commands from a higher-up or just doing what we’re told. That’s just not the case and I think that’s important for people to understand as well.”

Still, the activists said they faced difficulties with people from across the political spectrum who do not understand their movement.

With some of those people, the activists are reflexively seen as Marxists or terrorists while others see the activists as “social justice therapists” or even ignore them while claiming to espouse their principles.

Ultimately, the panelists hope that instead of having to educate others on the plight of African Americans that their efforts can spur others to educate themselves on the African American experience and support African Americans seeking racial equality.

“Progress is yet to come,” said Tshiela. “This isn’t a moment, it’s a movement.”

The talk was the first in Stay, Work, Play NH’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Series. A video of the event can be found on Stay, Work, Play NH’s Youtube channel.

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About this Author

Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and licensed to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.