These remarks were made by our CEO, Uzodinma Iweala at Black Lives Matter Tribute Juneteenth Ceremony at The Africa Center at Aliko Dangote Hall on June 19, 2020.
My name is Uzodinma Iweala and I am the CEO of The Africa Center.
Thank you for joining us today, on Juneteenth. If you haven’t already heard, just yesterday, Juneteeth was declared an official state holiday by our governor.
I don’t know how to feel today. Like many of you I am of two minds. It is at once a day of celebration. We celebrate freedom, strength, resilience and the moral power of love. But it is also a day of mourning and anger as we remember those who have been killed by our country’s deeply rooted racism. So we take a moment to say their names: (and I encourage you to clap as I do because we celebrate the ultimate sacrifice they have all made to bring the world to a higher plane of awareness).
Eric Garner. Breonna Taylor. Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Sandra Bland. Amadou Diallo. George Floyd. Layleen Polanco, Adama Traoré. Ahmaud Arbery, Marielle Franco.
These names, and so many others, are in a long line and long history of Black people and people of African descent in America and around the world, who were killed at the hands of those meant to protect them or whose lives weren’t valued enough by their killers, to receive justice. This tribute includes Ahmaud Arbery who was killed by two white men while he was jogging in Georgia and Marielle Franco a feminist and human rights activist who was assassinated just north of Rio De Janeiro. It includes Layleen Polanco, a trans woman who died in custody at Rikers Island and a window for our heroes who are on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic – a virus which disproportionately affects Black people. This tribute displayed on our windows loudly proclaims that their lives mattered, that Black lives have always mattered and will always matter. It makes clear that The Africa Center supports this movement’s fight against all forms of injustice that Black people face – police brutality, transphobia as well as health, income and environmental inequality – the list, unfortunately, goes on. We know some of their names, we’ve heard some of their stories, we’ve seen the videos released publicly, we understand some of the circumstances, and what we demand for is justice.
The Black community in America, and as we have seen, Black communities around the world, including on the continent of Africa, are constantly under threat by white supremacy and the ways it permeates global systems and society.
It doesn’t matter who we are, what country we come from, what we do or how much money we make.
This can be no more. Working together in solidarity, united around an affirmation of life, Black Life, we can make it no more.
I would like to acknowledge our partners Full Point Graphics for their generous support and contribution to this effort. I would also like to thank FRAME Studios for their time in capturing this important moment.
With that, I will introduce our Board Member, Dana Reed.
Black Lives Matter on the streets.
Black Lives Matter in our homes.
Black Lives Matter in our criminal justice system.
Black Lives Matter in our cultural institutions. Black Lives Matter, no matter where we are in the world, and The Africa Center is here to do the work in our local, national and global cultural communities to demand that our voices are heard. We demand that our stories are told, that our creativity is appreciated – and attributed to us – and that our solutions to improve the broken way this society works are amplified and implemented. Black lives have always mattered at The Africa Center. This space, inside and outside is a safe space for Black people to convene, to celebrate, to cry when needed, but most importantly to understand that our histories, our cultures, our present and our futures, are indeed in our hands. This space is also a space of dialogue for all people interested in understanding Africa and its Diaspora. At a moment where some cultural institutions have boarded up their glass facades, we invite New York to spend a moment contemplating ours — and the meaning of connection and community in times of turmoil.
We stand here, at the northernmost end of Museum Mile, connected to a building that proclaims that purpose.
This statement, behind me, standing at more than 45-feet tall, is a daily reminder and a call to action to this city, to this country and to our cultural peers along this very street, to say the work may start with a warmly worded public statement, but it continues through conversations and actions that will never be easy.
The change that we need, and the change that we are demanding, as we have seen repeatedly over the last few years, will never come through comfort.
So I say to everybody here, be uncomfortable. And if this sign and statement behind me that Black Lives Matter makes you uncomfortable, then GOOD. That’s the first step towards what can be real, long lasting and transformative change.
To mark this ceremony and honor the many lives lost and to celebrate the many lives that have been saved by their loss, join me in saying their names. Please repeat after me:
- Eric Garner.
- Breonna Taylor.
- Ahmaud Arbery.
- Aiyana Stanley-Jones.
- Sandra Bland.
- Amadou Diallo.
- Layleen Polanco.
- George Floyd.
- Marielle Franco.
- Adama Traoré.
Black Lives Matter.
I thank you all for joining us here at The Africa Center today on Juneteenth and for your commitment to doing the hard and uncomfortable work that we have to do to make this country a better place.
Thank you and Happy Juneteenth to everyone.