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Community conversation tackles artistry of BLM movement

In the midst of the growing Black Lives Matter movement, an event meant to spark discussion about the intersections of art and community building was organized by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) in collaboration with The Oakland Impact Hub, Monday, Feb. 17.

With national attention mounting on the Oakland based organizing project, everything from t-shirts on SNL performers to protests donning the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter” have kept Oakland leadership busy. Not too busy to interact with the community as was demonstrated by the event, entitled “The Movement of Movement: Kyle Abraham in conversation with Alicia Garza.”

Abraham’s upcoming Bay Area premiere of “Pavement,” a theatric dance performance being featured at YBCA, framed the night around the importance of art forms as a means of expressing identity and how Garza was using organizing as an art form of resistance. Abraham, a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, award winner and nationally acclaimed performer/choreographer, was invited to be Alicia Garza’s fellow keynote conversationalist.

“Kyle is really oriented toward community conversations outside of the performance space,” Raquel Gutiérrez, a main organizer, said, “and this space is a good friend to the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Garza, co-founder of “#BlackLivesMatter,” current Special Project Director of the Domestic Workers Alliance, and excellent voice for the movement’s goals and pedagogy, expanded on the social media trend turned full fledged organizing project, and how she was going about complicating the narrative of Blackness as a political identity, being a Queer Black woman. 

Abraham, however, was the first welcomed to the mic, introducing his work through two quick performances. The first involved a single dancer from Abraham’s “Abraham.In.Motion (A/I/M)” troupe, Jeremy “Jae” Neal, who did a short piece to “I Told Jesus” by Roberta Flack.

The second involved Abraham re-emerging without his previous turtleneck and blazer, soon to be joined by the rest of his Abraham.In.Motion dance troupe. They opened with some laid back exchanges that could have been mistaken for idle chatter if not for the projection of their voices and the rising escalation of their back and forth interrupted by dance.

The mix of theatrics and carefully rehearsed steps soon came to an end, and Abraham slipped away to re-dress, joining Garza on stage, where smiles and formal introductions were given and exchanged. Then, the questions were rolling.

Garza presented the first query; each successive question begging an expansion on the intentions behind the phrase “BlackLivesMatter.”

“Yes, all lives matter. You heard it here first,” she said, joining the audience in soft laughter, “But there’s a way society has segmented us, and we can’t jump to ‘all lives matter’ yet, because it simply isn’t true.”

Highlighting the evolution and success of the Black Lives Matter movement, Garza raised the point that violence against Black people in America had become a kitchen table conversation in a way it wasn’t before.

“I’ve gotten letters from our incarcerated family thanking us,” Garza said. “People are saying it feels like home.”

This is the level of comfort Garza and her fellow Queer co-creators, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, have stressed since the inception of #BlackLivesMatter.

Abraham elaborated on ways to re-frame the notion of identities by telling stories honoring people’s own truths however graphic they may be. He made somewhat of an example of himself in clarifying that he identified as “Black man-gay” rather than a “Black gay man.” 

These distinctions matter, Garza drove home, like having Queer and Transgender leaders expanding the narrative around Black life. By centering complex Black identities, as opposed to limiting these dialogues to the periphery of central conversations, this movement is different.

Then, practically in response to a question met by Garza with how spaces could be created to embrace differences without trying to integrate them, Abraham expressed that he attempted to attract a diverse audience with the visual and musical make-up of his performance.

“Ideally, we have people reacting through lived experiences,” he said.

Nearly two hours of questions from the audience, and each other, brought the event to a close. Garza and Abraham both expressed various reasons for exhaustion but had enjoyed chatting with the community and each other.

“The audience had amazing questions!” Abraham said,.”I’m used to just getting ‘Can you do the splits?'”

While Garza agreed, a different role in the event had interested her more.

“Honestly, I just wanted to be in the audience, watching,” Garza said.

Audience member, community organizer and performer Jay-Marie Hill enjoyed being in that audience. 

“It was about telling stories that make our voices heard,” Hill said, “and they’re both great story tellers, making space and leaving room for people to tell their stories.”