December 16, 2011

A New Day in Alabama

Post by Opal Tometi, BAJI National Organizer

Last month I went to Alabama twice. As an organizer born and raised in Arizona – watching hateful SB 1070 copycat legislation spread throughout the US has been painful. Myself and many other community members and allies throughout the nation organized tirelessly to repeal SB 1070. And our work is still far from over. Now with copycat legislation such as Alabama’s HB 56 and Georgia’s HB 87 I know that we must be more vigilant than ever. And that’s why when NDLON invited me to join them and 50 other organizers for a grassroots movement building training – the folks of BAJI said, “YES!” – because we’ve always known that when the fight for immigrant rights came to the south – African Americans would not only be strategic allies for immigrants, but it also means that we too would be facing a nuanced threat to civil rights gains (such as voter suppression) – and would need allies to fight with us as well.

This was my first time visiting Alabama and so I packed my scheduled tight not knowing that I'd be invited to return 10 days later.  My week and was filled with lots of activities including meeting with community groups, activists, leaders, and giving a presentation to Greater Birmingham Ministries and facilitating a workshop on Cross-Racial alliance building with new and seasoned community organizers, from Alabama, Tennessee, New Orleans, Florida and Georgia. This convening which  the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) hosted was incredible and I’m certain those who were there are those will change the course of history. The courage I witnessed, especially by those who don't have "documents" and have decided to fight for their right to remain in Alabama, and fight for their children’s future and their own dignity – left me forever humbled.

As a child of immigrants from Nigeria I know the kind of uncertainty and questions that parents must grapple with when making life changing decisions that may impact one’s family. However, I also know that there is a lot of joy and laughter that still can be found in these moments. And this was the case at the NDLON convening.
BAJI training with NAACP in Athens, Alabama
As a student of civil rights history I  knew going to Alabama would have a profound impact on me. A place with rich history and a legacy of resisting injustice – I just knew that there was much that African American community members would have to say about the kind of repression we are seeing at the hands of laws like HB 56. And they did. Many of the African Americans I met shared their personal accounts of civil rights struggle as well as family members migration to the North. This story of African migration (i.e. the Great Migration) resonated with so many I spoke with that I shared a film at the NDLON convening called Up South African-American Migration in the Era of the Great War so that Spanish speaking migrants could have a better idea of the themes of history that they may find themselves in. As well as find a new sense of empathy and connection with African Americans.

My second trip about a week later was focused around trainings for African American communities. I participated in a Leadership Summit as a session facilitator at convened by Alabama New South Coalition, Greater Birmingham Ministries, Alabama Arise, Alabama AFL-CIO, Alabama NAACP, and many others. The following day at the invitation of the NAACP I facilitated a 3-hour workshop about race, immigration ad globalization with over 20  NAACP branch leaders. It was phenomenal. Everyone truly understood the urgency of the time and current crisis and were certain that ‘the did not want history to repeat itself’. Many of the participants were at the launch of Repeal HB 56 campaign – the following day. The launch of Repeal HB 56 campaign – which was held at the Historic 16th Baptist Church, but preceded by congressional testimonies and smaller gatherings.
Launch of Repeal HB 56 Campaign - 16th Street Baptist Church

Black communities throughout the U.S. are taking note and joining the fight against anti-immigrant laws that legitimize hate and promote racial profiling. The AFL-CIO even sent a black labor delegation to hear testimonies in Alabama. And even while I was there I met many emerging student leaders and institutional advocates such as NAACP who’re committed to fighting for justice and repealing HB 56.

We at BAJI plan to return with more of our members in February. We’ll help with the legislative push as well as with trainings to continue building a movement.  

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. Proud that Phoenix is represented and getting prepared for a historic challenge. I don't know much, yet, about the immigration rights movement though I am supportive of my latino friends in spreading the messages they post to FB. I'm asking what I want to do to make a difference after reading your page. Want to know more to make an informed decision. Great page, great work!