More than a year into a global pandemic, in which Black and Afrodescendant people across the globe have suffered disproportionately from sickness and death, and the #BlackLivesMatter global uprising against police brutality and criminalization began, Black August is a much needed practice to uplift our collective Black humanity. The global response to the recent Haiti earthquake on August 14 is another testament to this necessity. In the words of one of our partners working on the ground, the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH), the devastation from these disasters is political because state policies do not protect people from them. Rather, frontline movements must do it for themselves through connection, community, and care for each other. This month, Grassroots International has been deepening our understanding of the revolutionary roots of Black August, as they apply to our work and that of our partners and allies across the globe.
Black August’s Origins and Global Reach
Black August is a month of intentional study and political education about Black freedom struggles, particularly Black political prisoners. It is a time of remembrance and reflection on the commitment, vision, and joy required to achieve Black liberation and self-determination. Among the purposes of this time are to build solidarity, deepen revolutionary consciousness, and revive our spirits as organizers and leaders for the ongoing struggles for justice for Black people all over the world. Black August is not a “holiday, brand, or electoral campaign.” Rather, it is about learning from the commitment and dedication to resistance strategies that achieve Black liberation.
Commemorating Black August developed as a community practice among San Quentin prisoners in the 1970’s to mark the assassination of imprisoned Black freedom fighters during a prison rebellion in California. It grew as a time where people come together and learn about the politics of prison, and the injustices and inhumanity of the prison industrial complex as a whole. Early practitioners wore black armbands as a signal of solidarity and of their engagement in the study practice.
Even though the roots of Black August are in U.S. Black-led movements, it is very much about Black international resistance and Black liberation struggles across the diaspora as well. These movement practices and strategies are aligned with GRI’s commitments and values, and reflect the strategies of the Black and Afrodescendant movements we support in the Global South around human rights, sustainable livelihoods, and food sovereignty.
Black-led social movements in the US and in the Global South throughout the regions where our partners work are united in their demands for environmental justice, racial justice, climate justice, and a just transition away from an extractive economy that harms people and the planet. This includes:
- Rejecting false solutions (such as carbon offsets and marketing schemes) to climate change that continue to endanger Black people in disproportionate ways.
- Demanding an end to the pollution and theft of land on which Black communities are rooted, whether as Afro-Indigenous people or through a history of enslavement and forced migration.
- Uplifting, listening to, and supporting the leadership of Black and Afro-Indigenous leaders. This includes protecting Black defenders of water, land, and natural resources across the globe.
- Supporting the creation of a Black feminist economy that centers life and regeneration, not the extraction of resources.
- Organizing to end militaristic control of self-determined frontline communities who challenge and resist violent repression of Black-led movements. This includes defunding the police in the US and ending US support of dictators and corrupt leaders who steal from Black communities.
- Protecting and fighting for the human rights of Black trans and non-binary people who continue to resist at the intersection of heteropatriarchy and white supremacy.
- Demanding more support for mutual aid strategies for Black communities to take care of each other — especially as Black and Afro-Indigenous people across the Global South and in the US are dying of COVID-19 at disproportionate rates due to misinformation, lack of healthcare, and lack of access to vaccines.
- Continuously underscoring that #BlackLivesMatter globally, as extrajudicial killings by the police are not limited to the US, but are part of a global strategy on the criminalization of Black people.
Intersectional Strategies for Liberation and Social Transformation
Black-led social movements across the Global South and the US have adopted intersectional strategies for liberation and social transformation. Our partners are working at the intersection of land and territory rights, food sovereignty, grassroots feminisms, and defense of Mother Earth. This includes the work of our Haitian partners — the Haitan Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA), the Peasant Movement of Papaye, the National Congress of Papaye Peasant Movement (MPNKP), and POHDH mentioned above — to confront multiple crises stemming from colonization and neocolonial trade and development policies that have plagued the world’s first Black republic. Grassroots International especially wants to uplift these courageous movements right now as they tirelessly engage in earthquake relief and recovery while continuing to build toward visions of food sovereignty, climate justice and realization of human rights over the long term.
We also want to spotlight the work of our Afrodescendant and Afro-Indigenous partners and grantees in Latin America, movements such as the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) and the Movimento Quilombola do Maranhão (MOQUIBOM) of Brazil. Members of OFRANEH have organized Afro-Indigenous Garifuna communities to protect their ancestral lands and knowledge in the face of land and resource grabbing for extractive megaprojects that have been rampant since the US-backed coup of 2009. A very similar struggle is waged by the Quilombola communities of MOQIBOM comprised of the ancestors of those who resisted and escaped slavery. Both OFRANEH and MOQUIBOM are not only facing down state-sanctioned violence under authoritarian regimes, but asserting Black joy by celebrating their cultural identities as a form of resistance.
Finally, these struggles are intimately connected to struggles on the African continent, as exemplified through the work of our partners like Kebetkache and Nous Sommes la Solution (We are the Solution (WAS)). For the past 16 years, Kebetkache has mobilized women at the intersection of gender equality and environmental justice in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, including facing down the oil giant Chevron. WAS is a collaboration of women-led peasant organizations in Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, and Senegal. WAS is building a movement to strengthen women’s political learning and development, particularly around agroecology in response to the imposition of corporate-controlled industrial agriculture throughout the West African region.
Resourcing Black Liberation
Black liberation movements must continue, and must be resourced completely. For Grassroots International, our work includes deepening our solidarity with transnational Black movements, ensuring the resourcing of Afrodescendant grassroots movements, and challenging the status quo within philanthropy. To win, we need transnational solidarity between Black liberation movements in the US and the Global South. This is the impetus for the current Black Liberation Donor Engagement Group (DEG) organized by Grassroots International together with our ally Black Organizing for Leadership Dignity (BOLD), where rich exchanges around these very issues are taking place. In addition to partnering with BOLD on the DEG, BOLD representative Jonathan “Jomo” Stith joined us at a recent staff meeting to lead a discussion on the roots of Black August to further our own organizational awareness and practices around Black liberation.
Grassroots International remains intentional in supporting Afrodescendant and Black-led movements as a strategic priority for our solidarity philanthropy grantmaking. We understand that the current struggles Black movements face (e.g, access to land, access to clean water, food sovereignty) need continued support and steadfastness in centering Afrodescendant communities. We will continue to play our role — linking up people in the US seeking to defend justice, liberation and human rights with movements doing the same elsewhere across the globe. With solidarity, another world is possible.
Learn more! Read our other articles this month (and ongoing) on the theme of Black liberation, and check out the following resources for more on Black August and related topics: