2017 Fall 2150 students taking a picture in front of the colorful Our Lives Matter Index cards they created. The poignant and transformative things they wrote is the inspiration for this movement.
“The freedom and human capacities of individuals must be developed to their maximum but individual powers must be linked to democracy in the sense that social betterment must be the necessary consequence of individual flourishing.” — Henry Giroux
“What I really feel is radical is trying to make coalitions with people who are different from you,” maintains Barbara Smith. “I feel it is radical to be dealing with race and sex and class and sexual identity all at one time. I think that is really radical because it has never been done before.”
OUR LIVES MATTER
The Our Lives Matter movement began as a free writing assignment, in an English 2150 classroom at Baruch College. It embodies what Henry Giroux and Barbara Smith both believe: we achieve liberation, and consequently an improved society, when we develop the individual, as well as when we form a coalition of very different people, with perhaps different agendas, yet the common goal of liberation and social uplift. Our Lives Matter encourages our students to ask themselves a simple, and yet at the same time, very complex question: Why does my life matter? I asked this question of my students after reading “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King believed that his life mattered, and from that existential epiphany, he encouraged others that regardless of the color of their skin, their religious preference, their gender, or their social class, their lives mattered, and were of distinct, and unquantifiable value. This knowledge allowed people to strive to make a positive difference in a fractured society. In the 21st century, understanding why our lives matter is no less essential than it was during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960’s.
We encourage our students to post freely about why their lives matter, in so doing they can affirm their power, as well as resist political, cultural, and social erasure, by expressing in writing that their lives do indeed matter. This is essential as we all seek collaboration, meaning, and identity.
Damele Elliott Collier / Ph.D. Student in Composition and Rhetoric / The Graduate Center, CUNY
Composition Instructor / Medgar Evers college, CUNY / Composition Instructor / Baruch College, CUNY