Melina Abdullah Shares Perspectives on Information, Access, and Activism

UCLA IS Diversity Council presented talk with co-founder of Black Lives Matter to discuss organizing, responsibility to speak against injustice.

Melina Abdullah, professor and chair of Pan-African Studies at CSU Los Angeles and an organizer in the national Black Lives Matter movement, spoke on “Information, Access, Activism” on Feb. 9 at the Charles E. Young Research Library at UCLA. The event, which was presented by the Diversity Council of the UCLA Department of Information Studies, explored the connections between social media, information, and activism. Professor Ramesh Srinivasan, whose research focuses on technology and globalization, and new media and activism, held a conversation with Abdullah on her history as an organizer, the potential of social media in facilitating movements, and the need for all people to take an active stand against racism and injustice.

“When we’re part of these types of universities, it is so important to me on a personal and fundamental level, to be part of the world, to be organizing, to be engaged with the types of movements and publics that we care about,” said Professor Srinivasan. “This to me is the purpose of my research intellectually and of events like this.”

IS Chair Jonathan Furner, welcomed the audience of students, faculty, and community members, and noted that the mission of UCLA’s Department of Information Studies is encompasses “the principles of individual responsibility and social justice; an ethic of caring and commitment to the communities that we serve.

“It means that we’re committed to changing the world in ways that reduce the divide between rich and poor and between powerful and powerless in ways that generate fairer distributions of social and economic and cultural and political opportunities and in ways that build and maintain thriving communities in which basic human rights and freedoms are respected.”

Melina Abdullah, professor and chair of Pan-African Studies at CSU Los Angeles, is a co-founder of the national movement Black Lives Matter.

Professor Safiya U. Noble, whose work is centered on the design and use of internet applications at the intersection of race, gender, culture, and technology, introduced Abdullah, and echoed Furner’s sentiments.

“Our field… is really implicated in engaging in the issues of marginalized communities and the evidence that is used in pursuit of social justice,” said Noble.

Abdullah exhorted her academic colleagues to recognize that, “Our jobs are to contribute to the world, to make a better world, now especially. Whatever it is you have at your disposal for the liberation of our people… you’re not just supposed to be doing work just so you can catapult yourself or enrich yourself as an individual. We can’t be holding on to titles, holding on to spaces like this, or holding on to privilege and thinking that it’s meant for us and our families – it’s meant for everyone.”

Professor Abdullah underscored the impact that grassroots organizing belies, and recounted the establishment of the Black Lives Matter movement, which originated in Los Angeles. She discussed the necessity of raising public consciousness of racial profiling for the survivors and victims of racially motivated police violence and killings. Displaying a button with a photo of Redel Jones – one of many such buttons depicting victims of police brutality and murder that Abdullah carries in a backpack – she said that, “The work that we do is for her and for her children.”

“The notion that when we step up and [protest] – the idea that that is the criminal act and not that the police who killed her are the criminals – that’s a warped… inhumane way of seeing the world. It’s important that we push back against that narrative. Black communities are occupied and terrorized by a policing system [whose] rhetoric is ‘to protect and serve,’ but that’s never what it’s been for Black people.”

Abdullah addressed the tendency for critics of Black Lives Matter to counter with the idea that “all” lives matter. She cited the support of allies like White People for Black Lives and stated the need to “[build] a movement that really gets us to freedom. It means we have to be unapologetic about who we are and what we want.”

“In terms of building inclusive movements… Black Lives Matter takes a different approach than that of Black radical traditions,” she said. “We want a different type of inclusivity. We have to work towards transformation. That kind of movement has to be courageous in its inclusivity – a willingness to transform together. It’s really important that we develop visions of what freedom looks like, in this moment especially.”

Abdullah serves as council for the Affirmative Action Chair for the California Faculty Association and appointed to the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission in 2014. She also serves on boards for the Black Community, Clergy and Labor Alliance, the Los Angeles African American Women’s Public Policy Institute, Los Angeles Community Action Network, the National Association for Ethnic Studies, Reverence-Wellness Salon, and Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education.

Professor Abdullah co-hosts and co-produces “Beautiful Struggle,” which airs weekly on KPFK. She has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, TV One, ABC, PBS, KTLA, KCET, BET, Free Speech TV, and Al-Jazeera, and is featured in the films “13th,” “When Justice Isn’t Just,” and “Justice or Else.”

Professor Abdullah took part in establishing Ethnic Studies a requirement in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She continues to serve as a Los Angeles chapter lead for Black Lives Matter and contributes to the national leadership. Abdullah is the recipient of many awards, most recently the 2016 Racial Justice Award from the YWCA, the 2016 Fannie Lou Hamer Award for Outstanding Community Service from the Coalition of Mental Health Professionals, the 2016 Fannie Lou Hamer Award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists, the 2016 Sacred Sistahs Award, 2016 California Teachers Association Human Rights Award, and the 2016 BCCLA Ella Baker Award. Abdullah earned her doctorate in political science from the University of Southern California and her B.A. in African American studies from Howard University.

To view the UCLA IS conversation with Melina Abdullah, click here.


Above: UCLA IS Professor Ramesh Srinivasan led a discussion with Melina Abdullah, co-founder of the national movement Black Lives Matter, on Feb. 9.