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Rice for Black Life encourages Rice community to financially support Black activism


Courtesy Rice for Black Life.

By Ella Feldman     5/31/20 12:29pm

Content warning: This article references anti-Black violence and police brutality.

In the 2019 documentary “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” Morrison encouraged those looking to make change to ask themselves, “What can I do where I am?” That sentiment sparked Summar McGee (Hanszen College ’20) to found Rice For Black Life, she said. Rice For Black Life is a Black-led coalition of 45 Rice students, Rice affiliates and community members seeking to “support Black liberation, the affirmation of Black life and the abolition of white power structures,” according to a recent email from the group.

“We are affirming Black people, we are for Black people, and we are led by Black people,” McGee said. “That’s unequivocally what it is.”

McGee founded Rice For Black Life on May 28 in light of the murder of George Floyd and other recent violence against Black Americans. Initially, her goal was to orchestrate a fundraising event that targeted the financially privileged networks Rice students have in order to raise money for organizations that affirm Black life. Ultimately, she decided to form a coalition, in order to “leave the door open for future action.”

“This doesn’t stop here,” McGee said. “And this conversation at Rice should not stop here.”

This afternoon, three days after its founding, Rice For Black Life will host its first event — a “Contact-a-thon for Black Life” where volunteers from the Rice community will be trained over Zoom to contact their personal networks and invite them to donate to a GoFundMe set up by Rice For Black Life. The funds raised will be donated to four Texas-based non profits: Black Lives Matter: Houston, Texas Organizing Project, Indivisible Houston and Pure Justice. Around 236 people have said on Facebook they are going to the event, which will take place today at 2 p.m. Central Standard Time. 

The creation of Rice For Black Life comes in light of recent killings in a long line of violence against Black people in the United States. On May 25, George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis. On March 13, Breonna Taylor was shot to death in her Louisville apartment by police officers. On Feb. 23, Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot near Brunswick, Georgia while on a run by armed White residents of the neighborhood. Floyd, Taylor and Arbery were all unarmed. 

Such anti-Black violence has led Americans to protest in cities across the country, including Houston. However, McGee and many other members of Rice For Black Life do not live in those cities and therefore cannot protest. Rice For Black Life is an avenue for them to support activists on the ground, McGee said. 

“[Activists are] doing the hard work, the heavy lifting. The least we can do from behind the scenes is support them,” McGee said. “And if Rice is about what it says it’s about, the least they can do is open their purse and put their money where their mouth is.”

Proximity to wealthy individuals is a resource Rice students will always have, coalition member Josiah Jones, a Lovett College junior, said. It is a resource Rice For Black Life aims to tap into.

“Utilizing the financial privilege of knowing those that are wealthier at Rice, and being able to move that, I want to keep that going,” Jones said. “So I see a future for this organization.”

Although progressive political organizations exist on campus, McGee said she had no desire to organize through existing groups because she did not want to be slowed down by bureaucratic structures, or have Black voices drowned out.

“The political organizations at Rice sometimes — and this is something they cannot avoid, they just mirror larger political organizations and their relation to Black people — they’re exclusive, implicitly, in the way that they organize… in the issues they focus on,” McGee said.

Kendall Vining, a Martel College junior, and Zubaidat Agboola, a Wiess College senior, are two members of Rice for Black Life who have worked extensively with the Rice Student Association. Vining is the Student Association internal vice president, and Agboola is on the African and African American Studies minor steering committee. Both expressed that igniting change through bureaucratic organizations such as the SA can take a very long time — time they do not currently have.

“We don’t have time for convening and then having a vote,” Agboola said. “Because for Black life, what do you have to vote on? There’s nothing.”

McGee spent her four years at Rice involved in numerous activism groups, and said that working with organizations such as the Black Student Association and Houston-based nonprofits taught her that activism doesn’t need to take long.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned from organizing is that nothing can stop you from using your two hands to do what you want to do. That is power,” McGee said. “You might not have institutional power, you might not have power over bureaucratic structures, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing… The illusion of rules is just that, an illusion.”

McGee and Vining also said that nonhierarchical activism helps avoid performative allyship and activism, which they have both encountered plenty at Rice. Vining said she would like to see more action behind people’s words, such as President David Leebron’s email to the Rice community on Saturday in which he wrote “to convey on behalf of the Rice community, to all of our community, and most especially to the Black members of our community, that we acknowledge the sorrow and the fear and the pain. And that we know as a university and as individuals we must contribute to healing that wound.”

“That email we got from Leebron? I would just be so pleased to see an action behind those words,” Vining said.

McGee said Rice For Black Life will give the Rice community a chance to move beyond empty activism.

“Do something or don’t. Be a part of it or don’t be,” McGee said. “We are not negotiating Black lives. That is nonnegotiable.”

The Rice For Life Black Contact-a-thon will happen today, May 31, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Central Standard Time. Event details are here. Donations can be made here.

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