Speaker at Black Issues Conference highlights role of activism in shaping politics

A picture of activist Rosa Clemente speaking to an audience at a podium at Bowling Green State University.

More than 300 people attended the 17th annual Black Issues Conference keynote luncheon to hear hip-hop activist and 2008 Green Party vice presidential candidate Rosa Clemente speak on Saturday.

Clemente spoke at the University this weekend as part of her “If I Was President” Tour.

Before stepping onstage, student Ashli Ericka Hunter introduced her.

“Rosa has spent her life dedicated to scholarly activism,” Hunter said.

In 2001, she published an article in the Chicago newspaper, Final Call, called “Who is Black?” which sparked discussion about cultural identity, political identity and racial identity.

Both Clemente and Hunter identify as Afro-Latino, a term used to describe people who identify with both African and Latino heritages.

“’I am so tired of having to prove to others that I am black,’” Hunter quoted from Clemente’s article.

Following her introduction, Rosa Clemente took the podium and read the article in its entirety.

“Being Latino is not a cultural identity, but … a political one,” she said to the audience. “Being Puerto Rican is not a racial identity, but … a cultural and national one … Being black is my racial identity.”

Clemente brought up a lot of issues affecting both Latino and black communities, including education.

She discussed how power of protest helped in getting people of color into colleges and universities in order to have the same educational opportunities as their white peers.

“We changed these institutions,” she said. “Why did we get in here? Because of protest. Not because of Civil Rights legislation, because of the Black Power Movement.”

She also called out the public education system for only having students focus on standardized testing and not helping them prepare for college.

“No Child Left Behind Act destroyed public education and critical thinking,” she said.

She connected this with the School-to-Prison Pipeline, which refers to policies that push schoolchildren (often of color) into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

“We have young people graduating with records. Ninety percent are African-American and Latino students,” she said.

Clemente also shared her story of going to college and being open to new information about both her identities.

“When I went through school, I was going through moments of a lot anger,” she said. “Like, wait a minute — why was all this kept from me? Why didn’t my parents tell me this?”

She said it was through her studies that she became an activist.

“It’s usually something that sparks you to become an organizer, an activist. I became an activist and a scholar through my college experience. I became an organizer when I moved back to New York, started teaching, left … and I joined the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.”

Clemente closed her speech by encouraging the audience to be aware of who they’re voting for when they go into the booths.

“Be radical in this movement around black lives,” she said. “We don’t have time anymore for games.”

The article has been updated by the original author.

This article was originally printed on March 1, 2015 in the independent student publication, The BG News, which can be found here.