Editor’s note: This article references anti-Black violence and police brutality.
In under a week, a group of students hoping to expand the Black Lives Matter movement in Ithaca organized a coalition that now includes over 175 member organizations.
Cornell Students for Black Lives’ first initiative is a massive campus fundraiser, launching Friday evening. They hope to ultimately “amplify Black voices in the Cornell community and promote education and activism to end explicit and implicit racism,” said Ashley Bishop ’22, one of the group’s leaders.
The proceeds of their fundraiser will be split across five national and local organizations: Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, Communities United for Police Reform, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southside Community Center and Tompkins County Showing Up for Racial Justice.
“Our goal is to raise money for these organizations so we can support efforts to eradicate police brutality and wrongful Black deaths,” said Sherell Farmer ’22, another group organizer. “And in the process, we want to change the culture of the Cornell campus.”
“We believe that if folks are actively engaged in this coalition and learning about the [Black Lives Matter] movement, they’ll be more inclined to self-reflect on the practices of our campus … and be committed to being allies,” Farmer continued.
The coalition members will run individual fundraisers within their communities to contribute to the larger mission. The majority will be social media campaigns on individual student organization accounts, asking for Venmo donations (@cornellstudents4blacklives).
They are also launching a GoFundMe, but hope that the Venmo and social media efforts will encourage students to donate anything they can, including smaller amounts.
The group’s efforts come swiftly after the nation erupted into days of protests, including two in Ithaca. Thousands of Americans have marched in protest of violence against Black Americans after now-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes, killing him.
Before Floyd, other deaths were widely shared, including the March 13 killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and the May 27 killing of Tony McDade in Tallahassee — both at the hands of police officers. All the three incidents came after the Feb. 22 shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, where no arrest was made until May 21.
Individual Cornellians started thinking about what they could tangibly do in the fight for racial justice on campus, as these national issues persist on the university level, too.
A May 29 email from President Martha E. Pollack condemned the recent killings of Black Americans and promised action, followed by a Wednesday statement that outlined a list of initiatives to combat racism on campus.
“Action speaks louder than words,” Farmer said. “Conversation without actionable change that follows is essentially useless.”
To get started immediately with action, the Black-led committee formed to represent the community needs, voice concerns and make decisions. Even working under a quick timeline to capitalize on momentum, the group has prioritized hearing the broader Black community on campus before making any decisions, according to Bishop.
The 26 committee members have coordinated the majority of their efforts in the past week over GroupMe, with just one Zoom call on Thursday evening.
They were inspired by and based their plans on the model of Rice University students that launched Rice for Black Life. Ultimately, the Cornell students hope to harness the power of community networks to have the largest impact, Bishop and Farmer explained.
The first step in this — garnering support — has been successful. After reaching out to just a few groups, each group that joined was asked to invite three other groups. Word snowballed with this request, leading to over 175 student organizations having signed on.
“It points to the interconnectedness of Cornell’s community,” Bishop said of the quick support.
Ultimately, they hope connection continues through the fundraiser and that individuals hearing from their own communities and friends will have a stake in the effort.
But Farmer emphasized that the fundraiser isn’t the end of their work, expressing hope that their committee and activism would extend past “however long the media is focused on this effort, making this a long term-change.”