BLM Leaders Discuss ‘Resurrecting a Spirit So That It Can Work Through Us’

Alexander Watson | September 22, 2020 | 3:46pm EDT
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Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors and performance art. (Getty Images)
Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors and performance art. (Getty Images)

(CNS News) -- In a June 13 conversation between Black Lives Matter (BLM) co-founder Patrisse Cullors and BLM-Los Angeles chapter co-founder Melina Abdullah, Abdullah discusses how the two of them have “become very intimate with the spirits we call on regularly,” and Cullors talks about how using a hashtag for BLM is “almost resurrecting a spirit so that it can work through us.”

“We’re invoking” our ancestors, states Abdullah.

The conversation between the two Black Lives Matter activists took place after a live performance art event by Cullors entitled “A Prayer for the Runner.” The performance was sponsored as part of June Pride Month by the Fowler Museum at UCLA. (Cullors identifies as queer and she is “married” to BLM activist Janaya Kahn, who also identifies as queer.)

In addition to her Black Lives Matter activism, Melina Abdullah is the chairman of the department of Pan-African Studies at Cal State LA. She also is a defender of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Abdullah spoke at the 2015 Million Man March, organized by Farrakhan. 

In the interview, Abdullah states, “maybe I’m sharing too much but we’ve become very intimate with the spirits that we call on regularly.  Right?  Like, each of them seems to have a different presence and personality.  You know, I laugh a lot with Wakiesha [Wilson].  You know?  And I didn’t meet her in her body.”

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Wakiesha Wilson was a black woman who suffered from bi-polar disorder and reportedly hanged herself while in LAPD custody. Her death has become a cause célèbre among BLM activists.

Cullors responds, saying that she was raised a Jehovah’s Witness but, “as I got older, ancestor, ancestral worship became really important.”

Cullors then explains how the hashtags such as #SayHerName and #BLM are a means to honor the dead and invoke them.

Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors. (Getty Images)
Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors. (Getty Images)

“Hashtags for us are way more than a hashtag,” Cullors says.  “It is literally almost resurrecting a spirit so that it can work through us so that we can get the work that we need to get done.”

Later in the conversation, Abdullah says that “even beyond remembering them [ancestors], we’re invoking them.” She further describes “in our tradition, when we call out our ancestors, we call them out for specific purposes,” and “the first thing we do when we hear of one of these murders is we come out, we pray, and we pour libation, we build with the community where the person’s life was stolen.” 

Before these protests, where people have died, we know “we literally are standing on spilled blood,” says Abdullah

Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles Chapter co-founder Melina Abdullah. (Getty Images)
Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles Chapter co-founder Melina Abdullah. (Getty Images)

Patrisse Cullors is one of the three co-founders of BLM, along with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.  Cullors is credited with creating the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Treyvon Martin case.  She cites Weather Underground member Eric Mann as being an inspiration, her “mentor.” 

In a video, Patrisee Cullors describes herself and Garza as “trained Marxists.”  

During the interview with Abdullah, Cullors references two articles written by her “home girl”  Hebah Farrag, about the spirituality of Black Lives Matter. Hebah Farrag is the assistant director of research of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.  On her webpage at USC, one of Farrag’s areas of expertise is listed as “The Spirituality of Black Lives Matter.” 

Hebah Farrag, assistant director of research, USC, Center for Religion and Civic Culture. (Screenshot)
Hebah Farrag, assistant director of research, USC, Center for Religion and Civic Culture. (Screenshot)

In a July 3, 2020 article, “The Fight for Black Lives is a Spiritual Movement,” Farrag says, “Black Lives Matter (BLM) chapters, along with organizations affiliated with the larger movement for Black lives, channel deep grief and trauma caused by racial injustice into political action through a spiritually informed movement.”

Farrag then describes a BLM-Los Angeles protest outside the home of Mayor Eric Garcetti that occurred on June 2, 2020. 

“Melina Abdullah, chair of the Department of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles, and co-founder of BLM-LA, opened the event explaining that while the movement is a social justice movement, it is first and foremost a spiritual movement,” wrote Farrag.

She continued, “[Abdullah] led the group in a ritual: the reciting of names of those taken by state violence before their time—ancestors now being called back to animate their own justice: ‘George Floyd. Asé. Philandro Castille. Asé. Andrew Joseph. Asé. Michael Brown. Asé. Erika Garner. Asé. Harriet Tubman. Asé. Malcom X. Asé. Martin Luther King. Asé.’”

“As each name is recited, Dr. Abdullah poured libations on the ground as the group of over 100 chanted ‘Asé,’ [Amen] a Yoruba term often used by practitioners of Ifa, a faith and divination system that originated in West Africa,” wrote Farrag. “This ritual, Dr. Abdullah explained, is a form of worship.”

She then described Patrisse Cullors during the COVID-19 lockdown as follows: “As a person ordained in Ifa, she also led meditations that allowed participants to better imagine the future while advocating for self-care, mental health awareness, healing justice, and art activism during the pandemic."

“The movement infuses a syncretic blend of African and indigenous cultures’ spiritual practices and beliefs, embracing ancestor worship; Ifa-based ritual such as chanting, dancing, and summoning deities; and healing practices such as acupuncture, reiki, therapeutic massage, and plant medicine in much of its work, including protest,” said Farrag. 

 The Yoruba religion of Ifa is a system of spiritual divination that is practiced in West Africa, the Canary Islands, and in South America. It is also practiced in the United States. Sacrifice is a fundamental part of Ifa and elements of the system are found in Voodoo and Santeria.

Actor/activist Jane Fonda and BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors. (Getty Image)
Actor/activist Jane Fonda and BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors. (Getty Image)

“Victims and materials of sacrifice vary from one circumstance to another and from one divinity to another,” according to J. Omosade Awolalu, with the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, in an article for the Journal of Religion of Africa.

“But, on the whole, things offered are those which are used by the human beings in their day-to-day life, ranging from the smallest living and non-living things to the biggest domestic animals, like the cow; and, in some very special circumstances, human beings are offered,” he states.

However, human sacrifice was abolished by the British in West Africa in the 19th century, according to Awolalu.

In a Sept. 14, 2020 article, Cullors’ “home girl,” Hebah Farrag states, “BLM leaders, such as co-founder Patrisse Cullors, are deeply committed to incorporating spiritual leadership. Cullors grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, and later became ordained in Ifà, a West African Yoruba religion.

“Drawing on Native American, Buddhist and mindfulness traditions, her syncretic spiritual practice is fundamental to her work. As Cullors explained to us, ‘The fight to save your life is a spiritual fight.’” 

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
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