LOS ANGELES — It was a stirring evening filled with speeches, testimonies and memories culled from the lives of historical figures on Oct. 14 when the grassroots organization White People 4 Black Lives held a fundraiser for the local chapter of Black Lives Matter at Los Angeles’ historic McCarty Memorial Church.
Entitled “Courage Against Racism,” the event featured a number of activists and television celebrities reading dramatic passages from historical icons who had vigorously raised their voices against slavery, racism, war and oppression, including John Brown, Sojourner Truth, Chief Joseph, Malcolm X and Frederick Douglass.
Black Lives Matter Los Angeles co-founder Melina Abdullah, who dramatically read Sojourner Truth’s immortal human rights speech “Ain’t I a Woman” to thunderous applause, said, “We need support for materials and supplies, travel and facilities, costs related to actions, meetings, and our ongoing work.”
Black Lives Matter organizers have been disrupting systems of oppression since 2013 in an effort to end police profiling, brutality and murder.
The event brought out scores of activists, celebrities and supporters who contributed funds to Black Lives Matter, which is seeking to raise $30,000 to continue its grassroots work.
Actor and activist Matt McGorry, a member of White People 4 Back Lives who helped organize the event and donated $5,000, said he has personally made it his mission to help white people challenge institutional and cultural racism.
“There is a long path of white anti-racism that needs to be uplifted so that white folks know that there are other options than being directly oppressive or silently complicit,” said McGorry, who read abolitionist John Brown’s testimony after he led a slave resurrection on Harper’s Ferry and was executed for treason by the U.S. government.
“We can be in solidarity and I think our humanity depends on it. Individual people taking a stand adds up to collective action,” said the activist, who has appeared in the television shows “Orange Is the New Black” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”
Bellamy Young, an actress on ABC’s “Scandal,” who read a stirring speech from Susan B. Anthony, said she felt compelled to participate in the fundraiser.
“Racial injustice is an ongoing issue in this country and it is incumbent on us to use our voices to make change,” she said.
D. Mass, a member of White People 4 Black Lives who stood at the door passing out survey cards, recalls growing up in St. Louis where he said most of his friends were black. He said he saw firsthand the sting of racism that his friends experienced.
“When I was with my friends, I saw them experience racism from the police, the educational system and the financial system,” he recalls.
Mass said he never forgot the unfair treatment his friends experienced. As an adult, he decided it was his duty to help fight racism.
“I heard about White People 4 Black Lives while I was listening to KPFK radio and decided to join,” he said.
According to organizers, a disproportionate number of black men and women have been killed by law enforcement officers and no officers have been prosecuted for any of the shootings.
Locally, Black Lives Matter members have been urging Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to fire Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.
Organizers say there have been 265 officer-involved shootings of civilians, many suffering from mental illness. Of those, 180 black men have been slain by police and none of the officers involved have been prosecuted since Beck took office.
A highlight of the evening was when audience members, holding up white envelopes, stood and unveiled the names of dozens of black and brown people that had been slain by police.
“Say the name of the person on your card. Hold the card to your heart,” said Sahar Pizada, a co-narrator for the event. “Take a moment to recognize these victims lost to systemic violence, poverty and mental illness. Take this information back to your community and continue this form of resistance.”
Surveying the evening’s capacity crowd of nearly 800, Mass reflected, “I hope this event helps [white] people understand the intentions and psychology of racism.”
The evening ended with actor Robert Wisdom leading the audience in a stirring song and a chant.
“When black lives are under attack, what do we do?”
“Stand up and fight back!” the audience chanted.
Grassroots organizer Vitaly, who proudly wore a bright yellow White People 4 Black Lives T-shirt, said he was invigorated by the evening. “I felt unity, solidarity and connection tonight,” he said. “Historically, all that has been required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing, so we have to stand up, make our voices heard and support each other.”