A Kind of Radical Leaning

A few excerpts from Angela Flournoy’s interview with community organizer, scholar and mother-of-three Melina Abdullah in last weekend’s LA Times. The entire interview is well worth the read!

When we think about the Black Radical Tradition, we traditionally go back to the ’60s. But I think that we actually want to go back further — we want to go back to the moment that we were stolen from Africa. If we think about the freedom struggle from chattel slavery, Mama Harriet [Tubman] wasn’t saying, “Just end slavery,” she was saying, “Let’s get to freedom.” That’s the Black Radical Tradition, not just freeing ourselves from conditions but freeing ourselves from an entire system that’s built on our exploitation and our un-freedom. When you talk about the anti-lynching movement, Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell, they were intent not just on ending lynching but also building a world where Black people could grow and prosper. The Black Radical Tradition is abolitionist. It’s about upending unjust systems. But also, there’s another side. Angela Davis reminds us you have to upend unjust systems and you have to envision and build towards new ones. You have to have the vision to build towards a new world.


I’ve always had a kind of radical leaning — that’s core to who I am. When I moved here for my PhD, I was also being groomed by the Black political establishment. I think stepping fully into who I am as a radical organizer made me realize I can’t have both. I don’t really want both. I think that question is being posed to a lot of Angelenos now. Like, what side are you on? I want to make sure we don’t lose the moment. Because it seems as if people are being lured back into finding a comfortable place in oppression. It’s important that we realize that. We always say, “When we fight, we win.” We need everybody in the fight.

There was a moment in 2015. We were protesting outside of Garcetti’s house for Ezell Ford. And I remember thinking to myself, “Well, I guess you’ll never run for office now!” I remember feeling like, that’s OK. Because this is my calling. I thought about how I’m a completely single mom. I have three kids who are only dependent on my salary. I do have tenure but I also know that it’s not foolproof. So I said, “Well, what if you get fired from your job?” That came up. And as quickly as I had that anxiety, God said: “So what. Your mama has a couch.” We need people to recognize that your mama has a couch. There are some sacrifices that are worth it.

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