LaVerne Gyant shared her view on Black Lives Matter with an international audience.
A professor in the Department of Counseling and Higher Education and former director of the NIU Center for Black Studies, she was invited to serve as the keynote speaker for an Indonesian webinar titled, “Komodifikasi Sejarah, Politik Identitas, Dan Rasialisme Kontemporer.” Held July 1, the webinar also featured other speakers from Indonesia.
Gyant gave the audience a U.S. perspective for what has become a worldwide discussion and offered clarity for participants trying to sort through conflicting reports on the Black Lives Matter movement and racism.
“Everything that’s been going on has been global,” Gyant says. “For international students, having some understanding of the culture and history of people of color here in the United States is very important and gives them a clear idea of what’s going on.”
While many who joined online had limited knowledge of African history, and were on the outside looking in, that was not the case for Gyant or the Black voices she represented.
“It’s me. It’s my history, and I want people to know the truth,” says Gyant, who briskly covered 500 years of African-American history during her 45-minute presentation. “This was not a one-day incident. George Floyd’s murder was the icing on the cake for so many people of African descent living here in the United States.”
Gyant headlined the webinar at the invitation of Irma Febrlyanli and Rasiah Sitti, both of whom she mentored during their respective semesters as visiting scholars in NIU’s Indonesian Peningkatan Kualitas Publikasi Internasional (PKPI) Program.
PKPI invites doctoral students at Indonesian universities the opportunity to come to DeKalb. Those chosen develop and advance their current research projects or articles for publication under the direct guidance and supervision of NIU professors who share their interests.
Sitti, Gyant’s 2017 scholar from Halu Oleo University, worked on a research project titled, “White Depiction of Blacks in Early 21st Century Slave Narratives: A Reflection of American White Supremacy.” Her project subsequently was published as a book.
Febrlyanli, who came to NIU last fall from Universitas Gadjah Mada, developed a case study titled, “The Presence of Structural Violence and Racial Battle Fatigue in American Structured Institutions: Newark and Chicago Public Schools.”
“In their respective universities, they’ve been having these conversations about Black Lives Matter – and they wanted to know, ‘Why don’t all lives matter?’ ” Gyant says.
“I was glad to be able to help shed some light and share some information with their communities about the topic and the historical context of how Black Lives Matter came to be,” she adds. “This really helped them understand that we’re not saying that all lives don’t matter, but at this point, we’ve got to be concerned when you’re seeing that, since 2000, over 100 African American men and women have died at the hands of police.”
Her PKPI graduates also served as speakers on the webinar, providing data on academic equity gaps as well as valuable books and videos that teachers can use in their classrooms.
Gyant found the online session worthwhile.
“They had some very good questions. ‘What’s my perspective on how long this will last?’ ‘Did I believe that racism will cease and desist soon?’ ‘Will Blacks and other people of color ever have the same privileges as whites?’ ” she says. “This was a welcoming invitation and a great opportunity to share why Black Lives Matter and the history of people of African people who have been here 500 years or more.”
Yet here at home, Gyant chooses to remain pessimistic even while “seeing young people take this major step.”
She thinks about the initial response to the noose found in NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s garage and the political, two-sided evolution of the story since it made the news.
She thinks about her 45-year-old son, David Howell, who told his mother that he worries that everything will just “go back to normal” once the protests subside and without people “really sitting down to have a really honest conversation.”
“That’s what I’m afraid is going to happen. I believe young people really want to see a change, and I believe that the young people are very much committed to change,” Gyant says.
“But I’m more concerned about those of us who are over 30. How are we setting an example for those young people? Because they’re setting a great example for me right now,” she adds.
“I’m not a protester. I will tell anybody: I’m not a protester. I’ll help you raise money. I’ll bring you fried chicken. I am not a protester, but I’m going to stand up for what I believe. We who are over 25, over 30, need to find ways of being there to support them, to help our children understand why they’re knocking down Christopher Columbus’ statue and Thomas Jefferson’s statue.”