Interview with Dr. Melina Abdullah

August 19, 2020


While much of recent American history has been shaped by incremental change, the ongoing protests that have gripped the hearts and minds of a nation demonstrate that the time for deliberation has passed. Dr. Melina Abdullah, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter LA Chapter, has worked tirelessly to catalyze change both for those that rely on her most and in society at large, and expands on her perspective in this engaging conversation.

3:34 Women of the Future
As chair of the Cal State LA Pan-African Studies department, Dr. Abdullah has persisted as an agent of change for her entire adult life. She reflects on how her motherhood and advocacy have shaped one another, particularly as it relates to raising her two teenage daughters as a single mother. Her passion for a better world is fueled by a desire to enhance their inheritance, and create a society more geared toward their complete humanity.

4:52 Service through Self-Actualization 
Raising three children alone is a daunting proposition under any circumstances, and the demands of serving as a high-ranking educator as well as a social activist make her a truly indispensable element of her community. Dr. Abdullah credits her work with Black Lives Matter with energizing her to express the fullest version of herself. She also takes pride in incorporating her various worlds, with her children frequently accompanying her to demonstrations and her oldest daughter ever taking an interest in community organization.

5:13 The Nuclear Family as a Limiting Construct
For its traditional centering of white men and erasure of female voices and same-sex partnerships, Dr. Abdullah regards the nuclear family as a construct of white supremacy. As the ancient wisdom informs, ¨it takes a village to raise a child,¨ and Dr. Abdullah takes time to acknowledge the many members of the BLM movement who have taken an active interest in the development of her children. By drawing on the specialized skills and inclinations of each community member, the collective becomes stronger and more well-rounded.  

7:26 Echoes of the Motherland
Although the pictures were certainly stunning, Dr. Abdullah´s trip to Ghana was far more than a well-earned sabbatical. She describes her trip to the West African nation as a profound experience, detailing her palpable perception of her ancestors that called the region home centuries ago. Invigorated by the visit, she turns the conversation to the ways in which the COVID-19 crisis and the travel restrictions that essentially confine Americans to within their own borders have had an unexpected effect on her family traditions.

11:51 The Making of a Leader
While her modern advocacy enjoys a larger platform than ever, Dr. Abdullah´s roots in the fight for racial justice in America are anchored deeply. She speaks on her formative years in 1970s Oakland, where her parents´ active participation with civil rights and community defense groups made an early and enduring impression on her. She also reveals how her years of study in the CSU system strengthened her commitment to the cause and the role the 2008 murder of Trayvon Martin played in putting her on her current path.

14:13 Confronting the Crimes
In Dr. Abdullah´s view, one of the driving forces behind the minimization of violence against black Americans is the narrative that is formed through use of language. For example, where incidents of murder are reported as simply ¨deaths,¨ there is a failure to acknowledge the true extent of the harm done or the culpability of the killer.

39:44 A Decentralized Movement
One of the biggest misconceptions about Black Lives Matter is that the organization is a monolith. Dr. Abdullah takes time at the end of the conversation to point out that BLM is a collaborative movement that centers groups instead of individual leaders, and emphasizes the role everyone has to play in ensuring black lives matter, and in ture, that all lives do.

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