Pitt Black Action Society hosts Bree Newsome

By Zoë Hannah / For the Pitt News

For Bree Newsome, the conversation on race violence didn’t end when she descended the South Carolina Statehouse flagpole, clutching a Confederate flag.

Newsome is a social justice activist who climbed into the national spotlight when she scaled the flagpole in June to remove the Confederate flag amidst boiling debate over the flag’s space in the public sphere. Newsome recounted this story Friday at “An Evening with Bree Newsome,” hosted by Pitt’s Black Action Society at 6 p.m. in the Chevron Science Center.

Newsome, a filmmaker and author, now travels the country to speak about the convergence of racial injustice, activism and art.  Newsome is traveling to universities across the country while helping to organize sit-ins and speeches in Charlotte, North Carolina.

To members of BAS, Newsome is a source of inspiration and empowerment.

“[Taking down the flag] was a very loud and clear statement,” said Jade Remar, a sophomore psychology and sociology major and member of BAS. “The fact that she took it down was a big statement, and it spoke for a lot of people.”

Newsome told the 100 attendees on Friday that the courage to take down the flag didn’t stem from confidence, but rather from her belief in the powerful effects of small actions.

“Courage is not about the absence of fear, but rather the belief in something greater than that fear and the determination to fight for it,” Newsome said.

Gabrielle Wynn, the president of BAS, said the club’s members were ecstatic when they confirmed Newsome’s trip to Pittsburgh a few weeks ago and were eager to hear her story. Student Government Board funded Newsome’s speech at Pitt.

Like much of the nation, Newsome said she and her collaborators saw the flag as a racist symbol of white supremacy, and Newsome said she decided to act after she saw photos of Dylann Roof, the man who murdered nine people in a South Carolina church, holding the flag.

To retrieve the flag, Newsome collaborated with about 10 other activists to practice scaling a pole using tree climbing equipment, amplify her social media presence and film her climb. A week before she began her ascent, Newsome said she meditated on the scripture of David and Goliath, in which David courageously fights against the giant Goliath.

When Newsome reached the top of the flagpole, she revised David’s famous words to say, “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence, I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today.”

Newsome said she was not always committed to political activism. Despite having told her sister she didn’t want to be a political activist, Newsome became passionate about the voting rights injustices in her home state of North Carolina.

In July 2013, Newsome was arrested during a related sit-in at the North Carolina State Capitol. During the same month, George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges related to the shooting and subsequent death of Trayvon Martin.

For Newsome, the summer of 2013 — a time when “the past continued to rise, and not in good ways” — was when she began to discover the relationship between her activism and her art.

“I was deeply disturbed by the facts and circumstances surrounding Trayvon’s death,” Newsome said on Friday. “The case sparked a new movement led by black and brown youth who saw themselves in Trayvon, and I was no different.”

Newsome said Martin’s death was the beginning of a modern-day civil rights movement, but also the beginning of a new era of race violence.

“It is the pervasive threat of such violence that made the Confederate flag in Columbia, South Carolina, seemingly untouchable,” Newsome said. “Tragically, it took the blood of nine more innocent people to finally shake the conscience of the nation surrounding that symbol of slavery, hatred and terrorism that is the Confederate flag.”

When Newsome climbed the pole, she understood the danger she was undertaking.

“I understood the risk involved with what I was doing, and I understood there was reason to fear what might happen. Yet I also understood that as a human being, the measure of my humanity was linked to my ability to recognize the humanity of others,” Newsome said. “And I knew that I had become part of something much greater than myself. ”

Wynn said Newsome’s dedication to action echoed BAS’ own mission.

“For her to make the move to actually get it down herself and not wait on anybody else kind of shows that, in all of our lives, if we want to make change, we have to be the ones to do it,” Wynn said. “We can’t wait on someone else to make it. We have to make the change.”

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