Frank Leon Roberts, an activist, writer and part-time faculty at New York University, speaks during a United Black World Month on Jan. 31. Credit: Abigail Rice | Lantern reporter

The Student Life Multicultural Center presented its opening celebration of United Black World Month Wednesday night with an event focusing on black social movements.

“The community chose that theme because it’s still a very relevant topic as we see all that’s happening nationally and politically around the positioning of the black community,” said Katherine Betts, an intercultural specialist and liaison to African American students. “You know, racialized incidents are still happening. Oppression is still happening in various forms. So it’s still a timely conversation to have.”

Headlined by Frank Leon Roberts, a renowned writer, scholar and activist, the program focused largely on the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I’m always shocked at how you can ask five different people ‘What is the Black Lives Matter movement?’ and you get five radically different answers like there’s this disconnect,” Roberts said. “So what I really want to do first and foremost is provide some clarity around how we, within the movement, see ourselves.”

Roberts addressed the importance of recognizing Black Lives Matter as a dynamic and multifaceted movement.

“Black Lives Matter is a human-rights movement seeking to humanize a dehumanized people,” he said.

He went on to describe a fault in the way the movement is often perceived – as an assertion that black lives are more important than other lives. Roberts said that way of thinking is a profound misunderstanding of what those within the movement mean when they say, “black lives matter.”

Sara Tyson, a fourth-year in marketing, attended the event at the suggestion of friends.

“I was born here — well I was born in Cleveland — and then I moved to Malaysia, so I spent my whole life in Malaysia and I was never really connected to my black roots,” Tyson said.

Tyson said before the event, she had preconceptions of Black Lives Matter formed from highly publicized events. 

“I always thought the Black Lives Matter movement was about the killing of Eric Garner or the many other injustices that happened. I thought it was a focus on that,” Tyson said. “Then, when [Roberts] brought up other points about the fact that it’s artistry, the fact that it involves the LGBT movement, the fact that it involves the Muslim ban and all these other intersections – that was eye-opening for me.”