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As people celebrate the recent inauguration of University President Claudine Gay, many issues vital to the Black community hover over the incoming administration. In recent years, the Black community at Harvard has discussed reparations for the University’s legacy of slavery, questioned the existence and role of Harvard’s private police force, and debated the future of higher education admissions.
Without a dedicated political organization to take up these struggles, it will be virtually impossible for the interest of Black students at Harvard to be prioritized.
Today, I call for collective action beyond stapling demands to the door of University Hall. I call for a movement that does not ask for recognition, or even demand recognition, but takes it.
This is why I and several other Black students have started the African and African American Resistance Organization, also known as AFRO. The vision for AFRO is to provide a distinctly pan-African space that will serve as a vehicle for Black students to organize around the issues we care about on campus and in the broader community.
The inspiration for this group is the Association of African and Afro-American Students of Harvard and Radcliffe — the original AFRO, founded in the spring of 1963. Thanks to the persistent direct action by groups like AFRO following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Harvard established the Afro-American Cultural Center and an Afro-American Studies Department in 1969. Additionally, the number of Black students admitted doubled that following fall.
These wins were a product of activists who understood that the progress of history is not inevitable, but in fact, requires a push through intentional organization.
Our current historical moment tells us of the need to push again. Harvard’s private police force is engaging in rampant racial profiling: Although Black residents only comprise 10.6 percent of Cambridge residents, over half of people arrested or served criminal complaints by the Harvard University Police Department in 2022 were Black. Within the department itself, reports of racist white officers calling their Black peers “monkey” and “f—t n—r” — with one incident escalating to a physical altercation — are public knowledge. In 2020, this same private army was used as extra muscle policing a Black Lives Matter protest in Boston.
Political coordination amongst students is essential to resist Harvard’s private police force and reimagine public safety on campus. HUPD is an extension of the historical white supremacist system of policing, whose foundation is predicated on anti-Blackness.
But the need for political organization does not end at policing.
In June, the Supreme Court struck down race-conscious admissions in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard University. An important consequence of this decision is the reopening of the conversation around what a truly reparative affirmative action looks like.
As Crimson Editorial editor and Harvard College Generational African American Students Association’s Vice President Michaela K. Glavin ’25 articulated in an op-ed, Black Americans can be found disproportionately in the “intersection of low socioeconomic status and being first-generation college students.” Through collective struggle, we will ensure working-class Black Americans are the benefactors of a newly constituted, class-based affirmative action.
Another focus for Black political organizing on campus is mental wellbeing. Harvard’s culture is volatile to the mental health of students. Institutional failure to address this mental health crisis strongly affects Black students who often experience racialized trauma. The most recent public example was the swatting attack at a suite of four Black students in Leverett House following a coward’s false 911 call last spring.
These issues among others are critical for Black political organizing today due to their roots in the University’s history of slavery. Over a year after Harvard released the report detailing the University’s involvement in this human-breaking system, it’s time for us to hold them accountable for it. When we discuss these issues and the way forward, we are really talking about reparations.
Just as the AFRO of the 1960s spoke directly to the needs of Black students, today’s AFRO will channel the anger, passion, and concerns of our valued community toward social change. It’s essential to realize the existence of AFRO as an indictment of an institution that continues to commemorate enslavers, deny transparency in their potential investments in the carceral state, and weaponize its private police force against social justice movements.
There is no better means to speak to the needs and interests of Black students than direct action. We will not wait for the administration to address its complicity in a system of policing that criminalizes poverty and political dissent. We’re going to create an abolitionist culture within the community that relies less and less on the police. We are not begging the Harvard Corporation to reinstate a cultural center; we’re going to take spaces for ourselves where Black students can organize and build community together.
Effective Black political organizing will see to it that new University leadership catches up to our vision of safety, education, and health for Black students in a truly anti-racist campus.
We do not build democracy from below by pleading to those in power to do or not do things. We build it with the understanding that true power comes from the organized masses.
Prince A. Williams ’25, a Crimson Editorial Editor, is a History concentrator in Adams House. His column, “Fight the Power!” runs bi-weekly on Mondays.
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