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A Letter from the Editor

I recall an exchange I had with a friend one night back in July 2016. It ended almost as soon as it began. "If I don't post a Facebook status about police brutality, does that actually make me part of the problem?" she asked in reference to the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Exhausted I replied as she exited the car, "Well what does posting just one status really even do anyway?"

“I condemn the death of (insert name). If you don't copy this message into your status YOU are part of the problem.”

Performative displays such as the above have been a fixture in the Black Lives Matter movement for my entire adult life. Many well meaning allies in progress would post similar statuses leading others to copy the message and then continue their lives without true engagement.

Following the murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and George Floyd, I stared into my phone at something a bit different — a constantly updating feed of resources — books, podcasts and films. Though hopeful to see posts calling for action, I couldn't help but know that pieces were inevitably missing. My team and I hope to begin to fill in these missing pieces with this zine.

So why I AM? It is derived, in part, from the “I Am A Man” posters used in the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike in 1968 that ultimately led to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Strikers used the simple yet heart-wrenching declaration to assert their humanity and fight for dignity and better working conditions. Here, the phrase “I AM” is expanded and used to encourage people to reflect on who they are, what they value, and what they can bring to the fight against racism. Intentionally open-ended, we hope our readership identifies a word or phrase that creates their own action-oriented “I AM” statement — a self-declaration to place themselves within the anti-racist movement without distance or remove and that serves as a reminder to learn, unlearn and take concrete action. Remember, allyship is not something that one simply claims, but rather is something evidenced by action.

Division of Political and Military History, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

To all those reading, I thank you for seeking to engage with our content. I invite you to stay and join us on this journey of introspection, education on Black lived experiences and history, and celebration of Black art, creativity and vision.

Who are you? How do you fit within systems of oppression? Will you unite with us and stand for Black lives?

We know the United States, and world, is not as we learned as children. It’s impossible and we shouldn’t strive to distance ourselves from its problems. Rather we should actively seek to identify our role in the dismantling and redesign of racist systems. We hope you can use our content on your search to find your place in this larger movement.