On June 10, Fukuoka Now sat down to speak with Athena and Bako, two of the organizers of Black Lives Matter Fukuoka. Athena is from North Carolina where she studied fashion. One of her favorite designers is Hanae Mori and that inspired her to move to Fukuoka where she works at a language school. Bako came to Japan two years ago from Washington D.C. where she grew up, but was born in Cameroon. “I literally left because I disliked being in America as a black person. I needed to just go somewhere and teaching English was the easiest route.”
Has either of you participated in or been involved in social movements?
ATHENA: I’ve participated in Pride that happens in Fukuoka in November, I believe. But that’s just participation I’ve never actually organized anything. However, we saw a need, and we decided like ‘Are we gonna do this? We’re gonna do this. Ok, let’s do this!’ BAKO: I’ve participated in many protests in the US before coming to Japan around Black Lives Matter and other Donald Trump presidency things… but I never actually led one. This will be my first time.
So, tell us about the Black Lives Matter Fukuoka – what are the plans?
ATHENA: We’re going to meet at Tenjin Chuo Park (on Sunday, June 21), and we are meeting together to 1. Raise awareness for Black Lives Matter. Anytime and anyplace in the world, there’s some sort of protest or social-economic issue. If they do it alone, usually they’re not successful. If there’s cooperation across both isles, across the world… because sometimes support from within is not enough, then it’s a more effective movement.
Furthermore, being here in Japan so far away from America and not being able to do anything with Black Lives Matter bothered me. It felt helpless; It felt like I was watching my country crumble, and there was nothing I could do. So I was like, no, there has to be something I can do. And I know that other people feel the same way.
Black Lives Matter itself is a movement that was sparked over racial prejudice and police brutality against minorities, especially black people, mainly unarmed black people. Now, routinely, black people are used to hearing news about another black person who has died at the hands of police, often just minding their own business, sleeping in their bed, going to the store, and trying to shop and pay. Still, someone thinks that the money you are using is counterfeit, and for this, they die. The same police that kills them never get prosecuted.
And finally, with coronavirus, people’s frustration is at an all-time high. People are dying left and right. When George Floyd was killed, that was the final spark that people were like enough.’ We don’t have money anymore; we are all sick because of coronavirus… we are tired of being victims while all the social contracts that we have in this country are being broken left, right, center, and no one cares. Enough is enough.
The George Floyd tragedy happened in America. Why march in Fukuoka?
BAKO: I think this issue of Black Lives Matter is not an American issue. It’s not a Black American issue. I think it’s a global issue. And what we’ve seen, we’ve had people protest in different parts of the world, and if we look at other aspects of civil rights and human rights, because it’s a human rights issue, we can talk about the holocaust we can talk about apartheid in South Africa. It took a global response for something to happen. There was a war for the holocaust. It took people divesting from South Africa before the government was like we have to make some changes. Black people have been experiencing civil rights and human rights issues for over 400 years in America, and globally we need to say ‘people need to do something.’ We can’t just say only black people in America fight.
Who do you expect will join the march?
ATHENA: Anyone that thinks for themselves and thinks this is wrong. If you have a problem with people being killed by police and police not being held accountable, this is for you. There isn’t a limit on whether or not you are straight if you are gay if you are trans if you are black if you are white if you are Japanese, none of that matters. If you think this is wrong, we want you to join us. We want you to speak up.
How to expect the Japanese to react to the march?
BAKO: I think a lot of Japanese people are confused because they don’t understand what the march is, and I think part of that is due to what the perception they have of black people and the march right now if you saw the NHK disaster of an ad. Their perception is very skewed, and I think their importance is to get a first-hand account from people from America, black people from America, as to what is going on. And get more background information on the history, so that they can have a better understanding of why we do this.
How many people do you hope to gather?
ATHENA: Originally, we were thinking 50 to 100, but apparently, I learned from a friend that it is going viral on Twitter. So I no longer have any clue.
What do you hope comes out of the event?
BAKO: Honestly, for me, I want Japanese people to become aware, more globally aware. I think that’s an issue in Japan. We want people to walk away with some talking points on what you can do as a non-black person to help black people and help your black friends who are experiencing oppression or racism. Speak up. Your silence makes you complicit in the act, and we need people to speak up on our behalf because we’ve been speaking for 400 years.
What challenges have you faced so far?
ATHENA: 1: Knowing exactly what we need to do. Making sure we have the right permissions. Making sure we have asked the right people. Number 2: Organization. Because this is our first time doing it, we are not experienced with bringing people together. Some Japanese said ‘corona… corona, corona, corona, you guys are gonna spread corona.’ But people are eating at the restaurants, going to the bar, going to the park. If you don’t want to come, that’s fine, we understand. Corona is an issue, but I don’t think that’s a reason not to attend.
Are you taking any precautions for coronavirus?
ATHENA: Oh, absolutely. We have a list of guidelines for our attendees. If you feel sick at all, do not come. Second, you must wear a mask. We’ll have hand sanitizer on-site, and I have some extra masks at home that I will be bringing. And since the park is so large, we should be able to respect social distancing with at least a meter between us.
The event is about ten days away. Are you nervous about anything?
BAKO: Yes, talking. Because we have to speak and give a speech, I talk all the time on my social media. I am very active and political, just like I am at home talking to myself. But it won’t be like I am at home talking to myself. So it’s a different feel than actually being in front of people and trying to inspire and say things that are very serious for me, and I hope I just don’t cry.
There was a BLM march in Osaka last weekend. What was your impression?
ATHENA: They listed some of the issues that they had with the actual march itself, like don’t engage with hecklers. Instead, talk to us or contact the police.
How will this march differ from BLM events in the USA?
BAKO: I am pretty confident that it will remain peaceful because it’s Japan. I think part of the reasons that US marches are not so peaceful is because of police brutality. And I think we are trying to reach a different audience here.
Any ideas for the future, maybe a follow-up event?
ATHENA: If something grows from this, if we can make a Black Lives chapter in Fukuoka, that would be beautiful.
SUNDAY, JUNE 21, 2020 AT 1 PM – 2:30 PM
天神中央公園 Tenjin Chuo Park