Black History Month Speakers Series: Janaya Khan, Founder of #BlackLivesMatter Toronto

Last night, Sisterhood, The Tri-College Chapter of the NAACP, Enid Cook Center Committee, and The Pensby Center invited Janaya Khan, founder of #BlackLivesMatter Toronto and international ambassador for the #BlackLivesMatter Network to speak for the Black History Month Speaker Series.CaQNocrWIAAAKJA

Janaya Khan, known as Future in the Black Lives Matter movement, is a Black, queer, gender-nonconforming activist, staunch Afrofuturist, social-justice educator and boxer based in Toronto. As the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, they are committed to Black liberation, transformational justice and indigenous sovereignty and operate through a Black transfeminist lens.

They started their speech by telling us of the origins of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It came out of love. Trayvon Martin’s mother had ended her love letter to her deceased son on the acquittance of her son’s murderer George Zimmerman with the three words, “Black Lives Matter.” The hashtag had existed as of 2013, but it took a full year for the world to recognize what it could be and the potential of it as a movement.

Below are excerpts from Khan’s speech that personally struck me:

We are dealing with a White Cis-gendered Male Ableist Homophobic Patriarchal Christian Racist Anti-Black belief system. We need a belief system to counter that. A belief system where all lives matter when Black lives matter. We need to build a belief system that is just as fractal. Our current society is unable and fails to recognize the pain of other people. The implications of anti-Black racism are everywhere.

“We need people to be able to say Black lives matter even when they are not sure and when they are uncomfortable.”

America is still considered the moral compass of the world, which is terrifying but true. Every time Black people are killed here it means something for the world. There is something wrong with society if every time someone says “This thing is racist,” it follows with “Then prove it.”

“Personal morality determines political reality.”

Then how can YOU help? What TOOLS do YOU have to offer? The first step is to check your privilege. Sometimes you have to sacrifice your personal identity for your politics. We need allies. Also, recognize the arguments against the movement. These include Derailment, Reduction, Black on Black crime, etc. Know when you can intervene and speak up for yourself. White fragility is dangerous, and there are no neutral sides.

On the Role of Activism & Professions:
Not everyone can dedicate their life to activism and demonstrations. Social media activism is exhausting. Prosecutors have power and protect the activists taking to the streets. Media people document history being made. You don’t have to join a nonprofit to make a different. Recognize that you can radicalize any space and any profession.

On the Role of Activism & Art:
There is Art that identifies and Art that captures and challenges it. Iconic imagery and symbolism mean something. Activism is about creating– engaging. This requires creativity, performance art, and power of imagination.

“The death of art would be the death of a movement.”

Afrofuturism. Ideology. Aesthetic. Genre.


Janaya Khan challenges us to ask ourselves,
“Are you about justice or are you about order?”