Black Lives Matter Philly, responding to a brewing controversy about its meetings being "a black only space," defended its position Wednesday by saying its members need a separate place "to strategize, organize, heal."
Its two-page statement read in part: "During the last 36 hours, Black Lives Matter Philly (BLM Philly) has been attacked online and the subject of several right-wing media articles about our April open meeting invitation that states it is a Black only space. ... We are unapologetically Black and believe having Black only spaces — where Black people can come together to strategize, organize, heal and fellowship without the threat of violence and co-optation — is an important part of Black liberation."
In an article Monday, the ultra-conservative Breitbart website called out the Black Lives Matter Philly group for holding meetings where only black people are invited to attend. It wrote that BLM Philly "has banned white people" from its April 15 meeting.
Black Lives Matter Philly, one of two BLM groups in Philadelphia, has regularly advertised its meetings on Twitter and Facebook and has called its meetings "a black only space." Its next meeting was to be held at Mastery Charter Schools' Shoemaker Campus in West Philadelphia, but the location was changed Tuesday for security reasons, BLM Philly said in an email Wednesday.
While the "black only space" notice is not new, the discovery of it by conservative websites, including Breitbart, has caused an online controversy on both sides.
A Twitter user pointed BLM Philly to a photo of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marching for civil rights with white people. (King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.)
In response, BLM Philly tweeted: "He made that choice and we have made ours. White people can support us but they cannot attend our meetings."
"Not being able to attend a BLM Philly meeting does not preclude anyone from supporting BLM Philly or the Movement for Black Lives. ... we invite people from all races and backgrounds to join in the Movement for Black Lives," BLM Philly's statement said.
The statement also noted that "BLM Philly isn't the first or the only membership organization to restrict access to certain spaces based on a variety of criteria. There are religious ceremonies and events that people cannot attend unless they are a member of that faith. There is a huge difference between a systematic denial of a person's access to public spaces such as restaurants, hotels, schools and hospitals simply based on their skin color, and saying that a meeting is a Black-centered space."
For its part, Mastery Charter, whose schools are public, issued a statement on Twitter Wednesday that said its facility-use policy "does not allow any organization using our facilities to bar participation by any members of the public based on race, religion, or gender."
According to its Twitter account, BLM Philly is "the official Black Lives Matter chapter in Philly."
Another BLM group in Philadelphia is Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania, which counts outspoken activist Asa Khalif among its members. He is not associated with BLM Philly.
Khalif said Tuesday that his group also holds meetings that are considered a "black-only space," and said BLM Pennsylvania's white supporters and friends understand the need for that. (His group also allows "brown" or Hispanic supporters to attend the meetings, he said.)
"We need those meetings to heal and to decompress," he said. "If you're an ally, a true ally, you will understand that."
Khalif said that Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania has "white allies who have gotten arrested with us" during street protests and rallies and are welcomed and appreciated during those events.
The "black-only space" concept goes back to the late black nationalist leader Malcolm X, Khalif said.
Unlike BLM Philly, Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania doesn't advertise its black-only meetings, Khalif said.
"We don't have to put out a tweet" about BLM Pennsylvania meetings, he said. If you're not black or brown, "I tell you in your face you're not coming," he said.
But, Khalif emphasized: "If you're fighting for justice, you earn the right to stand with us" no matter what race you are.
"You don't have to be in a meeting to contribute to this cause," he said.