Tapestries: Interwoven voices of local and global identities


In 2015, Black student movements emerged in the United States and South Africa, respectively: Black Liberation Collective and Rhodes Must Fall/Fees Must Fall. Existing research is taking notice of students’ frustrations with universities, by exploring their protests, which are centered on transforming higher education and decreasing tuition fees. The literature on student movements overlooks the role of identity politics in mass student mobilization. However, social media is exposing a trend of Black student activism in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe, and Africa. Yet, academic accounts and articles focus solely on Black student movements within the confines of their nation-states or institutions. By conducting a comparative study, this research explores the political, social, and economic factors causing the resurgence of cross-institutional Black student activism. I combine my comparative study with content analysis and auto-ethnography to insert lived experiences of engaging in student activism at Macalester College and direct action alongside Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, to add my own subjectivity into my research. In this study, I found Black students in the United States and South Africa are discontent with the broken promises of neoliberal post-racial democracy, are frustrated with the colonial and racist culture embedded in universities, and so seek to repurpose universities while simultaneously fighting for racial liberation. Ultimately, I encourage Black activists to form transnational networks to aid each other in redressing contemporary Black struggles.

Author Biography

Ayaan Natala '18 is a graduating senior double majoring in American Studies and Political Science with a concentration in Human Rights and Humanitarianism. She was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, but also claims Mazabuka, Zambia as her second home. Her writings are published in the Huffington Post and the Human Rights Observer, tackling global governance, social movements, and revolutionary political theory. At Macalester College, she is a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, Bonner Community Scholar, Emerging Scholars Mentor, Department of Multicultural Life- College Access and Success Consultant, Black Women of the Diaspora (BWOD) Co-facilitator, and a Research Assistant for the Human Computers Digital Archive at the MN Science Museum. Aside from academics, she is a member of the Saint Paul N.A.A.C.P Youth & Collegiate Chapter, Black Liberation Collective, and Black Women Wealth Alliance. As a recent Davis Project for Peace recipient, she is collaborating with Ujamaa Place to create an art therapy and entrepreneurship summer program for formerly incarcerated men before she enters a Ph.D. program. She is an alum of the Harvard Kennedy Public Policy and Leadership Program.


This project is a testament to my Beloved community, who held my hand throughout this journey. I am grateful for my family, friends, and mentors for your blessings. twaalumba: mom, dad, william, michael, kenya, jade, ty, senah, dua, grandma, the babies, my local community, elders, ancestors, and the rest of my village.

I am grateful for my Black fairy godmother - my mother and my mother’s mother. Thank you for teaching me how to break the strong Black women curse. I am still learning, but am fortunate that you showed me the color purple.

I am grateful to the great debaters who transformed an insecure Black girl from an inner city public school to a national policy debater who feared no one - running an argument called the “Booty Don’t Lie”.

I am grateful for my academic advisor, professor duchess harris. Often, as a student, I forget the visible and invisible labor academics of color put into navigating their work, multiple projects, and personal life. Thank you for being my Black fairy godmother at school.

Additionally, I send thanks to president rosenberg, sedric, alicia, philana, ruth, jason, afifa, aida, karla, joan, patricia, dana, demetrius, hana, mariam, donna(s), demethra, robin, ailya, althea, crystal, lizeth, julie, and all the others who helped me graduate on time.

Shout out to all the people who loved me during this process (even when I didn’t deserve it): kava, becky, dilreet, niara, alizarin, lisa, lucina, josie, ariel, hawi, carol, kevin, tracy, ashante, gao, myhana, dubie, gabs, nathan, ngan, lexi, mimi, kaaha, alia, temmy, ngeri, arnold, samia, tasneem, my mentees, and all the others who acknowledged my humanity.

I am thankful for the support I received in South Africa. Upon arriving in Cape Town, I did not know what to expect and quickly met individuals who pushed me to grow academically, interpersonally, and spiritually. For me, studying abroad was never necessarily about hiking Table Mountain, visiting Cape Point, or participating in tourist activities, but about creating bonds with people that would last beyond. Through meeting those people and reconnecting with my Zambian family, I could allow myself to heal from U.S. post-election depression and reconnect with my light – a version of ayaan I had forgotten about. I am very appreciative of my University of Cape Town advisor, shari, for helping me start this project. Also, twaalumba: grandma, ayanda, charity, chizongos, muthusi, joe, gladstone, rex, mutinta, rebecca, khadra, fatima, charmaine, lutfe, pieter, chawa, my therapist, okakeng, pippin, mike, lynne, and nadia who made this study abroad and return migration experience possible.

Most importantly, I must thank my inspiration and my focus for this study - Black students, especially Black student activists. This project is an act of love: for myself, community, and diaspora. These institutions were not created for us and cannot love us. Thank you for your bravery to fight for us. It inspires me to do the same and I am excited to continue building with you all. We got a lot of work to do, but when I see you (diaspora) it reminds me that we gon’ be alright. In love, blackness, and solidarity.