Black Visions Collective: Meet some of the protesters that shut down the Pride parade

Kandace Montgomery and Miski Noor are two of the leaders behind the Black Visions Collective, which helped stage a protest at this year's Pride parade.

Kandace Montgomery and Miski Noor are two of the leaders behind the Black Visions Collective, which helped stage a protest at this year's Pride parade. Star Tribune

Ahni Ali stood in a crowd of protesters, facing a sea of impatient rainbow flags. She and her cohort were stalling the Pride parade, blocking the route and delivering speeches, chants, and songs. This is the first time she’d been in the parade. She was angry the whole time.

“It wasn’t just a few people here and there saying racist stuff,” she says. She says it was most, yelling about criminals, about people deserving whatever they got, about the protesters being “divisive.”

Ali says they weren’t there to be divisive. They were grieving. The Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar planned this demonstration to protest the presence of cops at Pride. The day before, Thurman Blevins, a 31-year-old black man, had been shot and killed by Minneapolis police.

Later, Ali says she was confronted by a white man who noticed the caption on her shirt: “Black Lives Matter.” He told her what they’d done during the parade wasn’t “okay.” That they were “disruptive” and “disrespectful.” That they were being “assholes.”

“Do you know that someone just got shot in North Minneapolis?” she asked him. “Do you know that these are issues that black queer and trans people have to face on a daily basis? Do you know the police are not here to serve us?”

If he didn’t care about any of that, she said, he could get out of the way.

Ali was three months old when her parents brought her to the United States from Somalia, and she grew up in Portland, Maine, surrounded by white people. She often found it difficult to belong anywhere until she got involved in the Movement for Black Lives and, later, the Black Visions Collective.

The Collective sprang up last December, dedicated to creating a brighter future for black communities.

It’s still small, but it’s spry. Its leaders began their activism in Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, protesting the killings of Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old black man killed by Minneapolis police, and Mike Brown, a black teenager who suffered the same fate at the hands of Missouri police.

Fellow organizer Miski Noor (who uses the pronouns they/them) likes to say they were a “legal drug dealer” before Black Lives picked up steam—working at a pharmacy, recovering from activism burnout. They were a community representative for Rep. Keith Ellison. That’s when roommate Kandace Montgomery started holding burgeoning Black Lives meetings in their living room.

Noor and 3,000 others showed up at the Mall of America to protest police shootings. It was like someone had pressed the “go” button on fighting for black lives.

The Collective is an expansion of that movement, about abolishing police, prisons, and cash money bail.

“And calling out Jacob Frey,” organizer Puma Saballos adds. Other members sitting in a Powderhorn apartment nod and share a rueful laugh. The Minneapolis mayor has been interested in bulking up police presence.

One of the things the leaders share in common is possessing multiple identities.The majority of the leaders are queer—which is part of what makes the reception at Pride disappointing, if not surprising, to them.

Pride is ostensibly a day of inclusivity—a time when queer and trans identity is celebrated, and a long history of human rights advocacy honored. But if cops were going to be there, that meant queer and trans people of color could feel alienated. The final decision by Police Chief Medaria Arradondo had been a sort-of compromise: allow cops to march—just not in uniform.

Hence the protest. Protesters wanted to get attendees’ attention: "We’re here, we’re part of your community, and as long as the police are welcome here, we don’t feel safe." The community responded mostly with impatience that their parade wasn’t starting on time.

“Liberalism, at the end of the day, is hurting us,” Ali says. “We’re not working as a community that thinks that we all deserve liberation… and that’s why we’re losing so bad right now.”

The constant fight can be disheartening. During Super Bowl weekend, the Collective led a group of volunteers and effectively shut down the Metro Transit light rail by joining hands and standing on the track in nearly 20-below weather. The light rail had been co-opted for exclusive use by ticket holders. The rest of the city waited for buses running two hours behind. The Collective felt the city had essentially been turned into a playground for the rich.

“The cops were on the track when we got there, yelling at us,” organizer Yolanda Hare says. They held hands and stood their ground. Their strength, she says, was being there together.

Police removed them from the track. 

Constant protest is one of the core tenants of the Collective. When the group was formed, they wanted to create something they could sustain—something that was less about reacting to every violent and racist incident, and more about creating a visionary future for black people. A future where they didn’t have to fear police, a future full of black leaders, a future full of love and belonging. That means focusing on healing and happiness as much as calling out police violence against their neighbors.

So, two Sundays a month, the Collective holds a program called Black Joy Sunday. It’s a time black people can gather—usually at a park or an outdoor festival—and just eat, relax, and check in with one another.

“When black people get together, it’s always over an event,” Saballos says. Too often, those gatherings have been in the aftermath of a tragedy.This is supposed to be a reflection of a family reunion.

It’s an important connection to have, when the people flanking either side of the street at Pride—an event borne from the fury of police protests—are telling you not to be assholes. That’s the kind of thing, organizer Sophia Benrud says, that makes her not want to go to back to Pride.

“It makes you have more pride and solidarity between POC folks,” she says. “But it definitely doesn’t make me feel that much pride in the LGBTQ community as a whole, because there is a huge divide.”

And if you ask a collective of black, queer, feminist activists, that’s more than just discrimination.

“It’s just bad strategy,” Montgomery says.