A Black Lives Matter Activist Showed Up At A Trump Rally. It Didn't Go How Anyone Expected.

“If we really want to make America great, we do it together.”

Hawk Newsome knew he was in the middle of a powerful moment, but he had no idea just how much attention he was about to get.

Newsome, the president of Black Lives Matter Greater New York, attended a Trump rally on Saturday, and in the midst of it he got an unexpected invitation: to speak on stage. What happened next has now gotten over 33 million views on Facebook and been shared wildly across social media on the right and left.

"What we're going to do is something you're not used to, we're going to give you two minutes of our platform to put your message out," an organizer of the Trump rally told Newsome. "Whether they [the crowd] disagree or agree with your message is irrelevant. It's the fact that you have the right to have that message."


As Newsome and several Black Lives Matter protesters took the stage, some boos and some cheers came from the audience. Hecklers yelled that all lives mattered. Others shouted insults. But Newsome calmly took the microphone and pleaded with the crowd to hear him out. Over the course of a few minutes, he spoke about police brutality, the injustices of systemic racism, and tried to find some common ground.

"I am an American!" Newsome said to cheers. 

But he also ran up against the opposing views in the crowd.

"You ask why there's a Black Lives Matter movement?" he said. "Because you can watch a black man be killed and choked to death on television and nothing happens."

The reference to the death of Eric Garner drew boos from the crowd. One woman clearly yelled "No! Shut up! That was a criminal!"

But Newsome persisted. After a few minutes of talking, Newsome's final words were also met with applause: "If we really want to make America great, we do it together." 

Afterwards, a member of Bikers for Trump asked Newsome to hold his child and take a picture with him. Other Trump supporters he expected to be hostile or angry approached him and exchanged contact information or asked follow up questions about his speech. Some shook his hand and exchanged pleasantries. Overall, he said, he was surprised at how easy it was to get through.

"I'm trying to open the floor to a conversation that really needs to be had," Newsome said in a phone interview with A Plus. "It's crazy because I would have looked at the same Trump supporters five minutes prior to taking the stage as people that are there supporting the deprivation of my rights."

Newsome said he "didn't know it was that big of a moment" until he watched the videos explode online. Still, it makes sense to him. The volatility of the political conversation in America makes it hard for anyone to have a conversation, and he certainly wasn't expecting to be given a platform at the rally.

"Right now, there are people at opposite ends of an issue that are hurling insults at one another, screaming at one another, and — look what happened in Charlottesville — we're even fighting and hurting one another," Newsome said. "But I ask you this: who is talking to one another? Who is opening up the lines of communication?"

While the reactions to Newsome's speech at the rally were mostly positive, it didn't sit well with everyone. 

Newsome kept in touch with the Bikers For Trump member who asked for a photograph and said the man's family was angry at him for letting a member of Black Lives Matter hold his child. Even Black Lives Matter itself had mixed feelings; Newsome's group isn't affiliated with the global network and two organizers who are tried to distance themselves from Newsome when they were interviewed by The Washington Post.

Newsome, who is from the Bronx, insisted to A Plus that Black Lives Matter Great New York is one of the most active groups in the country, despite not being affiliated with the global network or the Black Lives Matter New York City chapter. He cited five candidates for city council and a district attorney that his group has endorsed, noting that they had "50 people in the streets" almost every day during election season, doing their best to encourage people to vote.

Despite the criticism, Newsome is optimistic that the experience was a net positive. He insisted that this is proof that by talking with love and respect, you can communicate with the other side. Otherwise, he said, the conversations that need to be had about institutional racism simply won't happen.

"Anyone who considers us a disgrace to the BLM name because we extended an olive branch or communicated to those who are beyond communication, I encourage them to look at the work we've done over the last year," he said. "How could you be mad at us for trying to build a bridge?"

Cover image via Hank Newsome.

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