It seems like the last year of police brutality against the Black community has produced a new hashtag every week. #BlackLivesMatter serves as a reminder and proclamation that the continuous murder of Black people will not go unnoticed. In addition, the #NotOneDime campaign encourages consumers not to spend their money with businesses who fail to respect the lives of Black people. Founded by theologian and activist, Rahiel Tesfamariam, the campaign has become the voice for conscious millennials, through her site Urban Cusp. We had a chance to speak with Rahiel about how her Eritrean roots influenced her activism, and how her faith helps her deal with the constant treatment of being racially profiled.
JET: Where are you from?
Rahiel Tesfamariam: I was born in Asmara, Eritrea. I came to the United States at age 5, living in the South Bronx and Washington, D.C. as a child. I currently live in New York City.
JET: What is your occupation?
Rahiel Tesfamariam: I am a self-employed entrepreneur who resigned as a nonprofit manager four years ago. I am founder/publisher of UrbanCusp.com, a cutting-edge online magazine. I am also a social activist, international speaker and public theologian.
JET: How do your Eritean roots influence your activism?
Rahiel Tesfamariam: I believe that the spirits of revolution and freedom fighting are in my DNA as a result of my Eritrean identity. Growing up, I heard war-time stories daily and images of men and women in camouflage gear seeking self-determination surrounded me as a child. It may have been those early influences that led me to devote my life’s work to studying and being a part of justice-seeking movements.
JET: What was your inspiration for the #NotOneDime campaign?
Rahiel Tesfamariam: The night the grand jury returned a non-indictment in Darren Wilson’s killing of unarmed teen Mike Brown, a friend of mine posted “Not One Dime” on Urban Cusp’s Facebook page. Those three words perfectly captured our collective rage in that moment, in my opinion. When I thought about the approaching Black Friday weekend, I couldn’t imagine allowing business as usual to carry on. I turned those words into a meme and posted it all over my social media accounts. When I woke up a few hours later, I had emails and tweets from Forbes and other major media outlets. In those few hours, the meme had gone viral and celebrities like Talib Kweli, Russell Simmons, Lala Hathaway, Tyrese and so many more were reposting it. Never in a million years could I have imagined that it would become an instant staple in the movement, playing a role in the 11% decrease in sales that Black Friday weekend.
JET: You were recently in Chicago for The Justice Conference and experienced being racially profiled. Tell us about that experience.
Rahiel Tesfamariam: On the evening of June 7, I had a heartbreaking experience of racial profiling at Congress Plaza Hotel while in Chicago to speak at The Justice Conference. After 2 days of packed events, we found our time together coming to an end and headed to the lobby of the Congress Plaza Hotel to get my luggage. Having been a guest at the hotel that same day, I took the liberty of suggesting we sit in the lobby to catch our breath.
At that point, we were approached by two uniformed security guards of the hotel who asked us if we were guests of the hotel. Stating that I was in fact a guest of the hotel, I was asked for my name and other verifying questions to prove that I was telling the truth. At that point, my colleagues and I asked why our group was singled out, of all the groups of people in the lobby, noticing that we were the only people of color in the lobby at the time.
To read more of Rahiel’s experience of racial profiling at the Congress, click here.
JET: Leave us with a word of encouragement.
Rahiel Tesfamariam: “Nothing is more practical than finding God and falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” – Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ