Local and national Black Lives Matter activists say Atlanta’s Sir Maejor does not speak for them.
When Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed tried this week to meet with activists after five consecutive days of Black Lives Matter demonstrations, many of the key protest organizers walked out, calling the meeting a disappointment.
One person stayed and delivered a joint news conference with city leaders. Flanked by the mayor and Atlanta’s chief of police Monday, Sir Maejor addressed the media.
“We as protesters, and as community organizers, hope that our mayor listens to our concerns and that he actually sits down with the team, which I believe he will, and sees what’s tangible — what can we really make happen,” Maejor said.
He took time to warn reporters of protesters hungry for a spotlight.
“Folks got to remember, and the press needs to remember, that you’re going to find people protesting without a cause. You’re going to find people protesting just because we’re on TV, right?” Maejor said. “You’ve got folks out there with different agendas, trying to put their organizations on the map.”
Maejor has been quoted widely by both local and national media, including the Los Angeles Times and Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor.” By trade, he’s an actor who’s appeared on the FX show “American Horror Story: Coven.”
Despite his increasing visibility, several members of groups organizing Atlanta’s protests say Maejor does not speak for them. Additionally, National Black Lives Matter leadership now echoes their concerns.
“He’s sending this message that nobody agrees with and he’s meeting with these powerful people,” said Asia Parks, an organizer with the activist group Rise Up. She said Maejor has played little to no part in organizing the protests that brought more than 10,000 Atlantans into the streets.
Maejor has pledged that his group will no longer protest, following an agreement he made with the mayor. A bulk of other protesters made no such assurances.
“His message is really of a personal matter and about himself,” said Devyn Springer, another Rise Up organizer. Both he and Parks said they’ve found Maejor difficult to work with and complain that his public statements lack substance.
Maejor self-identifies as the president of Black Lives Matter of Greater Atlanta.
“We do not have presidents of chapters. We do not have CEOs of chapters. That is not our ethos,” said Alicia Garza, a co-creator of the national Black Lives Matter network.
Garza said Maejor had requested recognition from the national leadership, but was declined after conversations with local Atlanta activists about his ability to work with the LGBT community.
“I think there were lot of concerns around whether or not this person could work in a respectful and principled manner with people who were gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender,” Garza said. Being “queer-affirming” is one of Black Lives Matter’s 13 guiding principles.
Garza said an alignment with all of those values, and a rejection of violence, is a requirement for anyone interested in a formal affiliation with the Black Lives Matter network.
Khalid Kamau, one such established organizer with the movement’s Atlanta chapter, said earlier this year that Maejor had been pursuing leadership roles within the Black Lives Matter Atlanta chapter, including as head of communications. He said the actor has had consistent negative interactions with both activists and family members of police shooting victims.
“Our first chapter meeting was in December. By February, he had been sat down. We’d asked him just to not speak,” Kamau said.
Maejor would go on to attempt starting his own group. He was unwilling to discuss his apparent alienation from other activists.
“We’re not going to get into this pissing match and going back and forth. We’re not feeding into that. We’re not doing it with the media and we’re not doing it with each other,” Maejor told WABE.
He said his group stood for leadership, development and accountability for both police and community members. Maejor was critical of the tactics of some Atlanta protesters, including the attitude of many who protested and left the mayor’s meeting.
“Does Martin Luther King speak for everyone? No,” Maejor said. “So this notion that I speak for everyone? No, I don’t. I speak for a large amount of people. I speak for people in my community.”
He said, as matter of policy, he would not reveal the size of his group’s membership. By contrast, Atlanta’s Black Lives Matter chapter estimates they have about 200 active members, with “hundreds more on our rolls.”
“When we allow for there to be confusion about whether or not we represent the interests of a larger group of people, that can have real impacts on people’s lives,” said Garza.
Messengers matter, she said, not just because of the need to acknowledging the work of community activists, but because the things they say impact people’s’ safety.
“I know that many of our activists have been visited by law enforcement. I know that many of our activists receive threats from vigilantes based on misinformation that is out there in the world,” said Garza. She pointed to a history of violence faced by members of civil rights movements.
When asked about Maejor’s credibility as a stakeholder, the mayor’s office said Maejor had chosen to participate in Monday’s meeting, and that other protesters had been welcome to do the same, had they stayed.