Brazil is a young and fragile democracy and holds a most shameful record: it’s the country with the highest number of murdered teenagers worldwide.
In 2015 alone, 11,403 boys and girls aged 10 to 19 were homicide victims. Of these, 10,480 were boys - more than the total violent deaths of boys in conflict-affected countries, Syria and Iraq.
According to UNICEF, the United Nations Children Fund, homicide of adolescents is the gravest and most tragic violation of rights facing boys and girls in Brazil: Every single day, 31 children and teenagers are murdered in the country (UNICEF estimated data) - almost all are black boys slum residents. It is important to note that the country adopted in 1990, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and, thus, legally obliged to enforce it.
The lack of a government-based comprehensive social programme to protect children and the increased militarisation of society - brought about by the country’s current extreme-right wing government headed by former army colonel Jair Bolsonaro - has led civil society to organize itself in order to seek ways of ending this on-going genocide. Created and supported by current and former athletes, as well as people from different backgrounds and professions, Sport for Democracy aims at fighting for a more just and equal society; for democracy, human and civil rights and respect for life and diversity. They work together with several other voluntary groups struggling for the achievement of respect for one's individuality and dignity for all, two things that seem increasingly rare in Brazil nowadays.
Well-known personalities who joined Sport for Democracy, have come out publicly against the ongoing generalized and widespread fascistic discourse that often includes racism, violence and authoritarianism. Among them, former football star, activist and sports commentator Walter Casagrande Jr. Casagrande was one of the leaders of the Corinthians’ Democracy, a political sport movement that appeared in the 1980s - while Brazil was still under a military dictatorship - inside Corinthians, one of the most popular football clubs in Brazil, and Isabel Salgado, a former volleyball player for the Brazilian team and beach volleyball coach. She is the mother of 5 children including Alyson, a teenage black young man, now aged 18. Isabel is also the mother of the beach volleyball player Carol Solberg who was recently accused of “politicizing sports” and reported to Brazil's Supreme Tribunal for Sports (STJD) for saying “Out, Bolsonaro!”, during a television interview, after winning the bronze medal at the Brazilian Beach Volleyball National Championship.
Isabel Salgado recently mediated a discussion with Brazilian mothers of black and indigenous children at a livestream meeting called Stop killing our children, organized by Sports for Democracy which was attended by the following women activists.
Ana Dias, mother of Luciana and Santinho, one of the founders of the São Paulo mother’s movement in the 1970s, which became known as the Cost of Living movement. Ana is the widow of community leader Santo Dias, murdered in 1979 during Brazil’s military dictatorship.
Carmen Silva, mother of 8 children, one of which is Preta Ferreira. Carmen is the leader of the Homeless Movement Center (MTSC), and works as a municipal and state housing advisor.
Débora Maria da Silva: coordinator of the “Mothers of May” movement. She is a researcher at the archeology and anthropology center at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), a popular educator. Débora is also participating as one of the main characters in the work-in-progress documentary Mother Courage, directed by Thiago Mendonça.
Mothers Courage tells the story of Mothers of May. A movement dedicated to the memory and justice of crimes committed by the State, in the democratic period. This emerged in May 2006, when civilians were killed by death squads linked to the police. Most of the mothers were women without experience in political activism and who, in the pain of mourning, ended up becoming one of the main groups fighting in the struggle for human rights in Brazil.
Jacira Roque de Oliveira, mother of Katiane, Katia, Leandro, works with traditional knowledge, technologies, processes and practices used throughout poor communities and slums.
Elaine Mineiro, Malu’s mother, is the coordinator of UniAfro, a community-based group, a geographer and member of the Jongo dos Goianais community as well as the culture forum of São Paulo’s east side. Elaine was recently elected councilor to the City Council of São Paulo, together with the collective “Quilombo Periférico”.
Marinete da Silva, is the mother of Marielle Franco (a black politician murdered by militias in 2018), co-founder of the Marielle Franco Institute, member of the human rights commission of the National Lawyers Association (OAB) in Rio de Janeiro, a member of the city’s black jurists group and founding associate of the Brazilian Association of Jurists for Democracy (ABJD).
Nyg Kaingang, is an Indigenous mother, and an indigenous researcher through the indigenous PET tutorial education programme at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR). She is a member of the articulation of the indigenous peoples of Brazil (APIB) and also collaborates with the indigenous youth network (REJUIND).
Wakrewa Krenak is an Indigenous mother, educator and biologist.
Isabel Salgado: Based on your personal experience, how do you feel as a mother of indigenous and black boys and girls in Brazil? What is it like having to live with the pain of dealing with violence, the permanent risk of death, the dangers of the humiliation, the embarrassment that racism brings? And how do you feel being unable to sleep at night due to the pain that racism generates or because you are trying to think of ways in which to survive racism?
Ana Dias: We have come to realize that everything for black people and women's life is much, much more difficult. We know that we have to fight with much more determination. If there are 5 young boys and girls, 3 of them honest blacks and 2 white criminals, the black people, for sure, will die. Why? Because they are black and poor and from the slums. Often they have no voice, not even a chance to speak. We have seen many people murdered in the city’s outskirts where most poor people live.
Débora Maria da Silva: To be black in Brazil is to suffer all the consequences of a country that thinks we are still slaves living under the rifles. The rifles remain the rule of law, even though slavery was officially abolished.
Isabel Salgado: Where is our letter of freedom for our people? For the same people to see their grandchildren ride a bicycle and not be approached by the police thinking that they stole it? For people who do not sleep at night when a police officer is killed because they know that the first revenge targets will be your children as my own children were? Which country is this that did not give our letter of freedom signed with a pen but erased by the force of rifles?
Jacira Roque de Oliveira: I am afraid, very afraid. Fear of sleeping and fear of waking up. I thought that this fear would one day pass. I have been studying the African Diaspora for 15 years and now that our schools do not educate, our politics do not politicise and our religion does not reconnect us. We are oppressed and silenced by the media. The thing that matters the most for them is selling...
Elaine Mineiro: It is important to think a little bit more about “the peoples of the world“. I mean, consider how we can change the power structure, because if we don't change this structure, we cannot talk about democracy. Democracy has never existed for these people, for these races, for slum dwellers. If we can't really build democracy for these communities, we can't create democracy for anyone.
Marinete da Silva: We continue to experience the same problems and it was not only Marielle’s case, but it affects children, such as João Pedro, Ágatha, all these children who have lost their lives, who had their lives interrupted due to lack of social policies in poor communities, lack of structure to fulfill our most basic needs, including water, electricity, sanitation, and health. Marielle fought for all that.
We did not know about structured racism, but today, it is clear that you do not have democracy. That’s why mothers lose their children, even very young ones, they cannot finish their primary school, like Marcos Vinício who had his life cut short while going to his school.
Nyg Kaingang: Racism in Brazil is structural and we, indigenous peoples, have suffered the violence of racism since the beginning of the arrival of the bloody coloniser, since the invasion of Brazil. After all, Brazil was born from the rape of indigenous women and the murder of our children, young people, men and women, because we were not considered to be human.
This violence, this genocide, is still today being overseen by the Brazilian State, starts from the moment we are denied the right to our lands. For us, indigenous peoples, our territory is sacred! We have an umbilical and ancestral relationship with our land, when this is denied, they are taking away our right to life. Our children are born being created to be resistant, to resist, not to exist.
We have to continue to fight so hard for gaining respect for our way of being and existing.
Wakrena Krenak: To be a mother Krenak is to be a woman of strength, to resist; a mother who has to teach their children to fight since their childhood, that they have to seek their rights and, above all, she has to remain indigenous, she must bring the strength of the indigenous struggles into their blood, within themselves. Our rivers are contaminated, polluted with mercury and several other types of heavy metals, we lack drinking water. We have resisted for 520 years. Racism kills, be it black peoples’ struggles, be it in our own indigenous struggles. Environmental racism kills, because it takes away from traditional people the right to live.
Carmen Silva: The fight for rights, in particular for us, black women, for the poorest of the poor, regardless of whether they are black or white, places us in constant fear, every day of our lives.
Fighting for justice in a country as unequal as ours leads to constant insecurity, especially being a black woman with 8 black children, is a big disadvantage. Brazil is a racist, classist country. It is necropolitics is living proof that we cannot be 100$ assured of our own humanity, so this is the basis of my constant fear.
Isabel Salgado: What are the biggest challenges that young blacks and indigenous people face today living in a society like ours?
Ana Dias: We have to fight, I believe we have to seek unity, get together, discuss, we cannot cross our arms, we have to run and organize youth groups, women, men, we must not give up, the fight is a difficult one, but winning it's not impossible. Never cross your arms, never give up, ever. Fight your whole life.
Carmen Silva: The challenges I have, above all, are to make my children recognise themselves and gain consciousness of who they are. We’re constantly being seduced, a consumption seduction, of copying what we see in others. The consumption and the seduction are very big impulses.
Irrational capitalist consumption is unfair to young people and, in addition, leads to lack of direction. These are the great challenges that I have, not only with my children, but I see it impacting all the young people of the movement I fight for. We also have to fight for the right of construction of our collective self, never forgetting that we have the same single racial origin, the human race, but also working collectively, defining who we are. What we are doing is telling young people that we exist and that our existence is very important.
Elaine Mineiro: Empowering “the power” that already exists within young people from slums and shanty towns is fundamental. Our work at UniAfro and our own role in life are to train and empower young people living on the outskirts of society. For more than 10 years we have been offering courses and training for young people coming from poor backgrounds in order to make them discover their life potential and start to realize how much the world can be better if it is changed by them. We can't see the world as it is, with a pretty bow, the world will not be more beautiful if we put a bow on it. Our perspective is of another possible world, it is to transform this world where all our yearnings, colours, culture, all fit, and rescue it, because that world is also our world. Our experiences are always the experiences we have learned from the struggles for rights. And these experiences are what we try showing to the young people who are with us today. Our personal formation as a collective and how much the power of youth and the things we build are transforming the world for the better.
Marinete da Silva: Lack of respect, lack of care, not having commitments are dehumanising people. For them, it is worse than a dictatorship. It’s their own blood being shed, what we see is a culture of death in a country ruled by death. To change that, there are major needs: first of all, to have access to high-quality education. If we don't start building a better world for these children, we won't have a future that we hope for and that is sorely needed in this country. When we see government officials with no commitments to the people and promoting “make believe” education and health, total chaos ensues. You do not see a direct commitment from the government to better things, and it is very difficult to imagine the future of these children. Building hope together for these young people will help us to be able to understand each other better than we do today. It is only possible to improve people’s lives through the work of collectives. Alone nothing will work. But together it's possible. It was possible for Marielle, for other young people and it will be, also, for those who are coming and growing and they will see that the world can be different. We need security, structure, dignity, strength and, especially, education. Without education the country will get nowhere.
Débora Maria da Silva: It is difficult for me to relax at night when several young people from the poor outskirts are often returning from work, school or a night out. Because of the risks they face. I embrace these youths as if they were my sons because in each face there is a little of my son, who was and is the reason for my struggles. While I can breathe I am continuing to fight for youth, because youth is the future of our country and if you have a machine gun aimed at youth you’re also killing the future.
Isabel Salgado: Ms. Jacira, besides being the mother of Katiane and Katia, is also mother of two artists, Emicida and Fioti. How is it for you to have two children who were so successful?
Jacira Roque de Oliveira: How is it for me? I thought the world would change, but it didn't happen. What I tell them is for them to continue fighting, that we have been involved in politics fighting for building a better society, for a very long time. Today I tell them, I don't know if it's because of their age, I also liked this capitalism thing, I also wanted it, because I imagined that the improvement would be for everyone, but it wasn't, we realize that it is for a small portion of the society, my children are struggling, several friends are also struggling all the time. We can't stop fighting, not at all. It seems that from time to time a new puppet comes to play politics, and so it has been for these 520 years.
Isabel Salgado: Nyg Kayangang, what do you say to your children, how do you protect them and other indigenous children, how do you guide the kids?
Nyg Kaingang: We believe that from the moment we have our identity strengthened, we will have the strength to be anywhere. Today I am in the space that I always wanted to be, my space of law and that our struggle will expand in the spaces of speech, of voices, that this will be our greatest challenge. What I see is a constant reconstruction of being indigenous, we are constantly fighting for our rights. I believe a lot in this youth that is occupying these spaces, inside and outside our lands, and in universities in Brazil. We believe that occupying spaces in educational institutions and making use of non-Indigenous knowledge, making this align with our own traditional knowledge, is the way of becoming instrumental in the fight for the defense of our rights.
Isabel Salgado: Wakrena Krenak, what can you do to guarantee the right to life?
Wakrena Krenak: For us to guarantee the life of human beings today on Earth, it is essential to take care of Mother Earth first. Care for forests, rivers, this is essential because if they die we will also die. This is the principle of everything, respect for mother Earth.
Isabel Salgado: What would you like to say to the world, if you could be heard?
Ana Dias: Never get discouraged, the fight continues. We will have many victories, and these young people who are in the struggle, especially blacks, will have to participate a lot in education. Mothers, we are the ones who have to join these people in the struggle. The struggle is resolved when there are a lot of people involved in it. A single stick breaks, a big clasp is more difficult to break. The fight goes on.
Carmen da Silva: We need to unite, we have hope, resist, fight, never give up. What we need is simply to recognise ourselves as the origin of everything and accept diversity as it is the diversity that will save us in the end.
Débora Maria da Silva: I really believe in unity and humility. I believe in youth, this youth has made progress, it has advanced, at a slow pace, but it has advanced. Our victory will only be achieved when we reach our freedom. The fight will continue until our last breath.
Jacira Roque de Oliveira: I would say that it is very important to respect and educate children. Once we lose our childhood we don’t regain it anymore, it’s very important. Every time childhood is disturbed and interrupted is a tragedy. The fact is that educating adult men is much more difficult than educating children.
Elaine Mineiro: Vilma Piedade, an author I love reading, created a term called “dorority” to mean all the pains that are so similar to us, not only affecting us who are here, but also all the people of the Quebrada, black, poor, indigenous people. But this pain also makes us see ourselves as a people, as a collective. And I think that these people who experience this pain, these people will be able to develop a collective project for a different world, I think it is in this project that we need to believe in and strengthen each other to build this other world that we want.
Marinete da Silva: The world will only change if women are ahead, the sacred energy of my daughter that is in each one of these women is going to win and overcome what we are experiencing today. Not because it is a reference, but because it is a symbol of resistance. United women are always much stronger and the world can be better with us. Without black women and white women to add, to make things better, we will not get anywhere. I lost my daughter but, at the same time, I also gained several sons and daughters, just like they were my own children. I have been strengthened by these women and men, who support me and have joined us in the walk towards a more just society.
Nyg Kaingang: I would say that we need to unify our struggles. This struggle is collective, our speech about indigenous people is collective. We need to look at mother Earth, we need to look at Mother Earth as a whole. Indigenous, black, white, we arrived at a time when we are no longer able to live this model of life that we currently live. Understanding mother Earth as something aiming only at profit and exploitation does not work. The Earth is our home, our planet is our home! We need it to exist, we need to look at it not merely as a source for the production of consumer goods, exploitation of profit, or the money we can make from it. I would say save the forests, save the indigenous peoples and save Planet Earth. We are in this fight together and we need to unify it. The fight is ours, yours, everyone’s.
Wakrewa Krenak: Respect. Respect for indigenous peoples. Respect us indigenous people, more love and less hate preached in the world because hate will not lead us to anything and anywhere, but love can plant several seeds inside our hearts. So we will take care of each other more, we will respect our forests, we will respect our indigenous people, we will respect black people, because before the Portuguese arrived here, there were already a people. We are the owners of this land.
Online meetings that help us understand state violence against black and indigenous youth are not limited to Brazil alone.
Last month, Débora Maria da Silva, from Mothers of May Movement and Rute Fiuza - from Mothers of May in the Northeast, broke through geographical barriers and participated in the live Resisting State Violence in the Americas: Mothers on the Front Line.
The discussion was mediated by Yanilda Gonzalez - Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School.
Mothers of young people from Colombia and Mexico murdered by the police, paramilitary and armed forces, who fight for justice and institutional reforms to combat state violence that affects black, indigenous and poor youth in the Americas, participated in the global virtual dialogue.