Cornel West taps BLM organizer Melina Abdullah as VP pick for historic all-Black ticket

The vice presidential selection of Abdullah marks the first all-Black presidential ticket in U.S. history.

(Left to right) 2024 presidential candidate Dr. Cornel West and his vice presidential running mate, Dr. Melina Abdullah. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Presidential candidate Dr. Cornel West has selected activist, community organizer, and professor Melina Abdullah as his vice presidential candidate in his bid for the White House. This marks the first-ever all-Black presidential ticket in U.S. history.

West, who is running to be on the ticket as an independent, announced his running mate on Wednesday on Tavis Smiley’s radio show on KBLA.

“I wanted to run with someone who would put a smile on the face of Fanny Lou Hamer and Martin Luther King Jr. from the grave,” West said. “Put a smile on their faces from the grave, and that’s the highest standard. As you know that’s not a typical standard of the garden variety politician.”

In a campaign statement shortly after making his on-air announcement, West described Abdullah as “a fierce and tireless advocate for truth, justice, and transformative change.

“Her unique Black analysis and witness helps us confront our crumbling era of empire, white supremacy, and patriarchy,” he added. “I look forward to working with her as we strengthen our commitment in our campaign for truth, justice, and love!”

Abdullah, who founded Black Lives Matter Grassroots and the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter, said in a campaign statement that she was “deeply honored and humbled” to be West’s vice presidential candidate.

“This campaign offers a real vision for the world that stands in opposition to oppressive forces and holds fast to the universal principles of truth, justice, and love,” said Abdullah, who serves as a Pan-African studies professor at California State University, Los Angeles.  

“As we work arm-in-arm with justice-loving people everywhere, we reimagine and work to build a world that chooses goodwill over greed, courage over cowardice, and liberation over exploitation,” she added. “Together, we are igniting a movement to not only dismantle harmful systems but establish the firm foundations of a just, nurturing, and free world.”

Abdullah’s entrance into the presidential election field stands to shake up the race as both presumptive Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, aim to activate Black voters. Her background as an activist and organizer on issues like police reform and racial justice more broadly could serve as an asset to the West campaign, which is currently working to be included on the ballot in states across the country. 

Cornel West speaks at the 2019 Hutchins Center Honors W.E.B. Du Bois Medal Ceremony at Harvard University on Oct. 22, 2019, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

According to Politico, West’s announcement of Abdullah as his vice presidential running mate now gives him the opportunity to begin collecting petition signatures to get on the ballot in about 20 more states. 

In a statement provided to theGrio, Aimee Allison, founder of She The People, said the inclusion of Abdullah in the presidential election contest “signals the growing effort to create political vehicles to build an agenda that fully serves Black America and every community seeking dignity and equality.”

She added, “I have no doubt that many Black people who head to the polls will be thrilled at having choice this year, based on values and record.”

During a joint radio interview with Smiley, Abdullah said her candidacy brings an “elevated platform” to the Black Lives Matter movement. 

When asked if her presence in the field brings “baggage” to the campaign, Abdullah said she sees her work and experience as something that will “fuel” the West-Abdullah ticket. 

Abdullah coincidentally has a few things in common with Vice President Kamala Harris, as both running mates are members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., graduates of Howard University, and California natives. However, Abdullah told Smiley, “That’s about all that we have in common.”

Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles along with other organizations, holds a press conference on Feb. 1, 2023, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

She said the West-Abdullah ticket offers a “different choice” for young and Black voters who are particularly incensed with the Biden-Harris administration’s foreign policy stance regarding Israel’s war in Gaza.

“They are not aligned politically with those folks,” she said. “What we’re offering is a choice that says we can move forward with a vision that says we want to free Palestine. We can move forward with a vision that says we want community care and not police in our communities.”

While Abdullah may not yet have a national profile, she is well known in the activist space, particularly in the Los Angeles and Bay areas. She also made headlines when she filed a civil fraud lawsuit against Black Lives Matter Global Network, the national organization representing official chapters across the country, following the resignation of its co-founder and executive director Patrisse Cullors.

Abdullah accused the national organization of siphoning millions of dollars based on the work of Black Lives Matter Grassroots, Inc. However, a judge dismissed the case in 2023, siding with the defendants that the plaintiffs failed to prove they were entitled to the raised funds or that the money was misused. Abdullah was also ordered to pay more than $100,000 in legal fees to the defendant in the case, BLM Global Network board member Shalomyah Bowers.

Abdullah said she was “stunned and dismayed” by the ruling and vowed to continue the work of the broader Black Lives Matter movement.

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