Trailblazing Terps: Saba Tshibaka

By Dorvall Bedford

As a senior at the University of Maryland studying philosophy, politics and economics, Saba Tshibaka finds the time for her extracurricular pursuits. During her first two years, she was the president of the Black Student Union Freshman Council, president of the Black Honors Caucus and the founder of The Jeopardy Club.

After her sophomore year, Tshibaka got out of extracurriculars and placed her focus on internships and other things that would supplement the leadership skills she was developing.

She worked for Milk & Honey where she started as a hostess and then worked her way up to becoming a manager. She even worked as a personal assistant to the owners.

Tshibaka interned at Alphabet Inc.’s Google in Ann Arbor, Mich., during the summer of 2019. She then interned at the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget. Starting in January of 2020, Tshibaka worked at Bethesda Green’s Accelerator, a program that supports entrepreneurs and promotes a sustainable urban ecosystem, until the beginning of summer.

Besides internships, Tshibaka is busy running her own business, Rendered Inc., which she created in 2018. It is a sustainable fashion brand she started her sophomore year centered on education.

“I think that sustainability is really important,” Tshibaka said. “So I make sure to educate people everywhere that I go.”

Rendered sells clothing that it receives locally from thrift stores and consignment shops in the area, according to the company website. The aim is to recycle clothes and prevent used products from going to landfills. The company also hosts several programs and events to promote sustainability. It is self-described as being a women-owned, black-owned and college student-ran business.

As she spoke about her company, Tshibaka pointed out a necklace she was wearing. It was from Ryan Perpall, the founder of Break Box Recycling and a senior American studies major at the university. His company turns crushed glass into objects like chains, earrings and vases.

Tshibaka said she considers founding her own company as a milestone. She said it is something that should be celebrated, like a birthday or a graduation.

“I think it is an accomplishment that I’m able to be a senior with a two-year-old business,” she said.

Tshibaka has not been able to celebrate her milestone due to the ongoing political climate, which she said has ruined her desire to be festive. On Oct. 17, she was a leader at the Women’s March, causing her to miss an opportunity to celebrate the second anniversary of Rendered.

Tshibaka has used the leadership skills and experience she has acquired for more than just bringing awareness for sustainability. Along with Alysa Conway and Nadia Owusu, Tshibaka helped with the founding of the student organization Black Terps Matter.

Members of Black Terps Matter, Black Lives Matter D.C., The Palm Collective and The Live Movement posing for a photo together. (@sabaspeaking on Instagram)

It began with a protest that happened on June 25, Tshibaka said. Owusu had contacted Tshibaka and Conway to organize their first rally.

Before contacting them, Owusu had already been protesting in Washington and Baltimore during the summer, she told me. She recognized that the university was a home for many students and she thought it was very important that there was a rally on the campus that could serve as a healing session where people could speak.

She led the rally along with Conway and more than 200 people showed up in support.

Once the organizers of the rally saw the impact the event made, they realized there were more issues that they needed to tackle, said Owusu. So they worked on outreach, had board meetings, sat down with administration and cooperated with other campus organizations to amplify everyone’s voices.

That was when Black Terps Matter was formed.

“It’s a lot more than anyone could ever describe in one sitting,” Tshibaka said.

Despite her role in creating Black Terps Matter, Tshibaka is reluctant to call herself a founder because she said the idea of Black Terps Matter existed far longer than the organization. She attended her first protest on campus in 2016, during her freshman year, and saw a friend wearing a hat that said “Black Terps Matter.”

“How can I call myself the founder of Black Terps Matter?” she asked. “The concept of people caring about Black students at Maryland is something that came way before me.”

Tshibaka and her fellow organizers were quick to start protesting any racial injustice they saw on campus. She had already sent a petition in early June asking Pines to advocate for an increase in Black students in the class of 2024. A second petition was sent after Black Terps Matter was organized and demanded that the newly renamed Thomas V. Miller, Jr. Administration Building be renamed again because former Senator Miller had a history of racism.

Tshibaka announced the first petition was a victory in July when Pines said in a letter that there will be more diversity in the upcoming class.

However, Tshibaka said Pines and the university administration could do more. She supported Pines when he allied with Bowie State University to memorialize 1st Lt. Richard Collins, a Black Bowie State student who was stabbed to death by a white University of Maryland student, but that was not enough, she said. She wants a memorial on the campus for Collins.

She also wants Pines to take action on the University of Maryland Police Department. In the petition requesting for more diversity on campus, Tshibaka cited an instance of university police officers pepper-spraying and macing students at a mostly Black graduation party.

Tshibaka said the university administration would email her about certain things and check on her, but they would not respond to her when she emailed them about issues she wanted to be fixed. She described it as “psychological warfare.”

In an email he sent to the campus community on Nov. 24, Pines said he has been convening with student leaders from more than 30 organizations representing Black student life. Implementing bias training, prioritizing minority enrollment and honoring the life and legacy of Collins were among the goals he said he is discussing with students.

Both Pines and the University of Maryland Police Department did not respond to requests for commentary.

Tshibaka has done more than write petitions. Throughout the fall semester, she has attended multiple protests, and one of them had unexpected results.

Aniyah Vines (left) and Saba Tshibaka at a protest in D.C. (@sabaspeaking on Instagram)

On Oct. 15, Tshibaka woke up early in the morning to attend a protest scheduled for 8 a.m. against then-nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

The protest began as a march and then turned into a rally. Eventually, organizers decided to do a sit-in. Around 50 people stayed and sat in the middle of the street near the Hart Senate Office Building.

Police officers approached Tshibaka during the sit-in and asked her to move. She stood up and spoke through her bullhorn. Then they handcuffed her and brought her to an area where others were being detained. Tshibaka said was the only person who was handcuffed.

She said she didn’t know why she was targeted when she did not do anything different than the other protesters.

“This is ridiculous!” Tshibaka yelled before being placed into a police van. She was brought to the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse at around 11 a.m. where she would stay for 27 hours and refuse to eat any food they provided.

“I did a hunger strike because there’s a lot of things that went wrong with my arrest in my own opinion,” she said. “I did not want to incorporate myself into the system.”

Aniyah Vines, a junior political science major at Howard University, president of Howard University’s NAACP chapter and the founder of The Live Movement, was with Tshibaka during the protest but was not present when she was arrested. 

Once she and others saw that Tshibaka was arrested, they dropped everything they were doing and organized support. People gathered at the corner of C St. NW and 3rd St. NW to wait for Tshibaka.

Several people waiting outside for Saba Tshibaka’s release after she was arrested while protesting. (Black Terps Matter on Facebook)

“I was infuriated,” said Vines. “It’s a feeling I’ve come to know very well because I’ve had multiple people in my life that have been arrested for simply protesting.”

When Tshibaka was released, Vines said she was the first person to see her. Tshibaka said she understands that people at the university may view her as a freedom fighter.

“It’s very sweet,” she said. “But I also want to be very based in the truth and reality, which is the fact that I got arrested and that’s not something to play about. I don’t want people to do things to purposely get them arrested.”

Tshibaka said she had one word to describe her experience of being arrested: “unfortunate.”

The arrest did not prevent Tshibaka from continuing to protest. She and Vines organized the Tent City protest in front of the Department of Education to bring their demands to United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. They set up tents and camped outside for eight days. It started on Oct. 19, only three days after Tshibaka was released.

Tshibaka also did not rest on her 22nd birthday, which she spent at another protest at UMD.

“I just try to show through my actions and through the things that I organize how much I care about the community and how much I care about everybody,” she said. “Words, they don’t mean much to be honest.”

Tshibaka will be graduating at the end of the 2020 Fall Semester. Owusu said Black Terps Matter will miss her.

“She has taught all of us so much,” she said. “I’ve learned so much about myself from working with her, and I only hope the best for her.”

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Saba Tshibaka and her Instagram account @sabaspeaking and the Black Terps Matter Facebook page.

Be sure to follow Black Terps Matter and Rendered Inc. on Instagram.

Dorvall Bedford is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at dorbed2002@gmail.com.

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