Up until the last few weeks, Black Lives Matter seemed to be a movement happening somewhere else for me.
Black Lives Matter happened in Ferguson, Mo. and Baltimore and Louisiana and Chicago and New York and Los Angeles. It wasn’t until recent weeks that the movement engulfed my hometown of Louisville, Ky.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., my own community awakened to its own homegrown case of a Black woman losing her life at the hands of police officers.
The case of Breonna Taylor, who was gunned down in her own apartment during a botched police raid back in March, suddenly was thrust into the middle of a bright international spotlight.
Protesters took to the streets here in Louisville, chanting Taylor’s name, “No justice, no peace”, and “Black Lives Matter.” That scene was echoed not just throughout Jefferson Square in downtown Louisville, but across the city, across the commonwealth and around the world! Not to mention, Breonna would have turned 27 on Friday, June 5th, 2020. Simply a life cut too short.
In many of those places, protests did not simply spring up spontaneously but were organized by experienced community activists networked together under the banner Black Lives Matter.
All of this made me what to know more about the Black Lives Matter movement and its origins. I learned the names and backgrounds of its three co-founders and more about what motivates them. It takes moxie to marshal a movement, and BLM and its founders have it.
Here’s what I learned:
Moxie benefits everyone.
When George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of black teenager Trayvon Martin, on July 13th, 2013, Alicia Garza felt like she’d been punched in the gut. Trayvon Martin reminded her of so many people she knew, including her own brother. Were their lives worth so little that their murder could be sanctioned by the state, written off as justified, or even totally ignored?
She took her feelings to Facebook, where she posted a “love letter to black people.” She ended her post with the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” With those three little words, she gave voice to a movement.
Together with Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Opal Tometi, Garza formed an organization called Black Lives Matter.
The organization is not top-down, but rather is aimed at empowering community organizers to engage in direct action locally. I encourage you, as a reader, to re-read that last sentence again: The organization is not top-down, but rather is aimed at empowering community organizers to engage in direct action locally. This was very enlightening to me and put into clear context the rise of the protests. However, in my honest opinion, the rioters and looters sadly hijacked an opportunistic setting under the guise of the Black Lives Matters peaceful demonstrations.
While their goal is to combat violence inflicted on Black people, Garza believes its success will bring peace to all people.
“#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation,” explains Garza. “Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide-reaching and transformative for society as a whole.”
Moxie seeks freedom.
It was Patrisse Khan-Cullors who spotted Garza’s post & responded with #blacklivesmatter. The hashtag gave the conversation legs.
Khan-Collors had long been an activist focused on criminal justice reform. Her experiences growing up in Section 8 housing in Van Nuys, Calif. as the daughter of a single mother revealed to her early on how the justice system was used to punish rather than protect people of color. Her own brother, who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, has been jailed rather than hospitalized and treated for his condition. Khan-Cullors saw every problem in her community addressed with law enforcement and incarceration, whether it was the appropriate solution or not.
Her experiences at home contrasted sharply with what she saw at her school. She attended an arts magnet in a white, middle to the upper-class neighborhood. She rarely saw police in that neighborhood, which was much more peaceful.
Khan-Cullors sees hope in providing more services, support, connection, and options to people of color rather than more policing.
Moxie goes international.
As the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Opal Tometi learned the value of community. Their Nigerian community in Arizona was close and for good reason. When Tometi’s uncle was detained in an immigration detention facility, members of the community organized to visit him every weekend.
“That instilled in me the value of taking care of each other even if the systems aren’t working in your favor,” says Tometi.
Tometi saw her Nigerian community targeted the same way African Americans and other communities of color are often targeted, with profiling and workplace discrimination. Tometi knew she could use her skills and passion to make a difference for members of the African Diaspora around the world. She became the executive director of the Black-Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and later added Black Lives Matter to her plate.
If I could get ask the founder of the Black Lives Matters’ movement, what would you like me to ask them?
Black Lives Matters’ Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Lives_Matter