By Allison Nekola and Krista DeJulio – Co-Editors-in-Chief
Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the #Black- LivesMatter (BLM) movement accompanied by activist Janaya Khan, orated to a rapt audience of students and faculty in de Witt Hall on Monday, November 9.
What started as the conclusion to other co-founder Alicia Garza’s poem posted to Facebook in 2013 soon became the inspiration for Cullors’ hashtag. The last line of the poem stated, “Black lives matter,” a simple, yet impactful declaration after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder trial of Trayvon Martin, age 17, in San- ford, Fla. Because of social media’s influence on social injustices, Cullors’ knew turning the sentence into a hashtag would spotlight this issue and the progression of combating anti-black racism.
BLM works to raise awareness of the corrupted politics concerning the lives of those who identify as black. “They call them riots, we like to call them uprisings,” said Cullors, regarding protests. With the recent awareness in the United States concerning the amount of innocent black lives ended too soon and/or afflicted by harassment and unwarranted arrests, BLM organizes protests around the death of black citizens, racial profiling, police brutality, and corruption in the criminal justice system.
“We’re talking about the fact that Michael Dunn could kill Jordan Davis for no other reason than defying him, and saying turn your music down. We’re talking about Renisha McBride getting shot in the face through a screen door because she asked for help after crashing her vehicle,” said Khan.
Cullors knew “anything could be turned into a hashtag,” which is exactly what she did and reached success with the group’s message. The movement received international recognition after the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown from Ferguson, Mo., who was killed in August 2014 by white police officer, Darren Wilson.
From Toronto, where approximately 3,000 protesters persevered through below zero temperatures, to the United Kingdom where approximately 4,000 citizens marched, to Palestinians sharing instructions to neutralize tear gas, a tactic used by both the U.S. and Israeli military, the call to action was viral. “Anti-black racism looks the same everywhere we go,” Khan said.
In less than an hour, Cullors initiated hot topic conversation challenging the crowd asking two different questions: what have you done to save black lives and what will you do to save black lives? The crowd erupted with discussion as Cullors called on attendees to share their thoughts. Her point, “I’m not a celebrity. I’m an organizer. I’m not here to entertain. I’m here to challenge,” she said.
Sophomore communications student Korrine Früster raised a question about why she sees more women, who are stereotyped by society as nurturing caretakers, at protests than men, historically depicted as the face of multiple movements, especially involving racial discrimination, to which Cullors said, “I think in a lot of ways the popular narrative has been black men have been the forefront of every movement until this moment, which is untrue. Sixty percent of the participation of black folks in the civil rights movement was women. Because of the patriarchy those women get erased.”
Students then told their personal experiences with gust, looking for direction or answers from Cullors. Freshman fashion design major Eu- nice Bruno stood and said, “My parents are from Haiti, so I guess it’s harder for them to identify the racism problem, like my dad always says ‘find a job where they need you, no one is going to hire a black woman as a fashion designer’ and it annoys me, because they give you this idea growing up that you can be whatever you want and then when you say what you want to do, they say ‘oh no you can’t do that.’” She shared that her parents also did not allow her to go to a lecture on the N-word because they did not condone using that word.
What Khan “found useful in mobilizing folks…is [it’s] less about the identity and more about the politic.”
Students were especially passionate when expressing their displeasure with the reverse hashtag of #AllLivesMatter. Khan’s response recognized #AllLivesMatter as “fear of black people and black liberation.”
The compelling lecture ended on a positive note, as Früster recited a group poem, created by the audience when passed around the room. BLM has 28 chapters across the United States and internationally, including a chapter in Boston.