Black Lives Matter: The History, The Women, The Fight

Emewodesh Eshete, Copy Editor

It started with a simple hashtag “Black Lives Matter”  that quickly erupted into a powerful movement that has men, women, teenagers, and children of all genders, races, and religions standing together to protest social injustice. 

The three women that co-founded the “Black Lives Matter” movement are Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi. Their years of activism has made them prominent figures in the fight for justice. For instance, Cullors started taking action locally when she was 28-years-old. In an interview with “Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper,‘ she explained how she started a local organization called “Dignity and Power Now” to stop Los Angeles County from spending 3.5 billion dollars on building two new prisons. 

Garza’s activism has grown into her leading different social justice positions. For instance, she was Executive Director for People Organized to Win Employment Rights, otherwise known as POWER, in the San Francisco Bay Area and was elected board chair for Right to the City Alliance, otherwise known as RTTC, in Oakland, which fought gentrification and police brutality. 

Tometi started voicing her beliefs when she was in high school. She was on her high school’s debate team debating on a variety of subjects that she was passionate about. Later in her life and for several years, Tometi was the Executive Director of the “Black Alliance for Just Immigration ”, or BAJI, and spoke at over 100 venues around the globe. On her website, she writes, “She went on to speak on behalf of immigrants to the United Nations, at congressional briefings, at the Atlantic Ideas Summit, Harvard and Yale Universities [and] on the TED stage …” 

While they’ve each done a lot of work independently, they all came together through Garza’s Facebook post which was created in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin. In one of the posts she made after his murder, she stated, “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter”. Patrisse Cullors responds to this post with a message; but in addition, she put the “#blacklivesmatter.” While Garza named the movement and Cullors created the hashtag, Tometi’s part in what was soon to become an international organization, was creating its online infrastructure that allowed millions of people to take part in the movement.  

This movement originated in the United States, however, it is now a Global Network Organization alongside the United Kingdom and Canada “to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilante”. 

Emily Grijalva is a Restorative Justice Coordinator in East Los Angeles schools. She attended and studied at Santa Monica College with co-founder, Patrisse Cullors. While in school together, they were involved in many different political organizations and other activities relating to social justice. Now, most of Grijalva’s work has followed the principles of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. She discussed the policies they were trying to challenge. Some that she mentions have had an impact on the “school to prison pipeline.” Grijalva also mentions other problems she’s worked on that have directly affected students within schools. 

“Another thing was random searches. Like just taking kids out [and doing] metal detector searches or whatever, so many of us formed a coalition where we fought against it. We’ve included ACLU, we went to the board so random searches are removed,” said Grijalva. 

When it comes to activism, Cullors, Garza, and Tometi also believe that there are other ways to be an activist without necessarily going out and marching. On the “Black Lives Matter” website, they discuss the idea of using Black Art and Culture as another form of activism. On the website, it states, “BLM Arts+Culture disrupts the status quo of the art world by uplifting emerging Black artists who speak audaciously, who are unafraid, and who stand in solidarity with the most marginalized among us. Artists who call on us to change the way we see ourselves and one another.” 

Cullors has actually used her love for dance and the art as a form of activism. On her website, she gives readers an idea of what her work represents. 

“Wielding discomfort as her medium, art becomes an invitation to shed complicity and engage broader questions of systemic violence and spiritual rejuvenation,” said Cullors.

These three women are still admired and respected figures of the Black Lives Matter movement and have expanded it on a global scale. They have also made it as the “Top 100 Most Influential People of 2020,” according to Times Magazine. Their fight for justice continues, and as Alicia Garza stated in her book, “You cannot start a movement from a hashtag. Hashtags do not start movements—people do.”