The Movement Without a Messiah: #BlackLivesMatter | The American Word

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The Movement Without a Messiah: #BlackLivesMatter

Asha Smith | 1/19/16 12:49pm
| Updated 1/19/16 2:05pm

Photo by Libby Parker

Libby Parker /
American Word Magazine

Perched with her cell phone, earphones, and “I Love Black People” sweatshirt, co-founder Patrisse Cullors of the #BlackLivesMatter movement delivered wise words to wide-eyed young activists in the Mary Graydon Center on Wednesday, January 13. Black Lives Matter was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin murder case. The dynamic movement has attracted national and international support through social media and news coverage.

It is no mystery that the Black Power movement that began in the 1960s has left out many of the voices it claims to be advocating for. However, Cullors made it clear that the Black Lives Matter movement is a movement for all black people who face oppression from a capitalist America. She brought to the table the importance of especially hearing black trans, queer, female, and incarcerated voices, just to name a few. The intent of this Black Power movement is so that “black people are able to come out as themselves,” said Cullors. “They’re not told to leave one’s struggles behind, and we are encouraged to be present as all of our blackness.” Representation in the movement was a subject especially inquired about by students in the question and answer portion of the Kennedy Political Union event.

Many have also been critical of Black Lives Matter’s organizational approach, with comments ranging everywhere from the structure to the name itself. A popular critique of the movement’s organization is that there is no central leader that the masses can look up to and hold accountable. When asked about this view, Cullors responded, “You can’t build black power by building one black individual.” This rhetoric is reminiscent of the militant Black Power group born in the 1960s known as the Black Panther Party; the group is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The theme of black empowerment is at the center of Black Lives Matter and came through Cullors’ message loud and clear: Black people have never been fully seen as human in the ways that other racial groups have been. Cullors stressed, “We were made as capital; no other group was made as capital. I think other groups were migrant workers or farm workers yet seen as part of capitalism. But we’ve only been seen as capital.”

Next Steps for the Movement

With the new approach of “coming as you are” to this movement, how do members unite and create change? This is the question that so many young activists are begging to know the answer to. Fortunately, we have a response. Cullors said, “I think there is very valuable student

activism, but I think it has to be tied to the community.” This could be an unsettling piece of advice for many campus-based organizations. During her time speaking with the audience, she asked all of us to turn to our neighbor and ask, “How am I saving black lives?” Many in the crowd had to dig deep, and some even had to come to terms with the fact that they don’t do as much as they thought to serve the black community

When asked what some of her next steps will be in the movement, she was excited to share with American Word her commitment to using technology to develop a new platform for “Black folks.” Cullors recently received $500,000 from Google to start a web-based platform that will focus on mass incarceration. She told the audience that technology and social media are methods to expand the movement. This is epitomized by the fact that #BlackLivesMatter began as a phrase that co-founder Alicia Garza posted on her Facebook page in response to the Trayvon Martin case. In addition to using technology as a platform, Cullors is also dedicated to the arts. As a performance artist herself, she informed us that she has also developed a piece called Power: From the Mouths of the Occupied. Last, but certainly not least, she informed us that, “[she’s] going to be a mom soon, and parenting as a black person is super revolutionary.” Patrisse Cullors has given AU students much to reflect on and actions to take, with #BlackLivesMatter at the forefront