Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and an adjunct professor at Arizona’s Prescott College, spoke on Thursday, Nov. 15, before a full house at Corwin Pavilion on a variety of topics, including the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement, Donald Trump’s presidency, and the importance of activism in our current time.
The event was hosted by the UCSB Multicultural Center as part of their Engaging Communities in Resilient Love in a Time of Hate series.
Cullors has received many awards and recognition for her activism, as well as for organizing movements to confront social and racial inequality in the United States. At the age of 22, she won the Mario Salvo Young Activist award and in 2015 was named by the Los Angeles Times as a civil rights leader for the 21st century.
“Part of organizing is trying to be innovative about how we undo centuries worth of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, trauma,” Cullors said in her opening remarks. She stated that the organizing that she has been doing with Black Lives Matter is a challenge to the structure of the U.S. and how this country understands itself.
“Black Lives Matter has really positioned a new global conversation about anti-black racism and the resilience of black communities,” said Cullors.
Cullors then went onto to recount how Black Lives Matter started. She dissuaded the notion that Black Lives Matter emerged out of nowhere on social media, clarifying that the movement was started by three black women: Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and herself.
“[Black Lives Matter] was a guttural response to one of the tragedies of our generation,” Cullors said. The movement began in response to the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman and the ensuing trial that followed.
Cullors asserted that Trayvon Martin was on trial for his own murder, not George Zimmerman. She cited the pictures that were brought up during the trial, such as ones that displayed Martin sagging his pants or smoking weed.
“They were trying to build a defense that he deserved to die,” Cullors said.
After Zimmerman’s acquittal, Cullors stated she felt devastated and searched online for a way to respond to the trial. While online she found Alicia Garza’s post that included the phrase “black lives matter” and found it to be a source of inspiration and a way to raise awareness over the racial discrimination black individuals face in America.
Cullors then shifted gears and began discussing the current political climate that has been brought on by President Trump.
“The role of this administration is to keep us demoralized — it is to smash organizing,” Cullors told the crowd, adding that the Trump administration is “centered on denigrating marginalized communities” and had built its campaign on Islamophobia and hatred.
Despite the demoralization she felt after Trump’s election, Cullors stated that organizing has become more important than ever.
“This is the moment to build the broadest and biggest coalition we can possibly build so in 2020 we can have a new country,” said Cullor.
As the event drew to a close, Cullors answered a few questions from the audience, including one regarding how she responds to criticism of the phrase “black lives matter” as excluding the importance of other people’s lives.
“When black lives matter, all lives matter,” Cullors replied.