Sandra Bland. Walter Scott. Trayvon Martin. Ella Baker. Harriet Tubman. American Unviersty’s student government Kennedy Political Union brought co-founder of Black Lives Matter and civil rights activist Patrisse Cullors to campus, where she encouraged the audience to say these names. Not just of the black lives taken by police officers and gun wielding vigilantes, but also of those black lives from the past that brought us here today.
Patrisse Cullors is not a superstar. She is not the Messiah. Cullors, wearing a bright green T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Black Lives Matter,” describes herself as a normal person who just put a hashtag on Twitter. “I’m not here to entertain,” she said, leaning back in her chair with one hand over her pregnant belly and the other holding the microphone. In 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement was born. Following the court decision that allowed George Zimmerman to remain a free man after shooting Florida teen Trayvon Martin, Cullors scoured the Internet for answers. That’s when she found a Facebook post by Alicia Garza. Garza wrote a love letter to black people via Facebook, encouraging them to embrace the idea that “black lives matter.” Cullors saw these words, dropped a hashtag in front of them, and together Cullors and Garza created what many are calling the New Civil Rights Movement.
But Black Lives Matter is much more than a hashtag. Black Lives Matter is not a hobby. It is not a few protests that could boil over in a month or two. Cullors calls Black Lives Matter a “re-humanizing project for black people.” She explained that this is the first time that black students are finally being heard, and urged non-Black allies not to take that away from them. Black Lives Matter reverses an age-old tradition. For the first time, black people – and especially black women, the most marginalized group in America – are brought to the forefront of conversations.
Black Lives Matter is worldwide effort. With over 30 chapters worldwide, black people from Haiti to Toronto, Ghana to D.C., rally together to redefine the struggle. The struggle is against a system built against black people. The struggle is against police brutality. The struggle is against mass incarceration, poverty and immigration reform. The struggle is against a hetero-patriarchal culture that pushes black queer and trans people to the outskirts.
In the middle of her speech, Cullors asked the audience to answer two questions: what are you doing to save black lives and what will you do or continue to do in order to save black lives? Students, faculty, staff and more turned to each other to try to answer. Some reflected on their volunteer experience or leadership roles on campus. Others had no answers at all. So, in the words of the Patrisse Cullors: What will you do to save black lives?