Alicia Garza, Cofounder of Black Lives Matter, on What It’s Like to Be Proven Right

Jenny Singer
·10 mins read

Is there another person who has been as vindicated in her own time as Alicia Garza, who cofounded the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013 with Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Opal Tometi?

When the movement took off after Garza penned the words “Black Lives Matter” in a viral Facebook post, liberal pundits—most of them white—treated the founders as if they were proposing a compelling but ultimately unrealistic piece of legislation. It was as if the movement was a push to send expeditions to Mars, instead of a push for Black people to live and be well. And conservative pundits—most of them white—acted as though Garza and her team were inciting violence by asserting their existence. Few politicians of either major party were willing to say the words “Black Lives Matter” on the campaign trail.

Just seven years later, the shift has been dramatic. With the activists’ hard work laying the foundation, millions of people around the world have risen up to demand overdue justice—not just for George Floyd, whose killing ushered in a renewed movement for civil rights, but for Ahmaud Arbery, for Breonna Taylor, and for all Black Americans.

On social media, millions of people—famous and not—now profess support for Black lives, participate in protests, and call for change. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell—who in 2017 said NFL players must stand for the national anthem and could not take a knee in protest—apologized. In East Texas, a Black Lives Matter rally in a small town that was once a hotbed of the Ku Klux Klan came as such a surprise that some called it a setup. Dolly Parton, who always knows what to say, told Billboard Magazine this week, “Of course Black lives matter. Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No!”

City streets, painted with the words “Black Lives Matter,” have garnered controversy—not just from racists, but from people who don’t want the movement to be reduced to a slogan. Black Lives Matter is in position to take on the status of the rainbow flag—welcome in the majority of public places and a sign of real social shift, though legislative changes are still lagging.

In 2016, Pew Research reported that 4 out of 10 Americans said they supported Black Lives Matter. In 2020, according to Pew, two-thirds say they support the movement. If you are old enough to be reading this article, you have been alive during the time when “Black Lives Matter’ was widely considered subversive, and also when it began to be accepted as the bare minimum.

All of this has happened in Alicia Garza’s life and, in part, in response to her work. And she is still young enough that when Rihanna announced the launch of Fenty Skin, Garza retweeted the announcement with the comment, “WHHHHYYYYYYYYY AND ALSO YASSSSSSSSSSSSSSS.”

Besides continuing to represent the Black Lives Matter movement to the public, Garza launched and runs Black Futures Lab, an organization that works with advocacy groups and leaders across the country to target and alleviate problems facing Black communities. She is the special projects director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance. She hosts the podcast Lady Don’t Take No, which shares both political commentary and Garza’s explanation for “Why Fenty Beauty saves lives.” Her book, The Purpose of Power, is out October 20.

When she spoke to Glamour, she had just adopted a tiny American bulldog puppy named Charlie. We asked Alicia—how do you do it? And how do you make it look so cool?

Backlash is inevitable, but change will come.  

It’s fascinating that seven years later, there are some things that are very similar and some things that have concretely changed. When we first started Black Lives Matter, we were kind of bewildered by why it was seen as controversial. It was so simple! And yet it was met with intense and incredible backlash. And I think some of the backlash resulted in, actually, the election of this president. And some of that backlash continues today. I will tell you that my inboxes are a whole-ass mess.

The way I see it is that what these moments represent, when you see this kind of huge push and pull, is an idea whose time has come. I often think about this time in relationship to the last period of civil rights, when we were fighting for voting rights for Black people, when we were fighting to desegregate our public square. You know, the forces that attack Black Lives Matter today would have been the same forces that attacked freedom riders who registered Black voters in the South in the 1960s, and the same forces who beat peaceful protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

Activism fatigue and social justice burnout are real… 

I have tons of thoughts about this! I want to be super clear that for some of us, you know, we are also fatigued. If this is exhausting to somebody who’s not Black, imagine how it feels to someone who is. We’re fatigued from having to navigate every aspect of our lives that is shaped by racism and white supremacy and patriarchy and all of these ways in which different parts of us and different ones of us get left behind.

With that being said, I think as with anything that is new, there is the real danger of fatigue. Particularly if you’re somebody who is just cluing into the fact that something is deeply wrong with this country and affects millions of people adversely and you’ve decided to throw yourself into it—it would make sense to me that you would be getting tired! Because there’s a lot of work to do and the reach of the problem is vast.

I think what is real is that sometimes we say “fatigue” when we actually mean “overwhelm” or “shame” or “fear”—the scale of these problems that Black communities are facing, they are overwhelming and they are exhausting.

And so I would offer that a key to this work is to stay active, stay present, and also grapple—deeply grapple—with the ways in which what we’re learning about is impacting us emotionally. That is not an invitation to stop doing it because it’s hard.

…but they can be overcome. 

I think of this often—I have a friend who is an avid runner. And I like to run. But as I was kind of learning my running practice, I was saying to her, “How do you keep going when you get tired? You know, I’m struggling with getting tired 5 or 10 minutes into my run.” And she said, “Yeah! That’s the point! You’re exerting yourself, but you have to keep going! And the more you keep going, the more you build endurance, and the more you build endurance, the more you build fortitude, and the more you build fortitude, you start to see your distance and your results increase rapidly.”

What we’re fighting right now—of course it’s tiring!

And so I would say that’s a similar thing to what we’re fighting right now—of course it’s tiring! Of course it brings up all of these different feelings and emotions that actually impact our ability to stay in it, but that’s why it’s important to stay in it. Because it is actually when we turn away because we don’t want to grapple with the emotional toll that we continue to see the types of violations and murders to which we’ve become regular witnesses.

Do work that reflects your values.

What both drives me and helps me to take care of myself is feeling like so much of this work that I get to do is fully in my purpose. How do I say this—there are a lot of requests for my time or my participation, but the way I take care of myself is by making sure that where I spend my time is deeply reflective of what feels on-time and on-purpose.

So much of the work that I do is focused on making Black communities powerful through politics so that we can be powerful in every aspect of our lives, and that work is deeply personal to me. As somebody whose mother used to do domestic work when I was a kid to be able to make ends meet, I feel deeply and passionately that Black women are a critical part of this democracy. So having many opportunities to do my job is actually an honor.

Beauty has a role to play in the revolution (and so does Rihanna).

This pandemic has actually shaken up the ways in which I adorn. In all the right ways, I think. I’m somebody who is very femme—I like to have my nails done, and I like to have them adorned with lots of jewels and different colors. I love different hair colors and hairstyles, bright colors, and bold lipsticks. Sometimes I get into eye shadows…sometimes I leave eye shadows alone!

Pre-pandemic, I had a routine that included wearing makeup every day—and Fenty Beauty, it was my bag, because it was so easy and I didn’t have to hunt and search to find something that would complement my skin. I’m so excited for her skin-care line. I saw it and was like, “Rihanna wants to take all my money and I’m completely here for it.”

What I’m doing these days, honestly, is taking really good care of my skin and trying to drink a lot of water, and I’m only wearing lipsticks. I definitely miss my lash lady! But given where we are right now, I’ve found a bit of peace in a bright red lip—it brings out the glow in your skin but also gives me a little bit of something to get excited about when I’m spending a ton of time in my house staring at myself on computer screens.

Another world is possible.

There’s not much that I do that I don’t have a full expectation that I will see some progress on in my lifetime. I came up in an organizing tradition where people said things like, “We do this work because we want future generations to be better.” To be honest, that’s not much of an incentive to engage in this work! The work is tiring, it’s exhausting, it’s painful. But the reason that you keep going is for the possibility that you will see change in your lifetime. In fighting for yourself, there’s an opportunity to fight for one another and to acknowledge that we all deserve better.

I’m old enough to have family members who remember when there was a fear campaign that was generated to oppose desegregation. People said that the most terrible calamities would happen if we allowed Black people who were formerly enslaved to have the same rights and the same access to dignity that white folks had. And I think we would agree that none of those calamities came to be. In fact, desegregating this country—or beginning the process of it—made this country better.

And I would say that’s the moment we’re in now—we are witnessing an old way of being organized going out of fashion, and ushering in a new way of being as a nation, and that is a change that I welcome, and it’s also a change that I one hundred percent expect to see in my lifetime. That is fundamentally what I think Black Lives Matter is trying to bring forward.

Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.

Originally Appeared on Glamour