Patrisse Cullors | The 2021 MAKERS Conference

Artist, Activist, Abolitionist, and Co-founder of Black Lives Matter, talks about the courageous conversations we must have to continue to push for equity and progress.

Video Transcript

PATRISSE CULLORS: Hey there, Makers. So excited to be here. Patrisse Cullors here. I am so grateful to be taking this virtual stage and have a chance to connect with you on something that I've been doing essentially my entire life, abolition.

I've been getting this question a lot in light of the Derek Chauvin trial. What would the world look like and what would the outcome look like for Derek Chauvin if we actually lived an abolitionist world? Well, in an abolitionist world, there would be no police, no prisons, no surveillance. Derek Chauvin would not have been able to kill George Floyd. There would be no trial for four weeks while we watched this man and the entire country have to re-experience the trauma of a Black man being killed by the state.

Abolition is also about listening deeply to people and talking to the people about what they want and can help and our collective care. Before we get into the larger conversation around abolition and why I'm here, let us take a step back and look at what abolition really means. The simplest definition, which I love, is the human rights attorney Derecka Purnell, who said, in quotes, "an invitation to finding new answers and the problems of harm and to building new ways to prevent harm in the first place," end quote.

I know the term abolition can sound scary as people usually have a strong reaction to the word itself. Abolition is a complex topic. And change like this doesn't happen overnight. It's a long and sometimes exhaustive road.

Abolition is not just about what we're getting rid of. Abolition is about what we're imagining, what we're dreaming of, what we deserve. Abolition is also about courageous conversations, moving away from reactivity and towards responsiveness, being active in our forgiveness, taking care of ourselves while fighting for others and making space for difficult feelings honoring our mental health, and so much more.

It's not easy. And we have to make sure that we are caring for ourselves and others in this process, as I believe abolition is also a practice that focuses on our mental and emotional wellness. It's collective care. It's coming together as community. And it's being with each other, making decisions collectively. It's my goal to make clear what abolitionist practice looks like in your day-to-day life.

Courageous conversations are at the very foundation for being and understanding abolition. I remember telling my mother when I-- I remember telling my mother when I was going to write my memoir "When They Call You a Terrorist." I remember how hesitant she was on me telling my story, how worried she was about what the world would think about her as a parent. I remember talking about police surveillance in our communities, the impact of over-incarceration.

By opening myself up to her concerns and talking through it, we were able to come to a point where I was still able to tell my story, and I felt good about doing it. These courageous conversations however big or small, they are the very first step in your abolitionist journey. And they communicate those. And we must be in communication about those feelings. It is one of the many pillars in one's abolitionist journey.

With these conversations, taking situations head-on, and acknowledging why we feel a certain way, we must also practice active forgiveness. This is something that you will continue to work on. We practice forgiveness so we can deepen our commitment to a transformed self, collective, and world.

We're made to think that this abolitionist work needs to come from a place of anger, frustration, and other emotions. That will absolutely sometimes be the case. But being an abolitionist requires a heart that is pure and steady. Being able to actively forgive and speak calmly and understandingly with others you may be in conflict with also takes us being able to control our reactions and give thoughtful, composed responses instead.

Our goal to speak from a grounded place is incredibly challenging. It means we need to and must look at our own feelings and reactions first. We have to identify what we are truly upset about. I know that I'm very emotional. I've been my entire life. So it's important for me to have a default peace setting. That means sometimes, I have to say no to something important in order to say yes to myself.

Sometimes, we dive into reacting when we really need to absorb what's being said. If you hear something that doesn't sit well with you, write it down. Take a break. Taking it out of your head and resting it somewhere else may not end the discomfort, but you can at least temporarily subdue it instead of ramping up the emotion.

This early exercise serves two purposes. You can slow down your reaction time. And later, the voice memos or notes can be a part of a conversation of the issue that must be addressed. The idea that you could share with someone else how you felt before you are reactive is huge at respecting your thoughts, but also respecting the impact that has on others. Keep these efforts very small. And make sure they are about small things before you find yourself trying to engage in larger conflicts that you're not prepared for.

All I can say and encourage you to do is to continually center your purpose when you're doing abolitionist decision making. There's always more we can do for sure. The ideal is just to try our best and to stay aware. Imagining beyond the status quo is one of the cornerstones of the principles of abolition.

My hope is that we would all be open to new ideas and be willing to listen to each other. We must move toward an abolitionist future and leave with love, fierce-- and lead with love, fierce compassion, and precision. Thank you so much, y'all.