As the nation reels from another death of an unarmed Black man at the hands of a police officer and people take to the streets to protest police brutality and systemic racism, more people are talking about race and racism. This includes people who are completely new to the conversation and trying to begin their life-long education. For those people, becoming familiar with Black Lives Matter is an important first step.
Black Lives Matter is a global organization founded in 2013 that centers Black people in the ongoing fight to eradicate white supremacy and end racial violence. By organizing protests, providing resources to the most hard-hit communities, and creating toolkits for other grassroots organizers and allies, Black Lives Matter has become an expansive resource and a vital cornerstone of the continued fight for racial justice.
If you are new to conversations that are popping up in your communities, know you are not alone. Any step towards educating is an impactful one. So if you’re not sure what Black Lives Matter is or what the organization means to current events, here is a good place to start.
How did Black Lives Matter start?
Black Lives Matter was founded by Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter after fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. Garza, a Black queer woman, took to Facebook to express how distraught and angered she was by Zimmerman's acquittal.
"I wrote a post on Facebook that we later called ‘A Love Letter to Black People,'” she said at the 2018 Lesbians Who Tech Summit in New York. "I wrote a post saying that we deserved to live. That we deserved to live with dignity, no matter who we are, or where we come from.
"I ended that post saying that our lives matter. And my sister, Patrisse, put a hashtag in front of it. And I was like, 'What is... why are you putting the pound sign?' Not quite a millennial. She put it on Twitter, with the hashtag 'Black Lives Matter.' My sister, Opal, built the sites that we were able to use, working together to make sure that people could connect online to take action together offline. Today, Black Lives Matter is a hashtag, it's an organization with 40 chapters in four countries, and it is the civil rights movement of our generation."
What does Black Lives Matter stand for?
The foundational principles Black Lives Matter stands for are articulated on the organization's website, and reads as follows:
"Every day, we recommit to healing ourselves and each other, and to co-creating alongside comrades, allies, and family a culture where each person feels seen, heard, and supported.
We acknowledge, respect, and celebrate differences and commonalities.
We work vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension, all people.
We intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting.
We are unapologetically Black in our positioning. In affirming that Black Lives Matter, we need not qualify our position. To love and desire freedom and justice for ourselves is a prerequisite for wanting the same for others.
We see ourselves as part of the global Black family, and we are aware of the different ways we are impacted or privileged as Black people who exist in different parts of the world.
We are guided by the fact that all Black lives matter, regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status, or location.
We make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead.
We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.
We build a space that affirms Black women and is free from sexism, misogyny, and environments in which men are centered.
We practice empathy. We engage comrades with the intent to learn about and connect with their contexts.
We make our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work “double shifts” so that they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work.
We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.
We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).
We cultivate an intergenerational and communal network free from ageism. We believe that all people, regardless of age, show up with the capacity to lead and learn.
We embody and practice justice, liberation, and peace in our engagements with one another."
How does Black Lives Matter work?
"What sets Black Lives Matter apart from other social justice groups, however, is its decentralized approach and reliance almost solely on local, rather than national, leadership," Ryan M. Miller wrote for USA Today in 2016.
Black Lives Matter is a grassroots movement made up of independent chapters. This allows the organization to meet the specific needs of every unique community, and in a way that will be most beneficial to those unique needs in a timely, efficient manner. Those who want to get involved at the local level can visit the Black Lives Matter website and either join a chapter, or start a chapter in their own community.
How you can help Black Lives Matter.
The easiest and most impactful way to support Black Lives Matter is to dig into your pockets. You can donate to the organization via their website, which will continue to fund the movement and their overall goals. You can also elevate the Black Lives Matter cause by sharing their message via Facebook, Instagram, and other social media networks, elevating the voices of Black people, and taking advantage of their toolkits and online resources to have frank, necessary conversations about racism, white privilege, systemic racism, and police brutality with friends, family, coworkers, and your community.
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