‘It’s time to act,’ said co-founder of Black Lives Matter

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/CNS) — A co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement agrees that all lives matter – but she said it’s important to recognize that African-Americans in particular have been marginalized by American society.

“We actually do believe that all lives matter so much that we are willing to call out the fact that our society is reinforcing the fact that the system shows that many believe that black lives don’t matter,” social activist Opal Tometi told about 1,000 people at the Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth University on Thursday night.

“Black Lives Matter is a phrase, an ideology in this world where black people systematically do not matter,” Tometi said.

“We are shifting what is and what could be. Black Lives Matter is about a consciousness of the people – black folks first and foremost, because Black Lives Matter is about an affirmation of our own dignity and our own lives. Beyond that, it’s a demand to the mainstream, to those who are in power and maintaining the status quo.”

Black Lives Matter originated in the African-American community as a campaign against violence toward black people. The movement was co-founded by Tometi and two other community organizers: Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors.

In 2013, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teenager Treyvon Martin, the movement began with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media.

Black Lives Matter has become nationally recognized for its street demonstrations following the 2014 deaths of two African Americans: Michael Brown, resulting in protests and unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City. The campaign has evolved into an international activist movement.

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The activists in the group believe that all lives matter, not just black lives. However, the campaign’s opponents have criticized its focus. They started a movement called All Lives Matter in direct response to Black Lives Matter.

“Much of the work we’re doing with the Black Lives Matter movement and with our particular methods with the 34 chapters across the country is bringing into existence a multiracial democracy that actually works for all of us,” Tometi said.

“We already live in a multiracial society, but what is so evident is that some people – some lives – are more valued than others.”

Tometi called for action and encouraged everyone to get involved.

“We can’t be silent about issues and how people are being marginalized any longer,” she said. “What we need is for everyone to make a very conscious and deliberate decision to be with us or against us. Either fight against the status quo that black lives don’t matter, or join the ones who maintain it.”

As the event came to a close, Tometi stressed the importance of acting. She urged the audience to form or join organizations that support the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Nice thoughts aren’t going to save black lives,” Tometi said. “We’ve been thinking and waiting for a long time. Now it’s time to act.”

Capital News Service is a student-operated news reporting program sponsored by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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