Black Lives Matter is one of the largest Black social media and social justice movements of our time.
It was started by three Black women, two of whom identify as queer and one who comes from a Nigerian immigrant family. These three women have catapulted Black Lives Matter from a single Facebook post, to “a national network of approximately 40 chapters.” Each woman behind the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has her own set of amazing accomplishments and accolades, and each deserves recognition for her contributions to both BLM and other social justice organizations. Read on to find out more about each of the Black Lives Matter co-founders.
Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, coined the term for the movement in her “love letter to black people,” which she wrote in 2013 on Facebook in response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the reactions she saw to the case in her newsfeed. Garza said that many of her friends’ reactions were ones of victim-blaming; “blaming black people for our own conditions,” rather than focusing on the institutionalized racism and biases that allowed Zimmerman to walk free. George Zimmerman’s verdict was “a verdict that said: black people are not safe in America,” said Garza. In her letter on Facebook, Garza called to her friends to band together to make sure “that black lives matter.” Aside from her work for Black Lives Matter, Garza is also the Special Projects Director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, where she works to ensure that domestic workers (particularly black women) can come together to support one another, as well as receive fair and equal treatment across the United States.
Patrisse Cullors is an artist, noted prison reform advocate, and founder of Dignity and Power Now, a grassroots organization that fights for prison reform, police accountability, and the rights of incarcerated people and their families. Cullors co-founded BLM after she began reposting friend Alicia Garza’s initial Facebook post, with the addition of #blacklivesmatter each time. Two of the three BLM co-founders identify as queer, including Cullors, and all three of the co-founders recognize the increased amount of harassment and discrimination black women face in the LGBTQ+ community. “[Black Lives Matter] was created from not just a politic of ‘blackness,’ but it was created from the intersections of blackness, womanness, and queerness,” Cullors said of the founding of the movement.
Opal Tometi is the third co-founder of BLM, and helped create the social media strategy for the movement after being contacted by Garza and Cullors. The daughter of Nigerian immigrant parents, Tometi is also the executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), “the country’s leading Black organization for immigrant rights,” where she advocates for and educates others on Black immigrant communities. In co-founding BLM, Tometi wanted to ensure that the movement was inclusive towards all members of the Black community, including the many immigrants she works with. “I had in mind that it was really important that we establish a really broad notion of who is Black America,” Tometi said of BLM. “A really broad notion to ensure that this platform was big enough for the communities like the ones that I represent…and that they could also have their concerns heard.”
Each of the Black Lives Matter co-founders have earned numerous awards and recognition for their contributions to the movement, including the Black Girls Rock Community Change Agent Award from BET, The Webby Award for Social Movement of the Year, and recognition as some of the “World’s Greatest Leaders” from Fortune. Still, these women are routinely forgotten about and erased in discussions of Black rights and the rights of other people of color, and have had their movement co-opted by many different groups. This is why it is so vital to learn about Garza, Cullors, and Tometri’s work; without these women, and the tireless efforts of their supporters, the Black Lives Matter movement never would have become what it is now.