Every February since 1976, Americans have celebrated Black History month to salute the historical achievements of Black Americans. Over the years, the month-long celebration has changed a bit, from showcasing the resilience and contributions of long-gone Black Americans such as Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King and Chester Morris to acknowledging the trauma and racism faced by blacks today.
Movements like Black Lives Matter have risen from this sentiment, reflecting on the continued struggle for racial justice and advocating for an end to systemic racism in America. For many Americans, the Black Lives Matter movement, founded, nearly eight years ago, has become the political, spiritual and cultural peak of the unheard. Last summer, it was behind roiling street demonstrations that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and demanded accountability within and outside of the civil rights community. BLM has been arguably one of the biggest shapers of politics over the past year.
But where is the movement headed and how will it evolve as a political force? NYCity Lens spoke with some of the movement’s founders to find out.
“The power of Black Lives Matter has been about being able to both be a protest movement and a movement that’s deeply involved in politics,” Alicia Garza, one of the movement’s co-founders, told NY City Lens in a phone interview.
Garza, along with Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, founded Black Lives Matter in July 2013 to combat violence and systemic racism following the acquittal in July 2013 of George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin after a brief altercation in Sanford, Florida.
Last summer, however, Black Lives Matter became a household phrase globally, following the killings of George Floyd , Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Corporations and elected officials begun to understand why the term Black Lives Matter is necessary, and Black Lives Matter murals began popping up in all corners of the globe. Demonstrations extended to more than 60 countries and six continents to protest the killings of Black people in America. In January, the movement was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
‘’We are proud to have been nominated for the Nobel Prize award. The world is recognizing our contribution to promoting Human rights and racial Justice,’’ said Opal Tometi, another one of the founders of BLM in an interview.
While BLM has become a voice for Black liberation worldwide, here at home, it has also sparked a backlash from conservatives and extremists on the far right. Former President Donald Trump called the Black Lives Matter a symbol of hate.
‘’Black Lives Matter movement is part of a “mob rule” that is “destroying many Black lives,” Trump said in June 2020 at a White House press conference.
BLM’s founders say that Trump’s rhetoric is baseless as BLM doesn’t stand for hate. They have asked Trump to restrain from using his clout to taint the image of the movement, even now that he is out of office.
“This rhetoric unfortunately has been brewing for many, many years. It is important for us to know that we did not get here over night. We know the rhetoric that Donald Trump continues to share using his platform and using the office of the presidency was in fact backed up with actions,” said Tometi. “I am so glad that he is no longer the president of this country.” s
With the election of President Joseph Biden, many activists have noted that the movement can start to breathe easy. They point to the new president’s efforts to diversify his cabinet and to his choice for vice president, Kamala Harris, the first Black and Indian American woman to be elected to national office.
But, Tometi says, now, is not the time to relax.
‘’We see the divergent conversations happening about Black Lives Matter, by and large, after the election of Vice President Kamala Harris, a black woman, but the majority of people need to understand that we are a robust and necessary human rights movement and we are tired of the demonization of Black Lives,” said Tometi.
She added that she has hope in the Biden administration and is pushing for the introduction of laws that will protect the black community in America. Vice President Harris and the election of Cory Bush, who became the first Black woman to represent Missouri in the House of Representative both represent historical and landmark accomplishments, BLM’s leaders say.
But they also want Americans to acknowledge the ways that young Black activists and organizers have moved from organizing Black Lives Matter demonstrations to taking on roles of political leadership on a grand scale.
‘’What we need to do now is harness that goodwill and harness the popular energy and make sure that it’s enshrined into law,” said Tometi. “We need a lot of policies that are for black lives.’’