After the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting and death of Trayvon Martin, Alicia Garza wrote a short, but history-making statement in social media — seeing it, her friend Patrisse Cullors turned it into a hashtag, which went viral.
Since then, the movement has spread across the country, bringing together activists of all ages and races. Garza, Cullors, and their friend Opal Tometi are credited as the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I thought, wow, we’re onto something and obviously this wasn’t just something that myself, Alicia, and Opal felt,” Cullors said.
Cullors is the founder and a board member of Los Angeles’ Dignity and Power Now and the director for truth and reinvestment at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
Many people are surprised to hear that the founders of BLM, not only are women, but that two identify as queer. Cullors said that the LGBT community has been a large part of the movement, and many LGBT people have stepped up in their neighborhoods to spread the word of equality.
“We’re not a monolithic group,” Cullors said of black people. “We come in different shades and different sizes, we have different sexual orientations, different gender identities, different gender expressions. We are children, we are adults, we are teenagers.”
“To try to talk about LGBT people and black people as separate entities is a mistake and we have to talk about the intersections in which people live,” she continued.
Since BLM got its start, the “Say Her Name” campaign has urged people to not ignore the murders of black transgender women. Many other variations have since popped up as well including #GayLivesMatter and #BlackTransLivesMatter.
According to an extensive report by BuzzFeed News, 24 transgender women were killed from November 2014 to November 2015, double the previous year’s numbers. Seventeen of them were black.
Naomi Parker is an outspoken activist who has lived in Wilton Manors for 23 years, including running for Wilton Manors commissioner.
“It was started about black lives mattering in terms of not being visible,” she said of the movement. “If you’re looking through that lens of only one ethnicity or that lens of just one race, then you don’t really see anybody.”
Protesters and activists have furthered the movement in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, MD, but recently the movement hit home in South Florida with the death of Corey Jones, a black musician who was killed in Palm Beach Gardens in October 2015.
Although details are not clear, according to reports, Jones was driving home from a late gig when his car broke down on I-95. As he waited for his band mate to get help, an off duty officer pulled over, thinking he had come across an abandoned van. It’s believed that Jones was alarmed and pulled out his gun, which he owned legally. The officer shot at him six times, hitting him three times, and Jones’s body was found 80 to 100 feet from his car, according to CBS News.
The officer who shot and killed Jones was put on administrative leave, then fired.
“It just really hits home because you think you’re driving home late at night… we’re coming home late from gigs, that could easily be one of us,” said Valerie Tyson, a local musician.
Because she is well known within the musician community, and is a sort of “elder statesman” to younger musicians, she tries to keep a positive tone on her social media and encourages young people to respect themselves and be kind to one another.
“We’ve got to do better than this. This is not how we do things,” Tyson said. “Every time you turn on the TV, someone is getting gunned down, some person is losing their life, and nine times out of 10 over nothing. Over nothing. As a human being, I hurt for them.”
Tyson attended a rally honoring Jones, and was moved by the fact that a variety of people attended.
Cullors said that many people have been confused about why there has been such a focus on black lives, but feels that “when we really deal with issues of black people, inside this country and outside the country, we will make the rest of this country better.”
Parker points out, “All lives matter. But black lives matter, women’s lives matter differently — not better, I’m just saying differently — in the sense that when you have a factor of invisibility that’s why it takes on a different light.”
When asked what advice she would give to local South Florida activists, Cullors said: keep going.
“It’s important to know that myself and Alicia Garza and I are out, queer women and that when we joined this movement, especially the movement for black lives, we just said ‘Black Lives Matter.’ There weren’t many spaces for black people to come as our whole selves, especially with our sexual orientation. It’s critical that we see that there’s an evolution in this current civil rights movement.”
Originally published in South Florida Gay News’s Mirror magazine.