BLM activist joins the Pikes Peak Library District to talk about police, community relations

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COLORADO SPRINGS — The Pikes Peak Library District (PPLD) held a virtual, moderated Q&A Community Conversation Thursday evening to discuss police and community relations with BLM activist Patrisse Cullors.

Patrisse Cullors is the author of the New York Times bestseller, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir and a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network in 2013.

“Community Conversations” is a new series of monthly events, created by PPLD, that invite the public to discuss current events and issues impacting the Pikes Peak region.

The virtual Q&A kicked off with a question about starting the Black Lives Matter movement and why.

Cullors said, ” We started Black Lives Matter – Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and I – because we were tired of seeing Black people murdered. We were tired of experiencing a level of apathy from both our city, county, state, and national government when it came to Black death. We also started Black Lives Matter because we were very much interested in galvanizing young people. I was 29-years-old when I started BLM with Alicia and Opal, and we wanted to – we felt like we were a generation that had been really neglected, wasn’t given the opportunity to be utilized, our resources be utilized. And so that felt really important to us – to create something for millennials and younger Black folks who didn’t really fit into the, you know, old civil rights institutions.” She continued, “We started Black Lives Matter as really a love letter to Black people and a calling in from our allies to show up for us, to me, deeply believe that when Black people get free, everybody else also gets free. So we started Black Lives Matter so that we could have Black folks feel a sense of agency, urgency, and our allies to also feel a sense of urgency and clear direction on what to do and where to go when really fighting for Black lives.”

The phrase which began a global movement started with a love letter and a hashtag.

“Alicia wrote a love letter to Black people the day we found out that George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin,” Cullors said. “She wrote that love letter and used the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter,’ I then put a hashtag on that phrase, and it was that phrase in particular that stood out to me. I knew I felt it in my bones that this phrase could help us communicate something and amplify something that we’ve been wanting to amplify for a long time.”

Cullors explained that the first people she thought about were Trayvon Martin’s parents and how Sybrina and Tracy Fulton felt. When Sybrina appealed to the country after her son’s murder, Cullors says she heard a mother’s love. Similar to what she heard from Alicia, a love for the community and love, a deep and profound love for humanity.

“Because the reality is is the current way that we are driving this system, we are driving the earth into the ground; we are driving communities into the ground, we driving people’s morals and people’s desire to fight for themselves and others into the ground,” voiced Cullors. “What we are currently up against was not sustainable; it is not a sustainable model. The model that we are living inside of is not a model made of love; it’s not a model made of committing to humanity, it’s a model that is really driven by greed, a model that’s driven by power over, a model that’s driven by violence and so the model of Black Lives Matter is a model-driven by love. When we go to the streets of protest, our protest is our grief; it’s how we share our grief. Some people may mistake it as rage and anger as being the primary emotion we have when protesting. Still, I argue that Black people share our grief in public by protest and share our love in public by protest.”

Black Lives Matters has been named the largest civil rights movement in the history of this country. According to Cullors, the history of civil rights movements has always been about love.

She says, “They’ve always been rooted in humanity and making humanity healthier and better, and that will always come with some form of protest this very country was founded on protest and so to equate protests with being a movement of hate it’s just so false and clearly misinformation and disinformation and also a way to undermine what this movement is actually up to and what it’s actually doing.”

A little later on in the Q&A, Cullors encouraged folks to read her books, both the adult version “When They Call You a Terrorist” and the young adult version. She says she wanted to create a space for young people to be able to communicate what they’re seeing right now and be able to have a language for that.

Cullors was asked by a viewer how she feels when the ‘All Lives Matter’ phrase is used? 

A man in a Jason mask holds an “All Lives Matter” sign at a pro-Trump demonstration as smoke from the Apple Fire rises in the background Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, in Yucaipa, Calif. A clash between locals erupted after Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted a pro-Trump demonstration. (AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa)

“It depends. I think for a long time, that phrase was and is a phrase that is really steeped in undermining the Blacks Lives Matter, so you know it meant that, when people used All Lives Matter, whether it was elected officials or you know civilians, it meant they were against BLM. I think now as we’ve seen the entire world say Black Lives Matter and say it unapologetically, you know we see it across the screens of Netflix and Amazon, we’ve seen major corporations use it. Now when someone is saying All Lives Matter that they are definitely intentionally trying to undermine the movement and they are saying when they say All Lives Matter that Black lives don’t matter. So I didn’t give you my feelings. Still, my feelings used to be a lot of anger, a lot of disappointment, but now I feel like telling people ‘that’s so 2015, like get with the times,’ you know? You can say Black Lives Matter now, everybody’s saying it, Amazon is saying it for goodness sakes, so it doesn’t impact me in the ways that it used to.” 

Cullors expressed goals for the BLM movement given everything that has gone on this year.

“We are in a beautiful time of transition right now, we’ve been alive and well for seven years, but we’ve also had a lot of sacrifices. You know we did a lot of our work with very little resources for a very long time, which meant that people were burnt out and exhausted, and so this year, we are launching philanthropic effort inside of Black Lives Matter. We’re spending more time researching Black Lives Matter movements across the globe. So with all the money that has been brought in contrary to popular right-wing belief, we will be regranting those dollars back into the ground to really look at some key areas for Black Lives Matter, which will look like GOV work. We want to make sure that black communities know how to get out and vote, not just for the national elections. Still, there are amazing local elections that are happening across the country, and it’s important for people to understand that and to understand our local elections are just as important as our national election. And so we will be doing GOV across the country and in key states, we’re also going to be regranting dollars to groups that are working on maternal mortality and morbidity, working on issues around who to pantries. These communities do not have the healthy food they deserve; we’re going to be continuing to work with people who are doing work around ending police violence and stopping mass incarceration in their communities. We are getting 12 and a half million dollars out the door in October. Six million will go to the chapters, and the Black Lives Matter network and another six and a half million will go to community groups across the country, so we are so excited to be able to regrant dollars in that way. There’s a separate organization that is going to be lead by the chapters of Black Lives Matters that’s going to be starting a chapter building that’s separate from our philanthropic efforts called Black Lives Matter Grassroots. Black Lives Matter Grassroots will work with all the groups on the ground directly, and that’s what our work is going to look like moving forward,” Cullors answered.

Cullors went on to talk about how the BLM movement must remain nonviolent, “there is no universe in which Black Lives Matter protesters taking up arms will actually get us closer to what we want,” she said.

As the Q&A wrapped up, Cullors said if we stay on the road of racial reckoning, we will get closer to freedom, liberation, love, healing, care, and dignity.

“I really truly believe that and every single industry is having to deal with the racial reckoning, similar to how industries had to deal with Me Too, sexual assault and violence. It’s not an anomaly; it doesn’t just happen somewhere, but it happens everywhere.” She continued, “Racism, sexism, patriarchy, all of these things exist inside our institutions. It’s our job to face it and look at it head-on; we could be shivering, teeth chattering, nervous but remembering that everyone around us. If we are collectively working together, we can change our systems together, that’s how this will work. It’s going to work when we all join in; we all make the decision to be wide awake and available to this new way of being.”

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