Acclaimed activist speaks to campus

On September 21, the Pugh Center Lecture Series welcomed artist, organizer, and activist Patrisse Cullors to speak to the campus community. The talk, which was held in Ostrove Auditorium, engaged a large crowd in a discussion on the racial dynamic in America.

Cullors, who is currently based in Los Angeles, is founder of Dignity and Power Now (DPN) and co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter. According to its website, DPN is a “grassroots organization based in Los Angeles that fights for the dignity and power of incarcerated people, their families, and communities.”WEBblacklivesmatter

In collaboration with fellow activists Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, Cullors founded the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013 to provide on-the-ground support to communities across the country who have “taken action and responded to the ongoing virulent anti-Black racism permeating our society,” according to Cullors’s personal website.

During her speech on campus, Cullors’ cited the tumultuous events surrounding the fatal shooting of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman as the catalyst for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Cullors said that the ultimate acquittal of Zimmerman for the shooting made her realize that an intervention had to be made that “could galvanize black people across the country,” and illuminated for her that the country is “not post-racial.”

When Cullors went to social media to “grieve” Zimmerman’s verdict, she read a note Garza wrote to the black community that included the phrase “black lives matter.” Cullors instantly recognized the importance of the phrase and decided “it not only needed to be a hashtag, but also a project.”

As one of the first steps of this new project, Cullors led a protest in Beverly Hills, CA, a historically white neighborhood. The protest garnered a lot of attention from the police, according to Cullors, and accomplished the movement’s goal of making the white commu- nity feel the same sense of police occupation that black communities feel on a daily basis. Many members of the community ultimately joined the conversation, marking the beginning of one of the first local chapters of #BlackLivesMatter.

The power of the movement was further shown in 2014, when outrage surrounding the fatal shooting of 18 year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO led to another protest. Cullors and her partners watched on the news as protestors in Ferguson were being met with tear gas and rubber bullets, essentially “under attack for showcasing that black lives matter,” Cullors said. Along with writer and activist Darnell Moore, Cullors organized a 500-person ride across the country to St. Louis. Their mission, said Cullors, was to “show the country that Ferguson is not an aberration. Ferguson is Los Angeles. Ferguson is Atlanta. Ferguson is Maine.”

At the end of the talk, Cullors noted that this time period is America’s opportunity to “show up” for black lives, and said the question for Colby students is “what are you going to do?”

Following the talk, Cullors invited the audience to ask questions. In one of her responses, Cullors addressed the usage of the phrase “All Lives Matter” and described it as a “negation of black lives.” She said that the issues with that phrase are apparent in an analogous cartoon that portrays two houses, one that is burning and one that is safe, with a caption that reads: “All Houses Matter.”

In addition to her work with DPN and #BlackLivesMatter, Cullors has recently completed a fellowship at the Acrus Center for Social Justice Leadership. The fellow ship focused on state and vigilante violence for the 2014 Without Borders Conference, according to a statement from the Pugh Center. Cullors is also a Fullbright Scholar, the 2007 Mario Savio Activist of the Year, and received the Sidney Goldfarb award. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a dual degree in religion and philosophy.