16:06
TEDWomen 2016

Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi: An interview with the founders of Black Lives Matter

Filmed:

Born out of a social media post, the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked discussion about race and inequality across the world. In this spirited conversation with Mia Birdsong, the movement's three founders share what they've learned about leadership and what provides them with hope and inspiration in the face of painful realities. Their advice on how to participate in ensuring freedom for everybody: join something, start something and "sharpen each other, so that we all can rise."

- Writer, activist
Alicia Garza launched a global movement with a single Facebook post that ended with the words: “Black lives matter.” Full bio

- Artist, organizer
Activist Patrisse Cullors created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter as a tonic against years of injustice by police forces and prisons. Full bio

- Human rights activist
By taking the phrase "Black Lives Matter" onto social media, Opal Tometi helped turn a hashtag into a networked movement. Full bio

- Family activist
Mia Birdsong advocates for strong communities and the self-determination of everyday people. Full bio

Mia Birdsong: Why is Black Lives Matter
important for the US right now
00:13
and in the world?
00:18
Patrisse Cullors: Black Lives Matter
is our call to action.
00:20
It is a tool to reimagine a world
00:24
where black people are free to exist,
00:28
free to live.
00:31
It is a tool for our allies
to show up differently for us.
00:33
I grew up in a neighborhood
that was heavily policed.
00:38
I witnessed my brothers and my siblings
00:42
continuously stopped and frisked
by law enforcement.
00:46
I remember my home being raided.
00:49
And one of my questions
as a child was, why?
00:52
Why us?
00:56
Black Lives Matter
offers answers to the why.
00:58
It offers a new vision
for young black girls around the world
01:03
that we deserve to be fought for,
01:09
that we deserve to call
on local governments to show up for us.
01:12
Opal Tometi: And antiblack racism --
01:19
(Applause)
01:21
And antiblack racism is not only
happening in the United States.
01:24
It's actually happening
all across the globe.
01:28
And what we need now more than ever
is a human rights movement
01:31
that challenges systemic racism
in every single context.
01:35
(Applause)
01:40
We need this because the global reality
01:44
is that black people
are subject to all sorts of disparities
01:47
in most of our most challenging
issues of our day.
01:53
I think about issues like climate change,
01:57
and how six of the 10 worst impacted
nations by climate change
01:59
are actually on the continent of Africa.
02:05
People are reeling
from all sorts of unnatural disasters,
02:09
displacing them
from their ancestral homes
02:13
and leaving them without a chance
at making a decent living.
02:16
We also see disasters
like Hurricane Matthew,
02:20
which recently wreaked havoc
in many different nations,
02:24
but caused the most damage to Haiti.
02:28
Haiti is the poorest country
in this hemisphere,
02:31
and its inhabitants are black people.
02:36
And what we're seeing in Haiti
02:39
is that they were actually facing
a number of challenges
02:41
that even preceded this hurricane.
02:44
They were reeling from the earthquake,
02:47
they were reeling from cholera
that was brought in by UN peacekeepers
02:49
and still hasn't been eradicated.
02:53
This is unconscionable.
02:56
And this would not happen if this nation
didn't have a population that was black,
02:58
and we have to be real about that.
03:04
But what's most heartening right now
03:07
is that despite these challenges,
03:09
what we're seeing is
that there's a network of Africans
03:11
all across the continent
03:14
who are rising up and fighting back
and demanding climate justice.
03:16
(Applause)
03:20
MB: So Alicia,
03:23
you've said that when
black people are free,
03:25
everyone is free.
03:27
Can you talk about what that means?
03:29
Alicia Garza: Sure.
03:31
So I think race and racism
is probably the most studied
03:32
social, economic and political
phenomenon in this country,
03:36
but it's also the least understood.
03:40
The reality is that race
in the United States
03:43
operates on a spectrum
from black to white.
03:46
Doesn't mean that people who are
in between don't experience racism,
03:49
but it means that the closer
you are to white on that spectrum,
03:54
the better off you are.
03:57
And the closer to black
that you are on that spectrum
03:59
the worse off your are.
04:02
When we think about
how we address problems in this country,
04:04
we often start from a place
of trickle-down justice.
04:07
So using white folks
as the control we say,
04:11
well, if we make things
better for white folks
04:14
then everybody else is going to get free.
04:16
But actually it doesn't work that way.
04:19
We have to address problems at the root,
04:21
and when you deal with what's
happening in black communities,
04:24
it creates an effervescence, right?
04:28
So a bubble up rather than a trickle down.
04:30
Let me give an example.
04:33
When we talk about the wage gap,
04:35
we often say women make 78 cents
to every dollar that a man makes.
04:36
You all have heard that before.
04:42
But those are the statistics
for white women and white men.
04:44
The reality is that black women
make something like 64 cents
04:47
to every 78 cents that white women make.
04:51
When we talk about latinas,
it goes down to about 58 cents.
04:54
If we were to talk about indigenous women,
04:59
if we were to talk about trans women,
05:01
it would even go further down.
05:03
So again,
05:04
if you deal with those
who are the most impacted,
05:06
everybody has an opportunity
to benefit from that,
05:08
rather than dealing with the folks
who are not as impacted,
05:11
and expecting it to trickle down.
05:15
MB: So I love the effervescence,
05:18
bubbling up.
05:19
AG: Effervescence -- like champagne.
05:20
(Laughter)
05:22
MB: Who doesn't love
a glass of champagne, right?
05:23
Champagne and freedom, right?
05:26
(Laughter)
05:27
What more could we want, y'all?
05:29
So you all have been
doing this for a minute,
05:31
and the last few years have been --
05:34
well, I can't even imagine,
05:37
but I'm sure very transformative.
05:39
And I know that you all
have learned a lot about leadership.
05:41
What do you want
to share with these people
05:45
about what you've learned
about leadership?
05:47
Patrisse, let's start with you.
05:49
PC: Yeah, we have to invest
in black leadership.
05:51
That's what I've learned the most
in the last few years.
05:53
(Applause)
05:56
What we've seen is thousands
of black people showing up for our lives
05:58
with very little infrastructure
and very little support.
06:04
I think our work as movement leaders
isn't just about our own visibility
06:09
but rather how do we
make the whole visible.
06:14
How do we not just fight
for our individual selves
06:19
but fight for everybody?
06:22
And I also think
06:24
leadership looks like
everybody in this audience
06:27
showing up for black lives.
06:32
It's not just about coming
and watching people on a stage, right?
06:35
It's about how do you
become that leader --
06:40
whether it's in your workplace,
whether it's in your home --
06:42
and believe that the movement
for black lives isn't just for us,
06:46
but it's for everybody.
06:50
(Applause)
06:53
MB: What about you, Opal?
06:57
OT: So I've been learning
a great deal about interdependence.
06:58
I've been learning
about how to trust your team.
07:02
I've come up with this new mantra
07:06
after coming back
from a three-month sabbatical,
07:08
which is rare for black women to take
who are in leadership,
07:10
but I felt it was really important
for my leadership and for my team
07:14
to also practice stepping back
07:18
as well as also sometimes stepping in.
07:21
And what I learned in this process
was that we need to acknowledge
07:24
that different people
contribute different strengths,
07:29
and that in order
for our entire team to flourish,
07:33
we have to allow them
to share and allow them to shine.
07:36
And so during my sabbatical
07:40
with the organization
that I also work with,
07:42
I saw our team rise up in my absence.
07:45
They were able to launch new programs,
07:48
fundraise.
07:50
And when I came back,
07:52
I had to give them
a lot of gratitude and praise
07:53
because they showed me
that they truly had my back
07:58
and that they truly had their own backs.
08:01
You know, in this process
of my sabbatical,
08:04
I was really reminded
08:07
of this Southern African
philosophy of Ubuntu.
08:08
I am because you are;
08:13
you are because I am.
08:16
And I realized that my own leadership,
08:19
and the contributions
that I'm able to make,
08:22
is in large part due to the contributions
that they make, right?
08:25
And I have to acknowledge that,
and I have to see that,
08:29
and so my new mantra is,
"Keep calm and trust the team."
08:32
And also,
08:36
"Keep calm and thank the team."
08:37
MB: You know, one of the things
I feel like I've heard
08:40
in the context of the Black Lives Matter
movement more than anywhere else
08:42
is about being a leaderful movement,
08:46
and that's such a beautiful concept,
08:48
and I think that something
08:50
that women often bring
to the conversation about leadership
08:51
is really the collective piece.
08:54
What about you, Alicia?
08:56
AG: Yeah ...
08:58
How many of you heard that saying
that leadership is lonely?
09:00
I think that there is an element
where leadership is lonely,
09:05
but I also believe
that it doesn't have to be like that.
09:08
And in order for us to get to that point,
09:11
I think there's a few things
that we need to be doing.
09:14
So one is we have to stop
treating leaders like superheroes.
09:16
We are ordinary people
attempting to do extraordinary things,
09:21
and so we need to be
supported in that way.
09:26
The other thing that
I've learned about leadership
09:29
is that there's a difference
between leadership and celebrities, right?
09:32
And there's a way in which we've been
kind of transformed into celebrities
09:38
rather than people
who are trying to solve a problem.
09:44
And the way that we treat
celebrities is very fickle, right?
09:47
We like them one day,
09:50
we don't like what they're
wearing the next day,
09:52
and all of a sudden we have issues, right?
09:54
So we need to stop deifying leaders
09:56
so that more people
will step into leadership.
09:59
Lots of people are terrified
to step into leadership
10:01
because of how much scrutiny they receive
10:04
and how brutal we are with leaders.
10:07
And then the last thing
that I've learned about leadership
10:10
is that it's really easy to be a leader
when everybody likes you.
10:12
But it's hard to be a leader
when you have to make hard choices
10:17
and when you have to do what's right,
10:21
even though people
are not going to like you for it.
10:23
And so in that way,
10:26
I think another way
that we can support leaders
10:28
is to struggle with us,
10:30
but struggle with us politically,
10:33
not personally.
10:34
We can have disagreements
without being disagreeable,
10:36
but it's important for us
to sharpen each other,
10:40
so that we all can rise.
10:43
MB: That's beautiful, thank you.
10:45
(Applause)
10:46
So you all are doing work
10:51
that forces you to face
some brutal, painful realities
10:54
on a daily basis.
10:59
What gives you hope
11:02
and inspires you in that context?
11:03
PC: I am hopeful for black futures.
11:07
And I say that because
we live in a society
11:10
that's so obsessed with black death.
11:14
We have images of our death
on the TV screen,
11:17
on our Twitter timelines,
11:21
on our Facebook timelines,
11:23
but what if instead
we imagine black life?
11:26
We imagine black people
living and thriving.
11:30
And that --
11:33
that inspires me.
11:35
OT: What inspires me
these days are immigrants.
11:39
Immigrants all over the world
who are doing the best that they can
11:43
to make a living,
to survive and also to thrive.
11:48
Right now there are
over 244 million people
11:52
who aren't living
in their country of origin.
11:56
This is a 40 percent increase
since the year 2000.
11:59
So what this tells me
12:03
is that the disparities across the globe
are only getting worse.
12:05
Yet there are people who are finding
the strength and wherewithal to travel,
12:10
to move,
12:15
to eke out a better living for themselves
12:16
and to provide for their families
and their loved ones.
12:19
And some of these people
who are immigrants
12:22
are also undocumented.
12:25
They're unauthorized.
12:27
And they inspire me even more
12:28
because although our society
is telling them, you're not wanted,
12:30
you're not needed here,
12:34
and they're highly vulnerable
and subject to abuse, to wage theft,
12:36
to exploitation and xenophobic attacks,
12:40
many of them are also beginning
to organize in their communities.
12:43
And what I'm seeing is
that there's also an emerging network
12:47
of black, undocumented people
who are resisting the framework,
12:52
and resisting the criminalization
of their existence.
12:56
And that to me is incredibly powerful
12:59
and inspires me every singe day.
13:02
MB: Thank you.
13:04
Alicia?
13:06
AG: So we know that young people
are the present and the future,
13:09
but what inspires me are older people
13:13
who are becoming transformed
in the service of this movement.
13:16
We all know that as you get older,
13:21
you get a little more
entrenched in your ways.
13:23
It's happening to me, I know that's right.
13:25
But I'm so inspired when I see people
who have a way that they do things,
13:28
have a way that they
think about the world,
13:32
and they're courageous enough to be open
to listening to what the experiences are
13:34
of so many of us who want
to live in world that's just
13:40
and want to live
in a world that's equitable.
13:43
And I'm also inspired by the actions
that I'm seeing older people taking
13:46
in service of this movement.
13:51
I'm inspired by seeing older people
step into their own power and leadership
13:52
and say, "I'm not passing a torch,
13:57
I'm helping you light the fire."
14:00
(Applause)
14:03
MB: I love that --
14:04
yes.
14:05
So in terms of action,
14:07
I think that it is awesome to sit here
and be able to listen to you all,
14:09
and to have our minds open and shift,
14:13
but that's not going to get
black people free.
14:18
So if you had one thing
you would like this audience
14:21
and the folks who are watching
around the world to actually do,
14:24
what would that be?
14:28
AG: OK, two quick ones.
14:31
One, call the White House.
14:35
The water protectors
are being forcibly removed
14:37
from the camp that they have set up
to defend what keeps us alive.
14:41
And that is intricately
related to black lives.
14:46
So definitely call the White House
and demand that they stop doing that.
14:49
There are tanks
14:53
and police officers arresting
every single person there as we speak.
14:55
(Applause)
15:00
The second thing that you can do
15:02
is to join something.
15:07
Be a part of something.
15:10
There are groups, collectives --
15:11
doesn't have to be a non-profit,
you know what I mean?
15:14
But there are groups that are doing
work in our communities right now
15:16
to make sure that black lives matter
so all lives matter.
15:20
Get involved;
15:24
don't sit on your couch and tell people
what you think they should be doing.
15:25
Go do it with us.
15:29
MB: Do you guys want to add anything?
15:31
That's good? All right. So --
15:34
And I think that the joining something,
15:36
like if you feel like there's
not something where you are, start it.
15:38
AG: Start it.
15:41
MB: These conversations that we're having,
15:42
have those conversations
with somebody else.
15:44
And then instead of just
letting it be a talk that you had,
15:47
actually decide to start something.
15:49
OT: That's right.
15:51
MB: I mean, that's what you all did.
15:52
You started something,
and look what's happened.
15:54
Thank you all so much
for being here with us today.
15:56
OT: Thank you.
15:59
(Applause)
16:01

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About the Speakers:

Alicia Garza - Writer, activist
Alicia Garza launched a global movement with a single Facebook post that ended with the words: “Black lives matter.”

Why you should listen

Alicia Garza is an organizer, writer and freedom dreamer. She is the special projects director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the nation's leading voice for dignity and fairness for the millions of domestic workers in the United States. She is also the co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter, an international movement and organizing project focused on combatting anti-black state-sanctioned violence.

Garza's work challenges us to celebrate the contributions of black queer women's work within popular narratives of black movements and reminds us that the black radical tradition is long, complex and international. Her activism connects emerging social movements, without diminishing the structural violence facing black people.

Garza has been the recipient of many awards for her organizing work, including the Root 100 2015 list of African-American achievers and influencers. She was also featured in the Politico50 guide to the thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics in 2015. She lives and works in Oakland, California.

More profile about the speaker
Alicia Garza | Speaker | TED.com
Patrisse Cullors - Artist, organizer
Activist Patrisse Cullors created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter as a tonic against years of injustice by police forces and prisons.

Why you should listen

Patrisse Cullors is an artist, organizer and freedom fighter from Los Angeles, CA. While she is a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Network, and she is also a performance artist, Fulbright scholar, writer and mother. Cullors brings her full self to this work and wants to use her talents to both grow the Network and its diverse leadership. Cullors serves the Network primarily on the field team and utilizes her energy for leadership development, political strategy and relationship building with chapters based on commitment and shared reciprocity. She is focused on deepening the Network's political work, both long-term and rapid response, specifically around legislation and policy.

More profile about the speaker
Patrisse Cullors | Speaker | TED.com
Opal Tometi - Human rights activist
By taking the phrase "Black Lives Matter" onto social media, Opal Tometi helped turn a hashtag into a networked movement.

Why you should listen

Opal Tometi is a New York-based Nigerian-American writer, strategist and community organizer. She is a co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter. The historic political project was launched in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin in order to explicitly combat implicit bias and anti-black racism, and to protect and affirm the beauty and dignity of all black lives. Tometi is credited with creating the project's online platforms and initiating the social media strategy during its early days. The campaign has grown into a national network of approximately 50 chapters.

Tometi is currently at the helm of the country's leading black organization for immigrant rights, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI). Founded in 2006, BAJI is a national organization that educates and advocates to further immigrant rights and racial justice together with African-American, Afro-Latino, African and Caribbean immigrant communities. As the executive director at BAJI, Tometi collaborates with staff and communities in Los Angeles, Phoenix, New York, Oakland, Washington, DC and communities throughout the southern states. The organization's most recent campaign helped win family reunification visas for Haitians displaced by the 2010 earthquake. BAJI is an award-winning institution with recognition by leading intuitions across the country.

A transnational feminist, Tometi supports and helps shape the strategic work of Pan African Network in Defense of Migrant Rights, and the Black Immigration Network international and national formations respectively, dedicated to people of African descent. She has presented at the United Nations and participated with the UN's Global Forum on Migration and Commission on the Status of Women. Tometi is being featured  in the Smithsonian's new National Museum for African American History and Culture for her historic contributions.

Prior to becoming executive director, Tometi worked as co-director and communications director at BAJI. Her contributions include leading organizing efforts for the first ever black-led rally for immigrant justice and the first Congressional briefing on black immigrants in Washington, DC. Additionally, she coordinated BAJI's work as launch partner with Race Forward's historic "Drop the I-Word" campaign, working with the campaign to raise awareness about the importance of respectful language and history through the lens of the Great Migration, the Civil Rights Movement and current migration of the black diaspora.
 Tometi has been active in social movements for over a decade. She is a student of liberation theology and her practice is in the tradition of Ella Baker, informed by Stuart Hall, bell hooks and black Feminist thinkers. She was a lead architect of the Black-Brown Coalition of Arizona and was involved in grassroots organizing against SB 1070 with the Alto Arizona campaign. Tometi is a former case manager for survivors of domestic violence and still provides community education on the issue.

Tometi holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and a Masters of Arts degree in communication and advocacy. The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, she grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. She currently resides in the Brooklyn, New York where she loves riding her single speed bike and collecting African art. 

More profile about the speaker
Opal Tometi | Speaker | TED.com
Mia Birdsong - Family activist
Mia Birdsong advocates for strong communities and the self-determination of everyday people.

Why you should listen

Mia Birdsong has spent more than 30 years fighting and loving for social justice and liberation. She is the Co-Director of Family Story, an organization working to expand our understanding of what makes a "good" family to include a diversity of arrangements. Before Family Story, Mia was Vice President of the Family Independence Initiative (FII), which uses data to illuminate the initiative low-income families take to improve their lives. At FII, she created and curated the Torchlight Prize, an award for groups of regular people working together to strengthen their own communities. Birdsong also co-founded Canerow, a resource for people dedicated to raising children of color in a world that reflects the spectrum of who they are.

An avid generalist, Birdsong's wide-range of experience includes volunteering and organizing for the prison abolition organization Critical Resistance, years spent in the publishing industry, working in the youth development and health education field as a trainer and educator, apprenticing as a midwife, studying and practicing herbal medicine, building houses, and performing country music.

A frequent speaker and writer on low-income families and communities, social capital, and collective self-organizing, Mia has been published in the Stanford Innovation Review, the Huffington Post, On Being and The Good Men Project. She has also guest lectured at UC Berkeley.

She is a graduate of Oberlin College and an Ascend Fellow of the Aspen Institute. She sits on the Board of Directors of the Tannery World Dance & Cultural Center and the North Oakland Community Charter School.

More profile about the speaker
Mia Birdsong | Speaker | TED.com