In the past few years, Black Lives Matter has grown from a simple Facebook hashtag to one of the worlds most powerful and provocative activist groups. Their mission to shed light on the extrajudicial killings of African Americans has, especially in 2020, gained immense mainstream media popularity. This past Tuesday; I had the opportunity to sit down for a Zoom webinar run by New York University, with Opal Tometi, one of three BLM cofounders.
Initially I was skeptical about what I would hear in this webinar. As someone with more conservative beliefs, BLM has always seemed to me like an organization hell bent on the destruction of the American system to me. In recent months I have spent many hours infont of the tv watching riots and violence with BLM being blamed as the main culprit. My skepticism also stemmed from my personal experiences. Growing up in a very urban and diverse area, I had never seen BLM personally help any of my black friends. I saw the organization more as a front. As I would always tell my friends, “I support black lives matter the sentiment, not the organization”. But after hearing Tometi’s very impressive speech this past week, I myself have come full circle in my attitudes towards the movement.
Tometi began her speech talking about her upbringing in Arizona. According to her, Arizona is one of the most racist and xenophobic areas of the entire country. There are many laws to deter and deport “illegal” immigrants, and the state is only 4% African American. Growing up in this environment, Tometi knew it was her destiny to help create a more racially sensitive and accepting world.
Tometi’s activist journey began with the killing of Traevon Martin. The wrongful killing of Martin spread outrage throughout the black community worldwide. In response to this tragic event, Tometi started #blacklivesmatter on Facebook. The hashtag trended and from that a movement was born. In 2014 following the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson Missouri, BLM began to gather for protest. Tometi and her colleagues began organizing massive protests for racial justice in Ferguson, as well as nationally.
Fast forward to the modern day, BLM has millions of social media followers, chapters in almost every state, and has worldwide notoriety. With such a large organization, it can be easy to lose track of the message. This was one thing Tometi laid to rest in her speech. BLM is not an anarchist group, or front for democrat super PACS, but is a groups dedicated to creating a more equal and just world for African Americans. They are a group that seeks to uphold the values of the American judicial system for people of all races.
As one may expect, there are near equally as many people who stand in opposition to BLM. But in both my and Tometi’s opinion, most of these people are simply misinformed. Tometi spoke about how the mainstream media on both the left and right has shaped BLM’s message to fit their narrative. I believe that this is an organization that everyone should support as we strive for a more racially just world.