One of the brains behind the Black Lives Matter movement and Human rights activist Opal Tometi was invited by NYU for a webinar hosted by professors Pamela Newkirk and Deborah Wills on October 7, 2020.Tometi talked about her activism and thoughts about the momentum #BlackLivesMatter has received, her concerns regarding the direction BLM is headed towards, the struggles Black people have to face and her hopes to achieve equality and justice for every marginalized community.
I was interested to tune into the webinar to get an insight about the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. BLM is a phrase that carries immense weight and relevance in today’s time and has proven to be so revolutionary and talked about yet there is little to none known about the founders behind it. Since I haven’t grown up in the US, I wasn’t aware about the deep-rooted racism the Black community still faces in America. After the brutal murder of George Floyd and the nationwide protests that followed , I made a conscious decision to extensively educate myself on this matter and talked to numerous friends who shared their first hand experiences with facing racism in America which has been an eye opener for me. Therefore, I was keen on hearing from Opal Tometi co-founder of BLM movement herself and learn about her journey and story behind the activism she does.
Tometi started off by talking about her experiences with race growing up as a black woman of Nigerian Descent in Phoenix, Arizona which she mentioned was “an extremely conservative anti immigrants state” the system there was designed to deter “outsiders”. She shared how she had personally seen people close to her being deported and detained and the traumatic impact it had on families pushed her to stand up against the system.
Her activism career started after hearing about George Zimmerman being acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2013. Alicia Garza, another co-founder of BLM expressed her pain and frustration regarding Zimmerman’s acquittal on a Facebook hash tagged as #Black Lives Matter, which got viral and since then the term was coined as the slogan for the movement against the systematic injustices/racism the Black community faces.
Tometi expressed how grateful she feels that this movement has worldwide support and that finally her and the Black community’s voice was being heard. She also mentioned how concerned she feels when she hears that there are active efforts to suppress their right to protest which is obviously a democratic right of every American citizen granted by the first amendment. “Between 2015 and 2019, state lawmakers have introduced a total of 116 bills aimed at curtailing protest rights, 23 of which have become law in 15 states. In 2020, an additional 16 anti-protest bills have been introduced and four have become law” (Johnson). Dissent is so essential to democracy and bills to suppress activism is anti-democratic. Dissenting voices are being suppressed through multiple tactics such as lawsuits, loss of jobs for employees supporting BLM, fake news framing the movement negatively etc.
When asked by one of the moderators about her thoughts regarding the commercialization of BLM she expressed her concerns saying that although she’s happy seeing big corporations supporting the movement she feels a lot of those companies are still not tackling the issue internally and are just putting on a show because it’s expected of them to make a statement. According to Pew research “52% of U.S. adults say it is very or somewhat important that companies and organizations make public statements about political or social issues”. Within companies there still exists a massive disparity in terms of people of color particularly Black people getting leadership positions “Black people account for about 12% of the U.S. population, but occupy only 3.2% of the senior leadership roles at large companies in the U.S. and just 0.8% of all Fortune 500 CEO positions, according to the analysis by the Center for Talent Innovation, a workplace think tank in New York City”(Brooks). Tometi expressed that she’s hopeful that their movement will help to bring genuine change in corporate culture.
Black Lives Matter movement has ignited a long overdue conversation around racism in the modern age. With the power of social media, it has been able to attract global support and has had been successful in having people and companies recognizing and acknowledge the existence of racist behavior and furthermore pledging to tackle the issue. After hearing Opal Tometi I do feel that this movement will lead to positive change, it will be a slow and long process, but it will bring the needed change.
Anderson, M., & McClain, C. (2020, August 20). Americans see pressure, rather than genuine concern, as big factor in company statements about racism. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/08/12/americans-see-pressure-rather-than-genuine-concern-as-big-factor-in-company-statements-about-racism/
Brooks, K. (2019, December 10). Why so many black business professionals are missing from the C-suite. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/black-professionals-hold-only-3-percent-of-executive-jobs-1-percent-of-ceo-jobs-at-fortune-500-firms-new-report-says/
Common Dreams, & Johnson, J. (2020, May 27). New PEN America Report Warns Surge of Anti-Protest Laws in Trump Era Is ‘Danger to Expressive Rights of All’. Retrieved October 26, 2020