In July 2013, activist and organizer Patrisse Cullors tweeted “#BlackLivesMatter” in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who had murdered 17-year-old African American Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. on February 26, 2012.
Since then, the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter” has been Tweeted over 41 million times, according to “N.P.R.” Black Lives Matter is now an international organization with more than 40 chapters, according to the Black Lives Matter website.
Marking Andover’s 29th annual commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day, Cullors called upon students to enact social change as part of her talk during All-School Meeting (ASM). Cullors also asked the audience to look beyond the triviality of politics and focus on the preservation of basic humanity throughout the world.
“This is not political. This is literally about humanity,” said Cullors.
This nonpartisan message resonated with Shyan Koul ’19, who said he appreciated Cullors’ efforts to call everyone into the pursuit of justice.
“We are looking at humanity, and not just whether you’re a Democrat or Republican or whatever. I think that really resonated with a lot of people, especially because now we live in such a divisive time where everything is a political statement, but I think the idea that certain things don’t have to be political and it can just be caring about the people around you. I think a lot of people resonated with that idea,” said Koul.
Though the Black Lives Matter movement started online, it has since grown into a global network committed to opposing anti-black racism. Victor Tong ’22 said he was intrigued by the organization’s rapid development.
“I was wondering how they were able to transform all that energy that they had online and use that to break down barriers that were imposed by generations of policymakers who were intolerant and who were basically discriminatory,” said Tong.
Cullors was invited to campus by the Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) office.
In an email to The Phillipian, LaShawn Springer, Director of CAMD, wrote, “We always look for someone who can provide historical context of MLK’s life and legacy (and place it within the larger civil rights movement) and also a contemporary view of where we are as a country using an intersectional framework of justice. We also look for someone we think will connect with our young people and our adult community so that we can move into the day grounded in a common message.”
During ASM, Cullors opened her speech by not only addressing the significance of Martin Luther King Jr., but also those who supported him.
“King was not just an individual that changed the course of history. It took millions and millions of black people and their allies to stand up against the federal government, to stand up against global government,” said Cullors in her talk.
Although Cullors said that she was grateful for people wanting to hear her speak about how Black Lives Matter started, she emphasized that the movement was not about her.
“It’s about all of us. It’s about how we decide to show up in a moment like this when the entire world is watching what America is doing,” said Cullors.
This idea of allyship particularly resonated with Chi Igbokwe ’21, who considered how people from privileged backgrounds can support others in the fight for social justice.
“People sometimes put the burden on people of a certain race to speak about those issues. If we want to change to happen, we have to stand behind people and back those people up, especially if you’re someone with privilege. You can lift some of the burden off of those people and use that privilege to boost their platform and stand behind them like the people that stood behind MLK Jr.,” said Igbokwe.
According to Cullors, a coalition composed of both activists and allies is imperative for the sake of future generations.
“How are we going to make sure that we are creating the foundations for freedom right now, so that in 100 years from now, that our children and their children and their children’s children are not fighting the same fight that we are? I don’t care if you come from Atlanta or California or New York or D.C. or Ohio or Texas. We all have a collective responsibility,” said Cullors.
Abby Ndikum ’20, who introduced Cullors alongside Aissata Bah ’20, said she connected with the idea of humanity and the power of one’s voice.
“The main takeaway from this event that I took away from [Cullors] is that I’m human and that my life is as important as anybody else’s life and that I shouldn’t be afraid to fight for my voice to be heard… I was just so thankful for the opportunity to introduce her because that’s the biggest thing I’ll probably ever do in my career at Andover,” said Ndikum.
Looking directly towards Andover, Cullors said she was impressed by the community’s efforts to create an institution based on empathy and inclusion.
Cullors said, “It is clear that you are building a loving community. It is clear that you are building a community of accountability. It is clear that you are building a community that is about not just fighting for something but for building something, and that’s incredibly important, and that’s incredibly powerful.”
Editor’s Note: Aissata Bah is a Business Associate for The Phillipian.