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10/26/21, 9:25 PM Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi: An interview with the founders of Black Lives Matter | TED Talk

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Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi · TEDWomen 2016

An interview with the founders of Black Lives Matter


Mia Birdsong: Why is Black Lives Matter important for the US right nowand in the world?


Patrisse Cullors: Black Lives Matter is our call to action. It is a tool to reimagine a worldwhere
black people are free to exist, free to live. It is a tool for our allies to show up differently for us.

Up Next Details Transcript Reading List




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I grew up in a neighborhood that was heavily policed. I witnessed my brothers and my
siblingscontinuously stopped and frisked by law enforcement. I remember my home being
raided.And one of my questions as a child was, why?Why us?Black Lives Matter offers
answers to the why. It offers a new vision for young black girls around the world that we
deserve to be fought for, that we deserve to call on local governments to show up for us.


Opal Tometi: And antiblack racism —




And antiblack racism is not only happening in the United States. It’s actually happening all
across the globe.And what we need now more than ever is a human rights movement that
challenges systemic racism in every single context.




We need this because the global reality is that black people are subject to all sorts of
disparities in most of our most challenging issues of our day. I think about issues like climate
change,and how six of the 10 worst impacted nations by climate changeare actually on the
continent of Africa.People are reeling from all sorts of unnatural disasters,displacing them
from their ancestral homesand leaving them without a chance at making a decent living.


We also see disasters like Hurricane Matthew,which recently wreaked havoc in many

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different nations,but caused the most damage to Haiti.Haiti is the poorest country in this
hemisphere,and its inhabitants are black people.And what we’re seeing in Haiti is that they
were actually facing a number of challenges that even preceded this hurricane.They were
reeling from the earthquake, they were reeling from cholera that was brought in by UN
peacekeepersand still hasn’t been eradicated.This is unconscionable.And this would not
happen if this nation didn’t have a population that was black,and we have to be real about


But what’s most heartening right nowis that despite these challenges,what we’re seeing is
that there’s a network of Africansall across the continentwho are rising up and fighting back
and demanding climate justice.




MB: So Alicia,you’ve said that when black people are free,everyone is free.Can you talk
about what that means?


Alicia Garza: Sure.So I think race and racism is probably the most studiedsocial, economic
and political phenomenon in this country,but it’s also the least understood.The reality is that
race in the United Statesoperates on a spectrum from black to white.Doesn’t mean that
people who are in between don’t experience racism,but it means that the closer you are to
white on that spectrum, the better off you are.And the closer to black that you are on that
spectrumthe worse off your are.When we think about how we address problems in this
country,we often start from a place of trickle-down justice.So using white folks as the control
we say,well, if we make things better for white folks then everybody else is going to get
free.But actually it doesn’t work that way.We have to address problems at the root,and
when you deal with what’s happening in black communities, it creates an effervescence,
right?So a bubble up rather than a trickle down.Let me give an example.When we talk about
the wage gap,we often say women make 78 cents to every dollar that a man makes.You all
have heard that before.But those are the statistics for white women and white men.The

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reality is that black women make something like 64 cents to every 78 cents that white women
make.When we talk about latinas, it goes down to about 58 cents. If we were to talk about
indigenous women, if we were to talk about trans women, it would even go further down.So
again, if you deal with those who are the most impacted,everybody has an opportunity to
benefit from that, rather than dealing with the folks who are not as impacted,and expecting it
to trickle down.


MB: So I love the effervescence,bubbling up.


AG: Effervescence — like champagne.




MB: Who doesn’t love a glass of champagne, right?Champagne and freedom, right?




What more could we want, y’all?


So you all have been doing this for a minute,and the last few years have been –well, I can’t
even imagine,but I’m sure very transformative.And I know that you all have learned a lot
about leadership.What do you want to share with these peopleabout what you’ve learned
b t l d hi ?P t i l t’ t t ith

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about leadership?Patrisse, let’s start with you.


PC: Yeah, we have to invest in black leadership.That’s what I’ve learned the most in the last
few years.




What we’ve seen is thousands of black people showing up for our liveswith very little
infrastructure and very little support. I think our work as movement leaders isn’t just about our
own visibilitybut rather how do we make the whole visible.How do we not just fight for our
individual selvesbut fight for everybody?And I also think leadership looks like everybody in
this audienceshowing up for black lives. It’s not just about coming and watching people on a
stage, right? It’s about how do you become that leader –whether it’s in your workplace,
whether it’s in your home –and believe that the movement for black lives isn’t just for us,but
it’s for everybody.




MB: What about you, Opal?


OT: So I’ve been learning a great deal about interdependence. I’ve been learning about how to
trust your team. I’ve come up with this new mantraafter coming back from a three-month
sabbatical,which is rare for black women to take who are in leadership,but I felt it was really
important for my leadership and for my teamto also practice stepping backas well as also
sometimes stepping in.And what I learned in this process was that we need to
k l d th tdiff t l t ib t diff t t th d th t i d f

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acknowledgethat different people contribute different strengths,and that in order for our
entire team to flourish,we have to allow them to share and allow them to shine.And so during
my sabbaticalwith the organization that I also work with, I saw our team rise up in my
absence.They were able to launch new programs, fundraise.And when I came back, I had to
give them a lot of gratitude and praisebecause they showed me that they truly had my
backand that they truly had their own backs.


You know, in this process of my sabbatical, I was really remindedof this Southern African
philosophy of Ubuntu. I am because you are;you are because I am.And I realized that my
own leadership,and the contributions that I’m able to make, is in large part due to the
contributions that they make, right?And I have to acknowledge that, and I have to see
that,and so my new mantra is, “Keep calm and trust the team.”And also, “Keep calm and
thank the team.”


MB: You know, one of the things I feel like I’ve heard in the context of the Black Lives Matter
movement more than anywhere else is about being a leaderful movement,and that’s such a
beautiful concept,and I think that something that women often bring to the conversation
about leadership is really the collective piece.What about you, Alicia?


AG: Yeah …How many of you heard that saying that leadership is lonely? I think that there is
an element where leadership is lonely,but I also believe that it doesn’t have to be like
that.And in order for us to get to that point, I think there’s a few things that we need to be


So one is we have to stop treating leaders like superheroes.We are ordinary people
attempting to do extraordinary things,and so we need to be supported in that way.


The other thing that I’ve learned about leadership is that there’s a difference between

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leadership and celebrities, right?And there’s a way in which we’ve been kind of transformed
into celebrities rather than people who are trying to solve a problem.And the way that we
treat celebrities is very fickle, right?We like them one day,we don’t like what they’re wearing
the next day,and all of a sudden we have issues, right?So we need to stop deifying
leadersso that more people will step into leadership.Lots of people are terrified to step into
leadershipbecause of how much scrutiny they receiveand how brutal we are with leaders.


And then the last thing that I’ve learned about leadership is that it’s really easy to be a leader
when everybody likes you.But it’s hard to be a leader when you have to make hard
choicesand when you have to do what’s right,even though people are not going to like you
for it.And so in that way, I think another way that we can support leaders is to struggle with
us,but struggle with us politically,not personally.We can have disagreements without being
disagreeable,but it’s important for us to sharpen each other, so that we all can rise.


MB: That’s beautiful, thank you.




So you all are doing work that forces you to face some brutal, painful realitieson a daily
basis.What gives you hopeand inspires you in that context?


PC: I am hopeful for black futures.And I say that because we live in a society that’s so
obsessed with black death.We have images of our death on the TV screen,on our Twitter
timelines,on our Facebook timelines,but what if instead we imagine black life?We imagine
black people living and thriving.And that — that inspires me.

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OT: What inspires me these days are immigrants. Immigrants all over the world who are doing
the best that they canto make a living, to survive and also to thrive.Right now there are over
244 million peoplewho aren’t living in their country of origin.This is a 40 percent increase
since the year 2000.So what this tells meis that the disparities across the globe are only
getting worse.Yet there are people who are finding the strength and wherewithal to travel, to
move, to eke out a better living for themselvesand to provide for their families and their loved
ones.And some of these people who are immigrantsare also undocumented.They’re
unauthorized.And they inspire me even morebecause although our society is telling them,
you’re not wanted,you’re not needed here,and they’re highly vulnerable and subject to
abuse, to wage theft, to exploitation and xenophobic attacks,many of them are also
beginning to organize in their communities.And what I’m seeing is that there’s also an
emerging networkof black, undocumented people who are resisting the framework,and
resisting the criminalization of their existence.And that to me is incredibly powerfuland
inspires me every singe day.


MB: Thank you.Alicia?


AG: So we know that young people are the present and the future,but what inspires me are
older peoplewho are becoming transformed in the service of this movement.We all know
that as you get older,you get a little more entrenched in your ways. It’s happening to me, I
know that’s right.But I’m so inspired when I see people who have a way that they do
things,have a way that they think about the world,and they’re courageous enough to be
open to listening to what the experiences areof so many of us who want to live in world that’s
justand want to live in a world that’s equitable.And I’m also inspired by the actions that I’m
seeing older people taking in service of this movement. I’m inspired by seeing older people
step into their own power and leadershipand say, “I’m not passing a torch, I’m helping you
light the fire.”




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MB: I love that –yes.


So in terms of action, I think that it is awesome to sit here and be able to listen to you all, and
to have our minds open and shift,but that’s not going to get black people free.So if you had
one thing you would like this audienceand the folks who are watching around the world to
actually do,what would that be?


AG: OK, two quick ones.One, call the White House.The water protectors are being forcibly
removedfrom the camp that they have set up to defend what keeps us alive.And that is
intricately related to black lives.So definitely call the White House and demand that they stop
doing that.There are tanksand police officers arresting every single person there as we




The second thing that you can do is to join something.Be a part of something.There are
groups, collectives –doesn’t have to be a non-profit, you know what I mean?But there are
groups that are doing work in our communities right nowto make sure that black lives matter
so all lives matter.Get involved;don’t sit on your couch and tell people what you think they
should be doing.Go do it with us.


MB: Do you guys want to add anything?That’s good? All right. So –And I think that the
joining something, like if you feel like there’s not something where you are, start it.


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AG: Start it.


MB: These conversations that we’re having,have those conversations with somebody
else.And then instead of just letting it be a talk that you had,actually decide to start


OT: That’s right.


MB: I mean, that’s what you all did.You started something, and look what’s happened.Thank
you all so much for being here with us today.


OT: Thank you.



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