Opal Tometi Talks About How Black Lives Matter Has Grown From a Hashtag To An International Movement

Black Lives Matter co-founder, Opal Tometi delivers a lecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Black Lives Matter co-founder, Opal Tometi delivers a lecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tiffany Jolley/Illinois Public Media

Black Lives Matter is best known for protesting police violence against African-Americans. Tometi says it first started on social media as a way for her and fellow co-founders to connect and grieve with the black community following the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the death of unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin.

“Alicia Garza wrote a bit of a love note and at the end of it, she wrote BlackLivesMatter, and then Patrice Cullors put a hashtag on it and started posting it different places, and so I told them, I want to build out a strategy that allows for this message to go far and wide, and so that’s how it began.”

Tometi said she was inspired by her younger brother to help build the movement and  to send a positive message to his generation.

“I stayed up late and I was working on these platforms, because I was thinking about my own younger brother, how this was going to be the story of his generation. So I wanted to be part of a project that was going to be so visceral that he would know that despite what society might say that his life actually mattered.”  

​Some have been critical of the organization's actual involvement in black communities and that  Black Lives Matter lives too much online, but Tometi said the movement is far more than just a hashtag.

“As I talk with folks about the creation of Black Lives Matter, I just want to remind folks that it’s about the real human connection. It’s about transformation in our own communities offline, and it’s not just about a hashtag, and that hashtag is not a movement.”

Black Lives Matters represents a next chapter in the civil rights movement, but it's different -- it’s led by women.

“Women have always been part of our movements. Women have always been part of the leadership in our movements, and have actually played a really critical role in actually shaping and strategizing and laying the infrastructure,” Tometi said.

One of the women leading the chapter in Champaign-Urbana is Evelyn Reynolds.

She said she hopes that the Black Lives Matter movement can make the promise of racial equality a reality in America.

“When it comes to how we’ve constructed race in this country, it’s time to dismantle that. It’s time to live in a society where people are truly equal," said Reynolds, "to actually adhere to those democratic values that are mentioned in our Constitution, I want to see that in reality.”

Tometi says to make that a reality means taking on a number of issues.

“This movement is bigger than police brutality, and we’re very much concerned with economic justice, educational access, women’s reproductive justice, and so I don’t want to get us pigeonholed by thinking it’s just about police brutality.”

Story source: WILL