UAB hosted a discussion with one of the founders of the social justice movement Black Lives Matter Monday evening. While the event was scheduled around Black History Month, the conversation was focused in the present.
The auditorium at UAB’s new Hill Student center was packed with young and old, black and white. They came to hear Opal Tometi talk about Black Lives Matter. Tometi is one of the three women who founded Black Lives Matter back in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was accused in the shooting death in Florida of African-American teen Trayvon Martin.
For Black Lives Matter, Tometi says, race is integral to the movement for social change.
“If we’re not able to grapple with and name the actual issues and the fact that anti-blackness was leading to our death, then we are going to continue to find ourselves do this thing every 100 years, every 50 years,” Tometi argues.
Tometi’s visit was part of UAB’s Black History Month festivities. Black Lives Matter, Tometi says, is part of the broader historic movement for social and economic justice for all people of color. While the group is best known for staging protests against police brutality, Tometi says, Black Lives Matter is concerned with immigrant justice issues, women’s rights, and LGBTQ issues.
A young white student in the audience asked what he could do to support his black friends. Tometi told him he has to act.
“You don’t have every 28 hours black people dying, being gunned down and get to be neutral. You don’t get a choice,” Tometi said. “When we have the highest unemployment rates, you don’t get a choice. You don’t get a choice when 2.3 million people are locked up, and one million of them are black. You don’t get a choice. You are either with the movement, or you’re not.”
Black Lives Matter began in 2013, when one of the founders wrote a Facebook post in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin. The post ended with the line, “Our lives matter. Black Lives Matter,” which turned into a popular hashtag. The group has more than 30 chapters across the U.S.