The Three Women Behind The Black Lives Matter Movement

May 4, 2015  |  

Source: Black Lives Matter

Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi co-founded the Black Lives Matter Movement when George Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013 for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin. They created the hashtag, which spread like wildfire.

“This isn’t the beginning of a movement, this is the continuation of a struggle that’s been happening for at least 400 years,” said Garza, 34, who works as the special projects director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Cullors, 31, director of Dignity and Power Now, an organization focused on helping incarcerated people and their families “went off” when she found out about Zimmerman’s acquittal.

“I was hopeful — and probably naïve — that Zimmerman was going to be convicted and when he wasn’t convicted I sort of went ballistic,” said Cullors. “And this generation goes ballistic in public, on social media.”

Garza wrote the words Black Lives Matter on social media, and Cullors followed with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Later that day, they decided to start a movement, on the streets and online.

Tometi, 30, executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, an organization focused on Black and Latino immigrant rights, joined them. She built the movement’s social media presence, helping to engage and connect people.

Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi (center) and Alicia Garza (right) hold up their fists in unison. All three ladies created this project to reach black folks. The Black Lives Matter movement is “one that could really find ways to nurture us and connect us in a world that doesn’t do that and dehumanizes us,” Garza said. Source: Black Alliance

Tometi was at a screening of Fruitvale Station in 2013, a film based on the events leading up to the shooting of Oscar Grant, when she found out that Zimmerman was acquitted.

Tometi said her community was hoping for a guilty verdict. “At the same time knowing that a guilty verdict wasn’t going to mean justice. It wasn’t going to bring Trayvon Martin back.”

Garza said she, Patrisse, and Opal wanted to connect Black people because their lives depended on it. They wanted to reach Black people in a society that doesn’t try to do that.

“We each deeply believe that Twitter is not going to save us,” Garza said. “Twitter can be a vehicle that connects us and helps bring us together to strategize around how we’re going to build the kind of power that we need to transform the world that we live in.”

Mark-Anthony Johnson, 31, director of health and wellness at Dignity and Power Now, worked closely with Cullors for more than 15 years and has known Garza for about a decade. Johnson has organized for the movement since it started as “Justice for Trayvon Martin, Los Angeles.” He became the California coordinator for the freedom ride to Ferguson after Darren Wilson shot unarmed Black teenager, Michael Brown.

According to Johnson, protesters from 16 different states and Canada witnessed how Garza, Cullors, and Tometi brought 600 different people together in Ferguson.

“I think they’re central,” he said. “The character of the folks that we were bringing out I think was really important in terms of having a group that was significantly women, significantly queer, having Black transgender people in the space. And that’s possible because of them and the national team that they built up around them.”

“Today’s #VisionsOfABlackFuture poster celebrates Black leadership and was created by Damon Davis,” the photo on BLM’s Tumblr said on Tuesday, Feb. 17 about Tometi, who is Nigerian, and Cullors and Garza who are both queer women. “No matter how many people try to deny it or set out to denigrate their work, these are some of the faces of today’s Black leadership.” Source: Black Lives Matter

Cullors said that organizing the movement hasn’t been easy, as women in leadership are still looked at skeptically. Garza said women aren’t often seen as leaders and dealing with patriarchy is a challenge.

“I believe if Black Lives Matter was created by three Black men, Opal, Alicia and myself wouldn’t have to fight so hard to remind people we are the co-founders,” Cullors said.

Tia Oso, 33, national coordinator of the Black Immigration Network and organizer of BAJI Arizona, copyedited content for Tometi and Black Lives Matter’s social platforms in 2013. She said prominent figures and media would talk about the movement, but not the people behind it. She and others used social media to remind people of Garza, Cullors, and Tometi’s work.

“Twitter and other social media outlets are where we purposefully lifted the three of them up,” said Oso. “It was like, ‘Hey, if you’re going to have a conversation about Black Lives Matter and what it means as an idea, as a rally and cry… at least acknowledge who the creators are.’”

Tometi said despite such road blocks, leaders like herself, Cullors and Garza are needed.

“Our people and our movement largely are ready for the type of leadership that we embody, and we are who we are as the two of them being queer Black women unapologetically, and me being Nigerian,” said Tometi.

According to Cullors, Black women have always led Black movements. Ella Baker, Diane Nash, and Fannie Lou Hamer are Black women leaders who were critical in developing movements, and their names aren’t heard often. Cullors said women are on the front lines, strategizing, organizing and developing policy in Ferguson and around the country. “We’re leading the movement; we’re the architects of the movement.”

Follow BLK Social Journalist (#BLKSocialJ) on Twitter, @DeronDalton.

Trending on MadameNoire

View Comments
Comment Disclaimer: Comments that contain profane or derogatory language, video links or exceed 200 words will require approval by a moderator before appearing in the comment section. XOXO-MN
  • Little Blue Bird

    There are two ‘different’ groups of black women portrayed here.There is one by women who are inviting violence and taking the low road,vastly different than what CORE and Martin Luther King Jr. taught and practiced . Diane Nash and Alveda King, were nonviolent.The differences between CORE and BLACK LIVES MATTER,is that CORE was trying NON violently,to desegregate.Whereas,BLM wants to segregate and do it with violence.Thus the “fist”.Another vast difference between the 2 groups,is CORE was fighting for real change and real justice.CORE didn’t put all whites together,either.They understood that their enemy was the South with all their hate and stubbornness for black Americans.The South was also disobeying Federal Law.BLM wants to kill all whites and all whites are instant “racists.” Another difference,which probably is the biggest reason for the differences between CORE back then and BLM today,is that women are being raised without Godly fathers and mothers.I pray that all the women of BLM will take another look into the world they are creating,the one where they believe they are fighting injustice against black Americans and realize they are fighting the wrong enemy.The real enemy is our government.They created dissent and an attitude of ungratefulness.They want all black Americans to gladly kill their unborn babies via Planned Parenthood,thus destroying black lives.
    They want black Americans to feed off them via welfare,so they can once again “own” them.This is slavery.
    In the Netherlands during hitler’s reign,80% of the college students fought against hitler and many were tortured and killed for fighting the real enemy and saving countless Jewish lives,including emptying out Jewish orphanages that were going to be wiped out by the nazis.I think the root problem with BLM is they first must realize who the real enemy is,and then fight with everything that’s within them! When they do,they can count me in.For now,I fight a different front,that of the orphan,through adoption.Everyone has some fight in them and wants justice,but through which lens? The Bible is the lens where real victory comes because the Bible reveals who the real enemies are……

  • Justa Joe

    George Soros

  • greenguy

    The movement is great, but why do they keep disrupting Bernie Sanders speeches? Why don’t they do that to other candidates?

  • Denmark Vesey

    Black Lives Matter? So Does Black Leadership. True Leadership. Not puppets working for George Soros. Black people need to learn to stop letting others choose our battles for us.

  • BWmattersNotBM

    Now where are ALL the BLACK MEN commenting on here? When it’s an article about WEAVES & FAKE HAIR, these LOSERS seem to be able to find their way here easily. Now that BLACK WOMEN are once again CAPING for these failures, they are nowhere to be seen, not even to say thank you. FREAKIN’ LOSERS. They support Tommy Sotomayor but they won’t even come here to support BLACK WOMEN who are doing something in support of THEM.

  • Ellen

    Black women are the only hope to solve problems in black communities. Black women hold the key. While our drug laws need to change to keep more black (and white) men out of jail, it is women who choose the father of their children and women who decide if and when they are ready, both emotionally and financially, to have children. Black women under value themselves. Black women have children with the wrong people, and very often, when they are very ill prepared. If black women demanded more of themselves by staying in school, getting an education, getting a good job, and waiting for the right man and the right time, the problems in black communities would literally dissolve. This is my observation from working in Social Services for 35 years. Too many children, black and white, are growing up in homes where the mothers were not prepared to have children. These women, more often than not, grew up in the same way…. Single mother, father either in jail or non supportive, more than one child, all with different fathers. I observed countless women birth daughters, and years later, that daughter ended up just like their mom. The cycle needs to be broken. Black women deserve better, and they can literally change this world for their children if only they will demand better.

    • Orion

      Long a** diatribe focused on Women and provides Men an excuse. Feeding into misogynistic bull-chit. Oh how do we stop these hordes of ill-prepared Women from raping those poor Men into fatherhood?!
      I pray that you are no longer employed in social services and that your clients have recovered from 35 years of you.

      • Ellen

        You seem angry. I saw a lot of that too. Women need to stop blaming other people for the poor life choices they make. if you wish to call that misogyny so be it. I waited to have children until after I had completed my education, found a man who shared my values, got married, bought a home, and had attained financial stability. Had I not finished my education, and as a single women either decided to get pregnant, or did not prevent pregnancy, had a child or two with men I knew probably wouldn’t stick around, my life would have been vastly different and I would have only myself to blame.

  • Ron Roberts

    About 120 black men were shot by cops last year. About 350 blacks were murdered in Detroit alone last year. These women need to adjust their priorities.

    • Ron Roberts

      Oh yeah – and 126 cops were killed in the line of duty.

  • Dave Perala

    No disrespect, but if you are all so serious about how black lives matter, then why do you primarily focus on only blacks shot by whites/police?
    All I hear is about innocent blacks being gunned down. By whites and police.
    Do you care at all for the thousands that have been gunned down by blacks, over seemingly stupid things?
    Until you truly begin to account for all black lives taken by violence, the world will see you solely as a racist organization.
    I dont care if you agree with me or not. This is the way the world is.
    In short, all lives matter. Regardless of race, creed, color, religion.

    • Mahari Abdul

      What non-Black people seem to not understand about the language of “All lives matter” is that it draws away from the issue. The fact is that those in power keep the weak, weak. Black people for hundreds of years have been systematically lowered, marginalized and abused and to this day we still don’t reap the “equality” of our non-Black American counterparts. The political system here has allowed for it and continues to allow for it. We aren’t fools. We know that all lives matter, because it is the truth. But if we even feel the need to state that Black Lives Matter then it is indicative of the fact that for whatever reason, we as a unit have been made to feel that our lives DON’T matter here, and we react to that. I am in no way condoning rioting, or criminal acts. Criminals must be treated as criminals, regardless of their skin color. But there is significant evidence that Black people are being and have been abused by the police. The police enforce and represent the “law”. So when a police officer, or officers continue to gun down Black citizens who are innocent and GET AWAY WITH IT, what this illustrates is that the American judicial system backs this kind of ridiculous, foolish behavior. I’m sure that if you were to look into how many of the Black gunners you mention were prosecuted it’d be much higher than the reverse. As an advanced, first world industrial state, the United States should know better and the fact that racial issues still rip through this country from coats to coast is embarrassing for ALL Americans. Of course all lives matter, but clearly we Blacks must remind the rest of you to act in accord with your own claim. Thousands being gunned down by Blacks over “seemingly stupid things” illustrates how ignorant non-Blacks are to our struggle. None of the recent deaths are important on a case to case level. They collectively illustrate a much grander issue in the American political system that needs addressing.

      What the world will see is a foolish, baby America that still can’t take care of its people.

      • Ellen

        You are so right! Black people have been systematically lowered by our political system, so why in the heck are black people still voting for Democrats?? You say “we aren’t fools”, yet in masse, vote like fools. I just don’t get it. Herman Cain’s “They Think YOU’ re Stupid” should be mandatory reading for all blacks.

      • Little Blue Bird

        I read your comment and wondered if you had seen C.L. Bryant’s documentary,’Runaway Slave’? He addresses the very issues you are concerned about.Our liberal government wants black Americans to be on welfare and use Planned Parenthood to kill their offspring.Like a slow genocide that no one notices.I am a white mother with 3 children who are black,and my grave concern is for their futures here in America.The issue of ‘whites not understanding blacks killing blacks ,and their struggle’.There was a time in American history where black mothers and fathers stayed together and raised their children in the LORD,taking them to church and reading the Bible together.This was not a white thing only white people did.Ruby Bridges and many of the CORE members in the 60’s give accounts of their parents doing just this.They feared the LORD.Our whole country,regardless of color or how much money they have,is not significant.What has made our country so violent and angry and poor ,mostly in Spirit,is that we have turned away from what our great great grandparents knew.We have replaced our Bibles with entertainment and lies.Our police officers are just as lost as the rest of us.Here are a few documentaries to watch,that may encourage you. ….. Maafa21 …… Runaway Slave

        I am praying for this country and all the evil and hate that has consumed a mighty great land.”if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” -2 Chr. 7:14

  • Jeff Morse

    Just a reminder – blacks kill whites and Hispanics at twice the number of whites and Hispanics killing blacks (factor in the population difference of 13% black vs 77% white & Hispanic and actual rate of killing looks even worse). Plus blacks account for 42% of all peace officers killed in the line of duty. Again, the 13% share of the population only amplifies that. Not to mention the black on black murders accounting for over half of the US murder total each year. You wonder why so much of American society fears black males and approaches them the way they do? There’s your answer straight from the FBI yearly crime statistics. Clean up your own house before you point fingers at someone else’s being dirty.

  • Sean

    Do #BlackLivesMatter when black street gangs shoot to death literally hundreds of black youth each year across America? This campaign needs to be directed at the gangs as well; because black life and all human life in general, including their own life, don’t matter to them.

  • Kenneth

    Thank God for black women. Shame on any brotha that cannot appreciate the courage and dedication our black women exempt. Too many brothas are behind the eight ball, and that is shameful.


    The irony is that the hastag #BlackLivesMatter is mainly used for black men. When black women are getting abused or killed , I don’t see it being used.

  • Orion7

    My goodness, Sistas. Howw da*n long are we going to answer to Mule?

    • Neva

      Good question. Black women have taken on the masculine role of protecting and providing for the black community and black men. Black women have lost all of our femininity.

      • Orion7

        More like forced in the position. I mean, hell, we can’t sit await and wait…we’ll starve.

    • NoFlexZone

      Exactly… BW fighting for them just so they can turn around & complain bout BE holding the race back with “single motherhood (BM leaving the home), being to masculine, or being angry) Every other race of men protect their women.
      Let BM step up as leaders & BW should take a supportive position for their issues. No more servitude that backfires in your face.