Black Lives Matter: Meet the Phrase Creator Inside

March 6, 2015  |  

Since the words “black lives matter” were attached to a hashtag, they have become more than just a phrase. They have become a movement through which we have lit the fire under those that thought we were invisible. Have you ever wondered where this phrase originated before you saw it on your timeline? Meet Alicia Garza. While watching the Trayvon Martin case unfold, she felt compelled to write a letter to Facebook urging her readers that black lives matter. She pictured her 25-year-old brother who she believed could have easily replaced by Trayvon Martin. A friend saw her post and added the hashtag creating what we now know as #blacklivesmatter. Then followed up by teaming up with friends to make sure that the phrase came with more than just a tweet.

See how this phrase turned into the movement from USA Today:

SAN FRANCISCO — Alicia Garza was watching television news in an Oakland, Calif., bar with friends when neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African-American.

“It was as if we had all been punched in the gut,” she recalled.

She pulled out her phone to check Facebook.

“What I saw was really disappointing,” Garza said.

Many of the responses “were blaming black people for our own conditions,” she said. “It wasn’t Trayvon Martin’s fault that (Zimmerman) stopped him and murdered him. … It really has to do with a society that has a really sick disease and that disease is racism.”

Martin could just as easily have been her brother, a gentle, 6-foot, 25-year-old with a big Afro “who could never hurt a fly,” Garza said.

“I felt not only enraged but a deep sense of grief that I can’t protect him. I can’t protect him against this cancer,” she said.

So she composed a love note to black people on Facebook, urging them to come together to ensure “that black lives matter.”

Her friend, Patrisse Cullors, a community organizer from Los Angeles, spotted the Facebook post and put a hashtag in front of those three words. #BlackLivesMatter was born.

The hashtag spread so quickly on social media because it distilled the complexities of police brutality, racial inequality and social justice “into a simple, easy to remember slogan that fits in a Tweet or on a T-shirt,” said Travis Gosa, social science professor in Africana studies at Cornell University and editor of the upcoming book Remixing Change: Hip Hop and Obama.

The hashtag leaped from social media to the streets, mobilizing a new wave of civil rights protests in the U.S. with the killings of Martin, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

In marches, sit-ins and rallies across the country, protesters have shouted the slogan, plastered it on posters and printed it on T-shirts. It was even featured on an episode of Law & Order: SVU.

James Taylor, professor of politics at University of San Francisco and author of Black Nationalism in the United States, says “Black Lives Matter” may be the most potent slogan since “Black Power,” which Stokely Carmichael introduced to a crowd of civil rights demonstrators nearly 50 years ago.

Like the “Black Power” movement before it, Black Lives Matter is a broad umbrella for social justice campaigns to eradicate poverty and unemployment, overhaul the public education and health care systems, reduce the prison population and end racial profiling.

“What it has done so well is it has reasserted the importance of recognizing African-American lives as part of the common good of America,” Taylor said.

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What has the Black Lives Matter meant to you and  conversations you have had with your children?

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