The founders of the Black Lives Matter movement will give a commemorative lecture as part of a series of community events in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day next Wednesday.
Founders Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza, who will be accompanied by Black Lives Matter ambassador Janaya Khan, plan to address the public at Sage Chapel.
Garza, Tometi and community leader Patrisse Cullors created the #BlackLivesMatter Twitter movement after learning of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in 2013, following the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
The #BlackLivesMatter campaign has since become a widespread civil rights movement and political project which aims to fight racial bias against black people and emphasize the importance of black lives, according to the Cornell United Religious Work.
The movement embodies the activism and beliefs of Martin Luther King Jr., and Cornell’s celebratory events aspire to create a “cross-campus and community partnership that makes accessible the life and legacy of Dr. King for contemporary times,” according to CURW.
Noelani Gabriel ’16, Africana Studies major and Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, said she believes “the Black Lives Matter Movement is a continuation of the long black freedom struggle.”
“The Black Lives Matter movement has encouraged hundreds of thousands of people, black and white, young and old, to no longer allow oppression to benefit from their silence,” Gabriel said. “This movement has inspired us to reject fear, to be courageous enough to embody a sense of hope (however dangerous), to demand the right to determine our own destiny.”
Amber Aspinall ’17, political action chair of Black Students United, hopes that “the event encourages the Cornell community to take a closer look at the legacy of Dr. King, beyond his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. Too often his image is sanitized and repackaged to fit a particular narrative that delegitimizes and shames current organizing tactics. Like Dr. King, the #BlackLivesMatter movement is building upon a tradition of Black resistance and radicalism.”
Speaker and #BlackLivesMatter co-founder Opal Tometi is executive director at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, “a national organization that educates and advocates to further immigrant rights and racial justice together with African-American, Afro-Latino, African and Caribbean immigrant communities,” according to the CUWR’s website.
Tometi has worked with the Pan African Network in Defense of Migrant Rights, Black Immigration Network, and the United Nations. She has been published in the Oxford Dictionary of African Biographies, and both the Los Angeles Times and ESSENCE magazine named her a “New Civil Rights Leader.”
Alicia Garza, a social activist who focuses on connecting individuals and social movements, currently works as the Special Projects Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance. She has won two Harvey Milk Democratic Club Community Activist Awards for her work fighting racism in San Francisco.
At the lecture, there will be performances by Barka Kwa Wimbo — a female gospel ensemble, and the Community Unity Music Education Program, which provides music, media, and arts education for disadvantaged youth, according to their website.
Sponsors of the lecture include Cornell United Religious Work, Africana Studies and Research Center, Student and Campus Life, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Human Resources, Office of Student Engagement and Multicultural Affairs, Greater Ithaca Activities Center, and South Side Community Center.
“I believe we are in a moment that requires urgency, courage, faith, and boldness – all of which are important parts of truly understanding Dr. King’s legacy,” Gabriel said. “The Black Lives Matter movement has encouraged hundreds of thousands of people, black and white, young and old, to no longer allow oppression to benefit from their silence,” Gabriel said. “This movement has inspired us to reject fear, to be courageous enough to embody a sense of hope, however dangerous, to demand the right to determine our own destiny.”