People lined up on both sides of Jesse Auditorium Thursday night before the doors were even open to the public. Everyone was there to hear two of the three co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi speak on a broad spectrum of issues that face the U.S. and global black communities. The discussion was moderated by Cristina Mislan, an MU Assistant Professor of Journalism. The third co-founder, Patrisse Cullors, was not present at the event.
Black Lives Matter started in 2012 after "17-year-old Trayvon Martin was post-humously placed on trial for his own murder and the killer, George Zimmerman, was not held accountable for the crime he committed," according to the Black Lives Matter website. Since then, the hashtag bearing the network's namesake has grown to be globally recognized.
Garza and Tometi fielded questions while sitting on wooden barstools in the middle of a vast stage. Mislan moderated as they covered a variety of topics such as racism, gender inequality and how to handle conflict. As Tometi says, citing Audre Lorde, "There's no such thing as a single-issue struggle."
The co-founders spoke with eloquence. They emphasized unity and collective care to help ensure that the movements of today's times have longevity. However, unity is a small portion of what is needed for a movement to succeed. "It's more than unity," Garza says. "There has to be appreciation, self love, community love and an understanding that not everyone is going to be around the same strategy."
Garza and Tometi acknowledged that conflict was part of everyday life. But both women told those in attendance to make sure they do not personalize the internal disagreements they might face when a movement is becoming mobile."What I see around the country is a fear of conflict," Garza says. "Where we have to use our muscle is to persevere through it."
The two women commended the students that took a stand last semester, and after Mislan was done asking the two questions, the floor was opened up for a Q&A with the audience.
One of the questions pertained to the hashtags #BlueLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter. The two women said the two hashtags were similar to a "head-in-the-sand" approach to looking at racism because it failed to acknowledge that the oppression exists within society.
Prior to the conclusion of the event, an audience member asked a question about uniting MU activists with those that may be going through similar experiences to them. The two founders responded by saying that those at MU needed to be engaging with the Columbia community.
The two women received a standing ovation, but the audience members were left with a choice. Garza questioned the audience, "Who are you now?"
"You get to make a choice; you get to make your own legacy."