BLM Co-Founder Talks Racism, Seeking Joy



In a virtual conversation with the UT Dallas community on Oct. 15, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors answered questions about her activism, how others can fight racism and how to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the challenge.

Dr. Kimberly Hill, assistant professor of historical studies in the School of Arts and Humanities moderated the Student Union & Activities Advisory Board (SUAAB) Speakers Series event.

“Because the field of African American history started with a focus on service and application, I find it important for my students to see examples of how class themes are motivating others’ responses to current events,” Hill said. “The fact that Ms. Cullors responded to abolitionist and civil rights movement history in her talk shows that students can also use humanities studies to inform their worldview.”

Cullors, one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020 and one of the three co-founders of Black Lives Matter, said that the national reckoning on systemic racism must be reciprocal.

“The reckoning is really for white people, the reckoning of their history and their present, and there has to be a reorientation around a commitment to fighting alongside Black people for the long haul, not just when it’s trendy or convenient,” she said.

Cullors said white people can help by organizing other white people to be antiracist. Everyone can make a difference, she said, by talking to their families about racism and other hard issues such as transphobia. And, she reminded, that it’s important to remember that change takes time.

“At some point, things will shift. Things have already shifted significantly. The work that we do, we have to understand, is part of a long lineage,” she said. “There’s so much work to do and so much work to be done; it can’t happen overnight.”

Cullors is executive director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, which started in 2013 with the viral hashtag #BlackLivesMatter after George Zimmerman was acquitted of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. The movement has grown into a global organization with chapters around the world campaigning against anti-Black racism.

Cullors said she has been surprised at the negative reaction to the movement.

“I didn’t realize we were going to be demonized the way we have,” she said.

To avoid becoming overwhelmed by negativity, Cullors said it is important to seek out daily sources of joy.

“Find that something, and practice it. Do not wait for joy to visit you; you visit joy and make sure it’s something you cultivate every single day,” Cullors said. “Happiness and joyful moments, they’ll pop up and happen, but unless you make it happen, it’s easy to get stuck in a spiral of misery right now.”

What gives Cullors joy? “I try to look at hilarious memes and TikTok at least once a day,” she said.

Finally, as the election nears, Cullors encouraged participants to vote.

“Please vote,” Cullors said. “It’s the biggest election you’ll probably see in our lifetime. Vote.”

–Kim Horner