Jerica Deck | Local & World Editor
After sitting through countless speeches from older established people, it’s hard for younger students of color envision themselves doing anything deserving enough to be on stage. However seeing the fresh faced Alicia Garza talk about activism reminded us all that anyone can make a difference. With a head full of braids and warm smile, she recently inspired an audience at Old Dominion University in a speech about her contributions to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Young, black, queer, female, Garza is typically the type of person who society erases from its history books. Yet her passion for racial equality allowed Garza to change the course of history as the co-creator of the hashtag Black Lives Matter. Her incredible story reminded us that no matter who you are, you have a chance to be a part of the modern day civil rights movement. Regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, your life matters, and you can change your community.
“You have an opportunity right now to decide what your legacy can be” she said. It was 2013 when she decided that she could no longer sit on the sidelines watching racial inequality play out in our justice system. After the Trayvon Martin trial she wrote a heart wrenching letter describing both her frustration and an important message. She reminded the black community that we were worthy of life too and that we were valuable human lives. Most importantly, she reminded us that black lives mattered.
Who knew that this would become a hashtag let alone a nationwide movement and phenomenon? “How do you create a hashtag that starts a movement” she smiles knowingly to the audience letting them in on her little secret to success. “Hashtags don’t start movements. People do.”
Her two self-proclaimed chosen sisters Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors could easily relate to Garza. They too were Black queer women who fed up with the inadequacies of the justice system. Together they took Garza’s letter a step further by transforming it into a hashtag and ultimately a movement.
The hashtag has become more than words on a screen. Today Black Lives Matter is a network with over thirty chapters nationwide. The group has worked very hard to aid in the creation of new legislation, reforming the justice system as a whole, and creating a national discussion about racial inequality. #BlackLivesMatter has been discussed amongst celebrities, major news outlets, presidential candidates, and also average everyday social media users.
The phrase is intergenerational. It’s inclusive of all people regardless of class, education, gender, or sexual orientation; this mirrors the way advocates are aiming for equal rights. Some argue against this idea by claiming that all lives matter. Garza combatted this idea by saying she is aiming for equality for all, but currently “we don’t live in a world where all lives matter.” Garza stated that she isn’t a Black supremacist or trying to reverse the class system; she’s wants everyone including African Americans to thrive in an equal playing field. She later continued to say “If you believe that all lives matter, than you shouldn’t be mad that black lives matter.”
People of all ethnicity and backgrounds flocked to see Alicia Garza’s speech, and words struck a chord with everyone in her `diverse audience. Hampton University student Jordan Bryant was really touched by what Garza had to say. Bryant, a junior strategic communications major from Columbia, Maryland said “I felt powerful just being there. I felt really empowered being a black woman in America. It gave me a boost of confidence. I’m black and I’m proud and I can change the world. ”
In her riveting speech Garza taught her audience how to be activists and allies. One of the high points of her speech was “I believe deeply in our ability to set ourselves free.” With her powerful letter, Garza has done just that, and has paved the way for millions to do the same.