'I am not ready to give up this country without a fight': Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza on the future of America

Elena Sheppard
Wellness Editor

You might not know Alicia Garza by name, but you’ve certainly heard of the movement she co-founded. Black Lives Matter was started by Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors in 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. “Re-humanize and change our understanding of who’s human and who deserves access to humanity,” Garza tells Yahoo Lifestyle of the Black Lives Matter mission. It’s also her rallying cry for America’s future.

With her dedication to progress, it makes perfect sense that Jared Leto chose to highlight Garza and her work in an episode of his show, Beyond the Horizon. The series, which has its Season 2 premiere this week on Yahoo, Tumblr, HuffPo, AOL, go90, and Yahoo View, is a compilation of short documentaries about individuals that probe the questions of where this country, and humanity in general, are headed.

“America, and the promise of America, is yet to be realized,” Garza says confidently and directly to the camera in her Beyond the Horizon episode. “I am not ready to give up this country without a fight.”

The origin stories of Black Lives Matter are distinctly modern and entirely organic. “After the jury made the [Zimmerman] announcement, I wrote a love letter on Facebook to black people,” Garza says on Beyond the Horizon. “And after I cried myself to sleep that night, I woke up and I saw that it had gone viral.” Her Facebook love letter read: “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.”

Garza said forming the Black Lives Matter movement came out of the realization that people were looking to channel their anger and energy into something productive that could change, as she puts it, “our conditions, and change the way things are.” The hunger for action was made evident to her by the simple virality of her words.

Photo: Getty Images

“We’re in a moment where we’re at a real crossroads,” Garza tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I still am incredibly hopeful for what’s possible, but I also know what’s required.” That, according to Garza, is listening, collaboration, patience, and the re-humanization of all. “There is hope for humanity, but in order for us to get there, we really have to interrogate, not just what it takes to change laws, but what it takes to change culture that supports laws that uplift humanity, and also supports laws that serve to denigrate it,” Garza says.

The activist’s sit-down interview in Beyond the Horizon is spliced with news footage — images of protests, devastating floods, Donald Trump. “The right wing agenda in this country is not just something I politically disagree with,” she says. “It is something that threatens to end humanity as we know it: People who don’t believe the earth is warming and that that has impacts and implications on whether or not people live; people who don’t believe that women should be allowed to decide if and when we want to have families; folks who don’t believe that people who make this country run every single day deserve to live in dignity and deserve to have protections in the workplace.”

To Garza, the divisions in America have only gotten sharper on President Trump’s watch, with his administration serving as the personification of America’s ideological struggle with progress. “This country was created from stolen land and stolen labor,” Garza explains. “And from a moral perspective, but also from a practical one, everybody knows that when you steal, you’re always looking over your shoulder because you know that somebody may steal it back.

“I think Donald Trump really reflects that sentiment of always looking over your shoulder to see what is the impending threat to the power that you built, because you haven’t built it on a ground that is stable. And I think what is happening now in the United States is that demographics are changing, politics are changing, and there is a segment of people in this country who want to go backwards,” she says. “And what we’re seeing right now in the personification of Donald Trump is really that struggle over forward motion or backward motion.”

So how do we calm this struggle, and where do we go from here? “If I don’t watch the news in a day, I think the potential for humanity is incredible,” Garza tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But anytime I look at the news I’m like, we’re in really big trouble.”

“My greatest fear for this country is that we won’t learn the lessons we need to before it’s too late,” Garza adds. “And my greatest hope for this country is that this is the moment where we pivot and we say, ‘Not anymore and never again.’”

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