For many Americans, the Black Lives Matter movement — nearly eight years since it was founded — has become the political, spiritual and cultural apex of the unheard.
“The power of Black Lives Matter has really been about being able to both be a protest movement and a movement that’s deeply involved in politics,” Patrisse Cullors, one of the movement’s co-founders, told Yahoo News in an interview this month.
Following the acquittal in July 2013 of George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin after a brief altercation in Sanford, Fla., three Black women — Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Cullors — created a movement to combat violence and systemic racism they called “Black Lives Matter.”
Today it continues to be a voice and vehicle for Black liberation worldwide. In 2020, demonstrations in the name of Black Lives Matter were held in more than 60 countries and six continents to protest the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. In January, the movement was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
“Black Lives Matter means something different to me every single day,” Cullors said. “I'm working towards a world that my child can live in freely, that he can feel all his imagination and his dreams that are at his feet. And he won't feel crushed by racism or crushed by the pressures of patriarchy.”
For more than seven years, Black Lives Matter has mobilized in the aftermath of the killings of hundreds of Black men, women and transgender people alike.
But with its increasingly elevated profile, Black Lives Matter has also sparked a backlash from politicians and others who consider it a terrorist organization with “aims to overthrow the U.S. government.”
“They called the Black Panther Party and SNCC [the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] a terrorist organization,” Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project and an organizer with the Frontline and the Movement for Black Lives, told Yahoo News. “They called the Black radical feminists enemies of the state. Any time you challenge the power structure there is pushback.”
One of the rising stars of the movement is Democratic Rep. Cori Bush, the first Black congresswoman from Missouri, who came to prominence while protesting in Ferguson, Mo., following the killing of Michael Brown Jr. by police in 2014. The first Black Lives Matter protester to be elected to Congress, Bush says one of her biggest goals is to help defeat the ideology of white supremacy.
“Even though I understand that it is not on me nor the Black and brown community to dismantle white supremacy,” Bush told Yahoo News in an interview this month. “The white community, that's their work, but because we're here, we're going to fight it tooth and nail.”
Embraced by much of corporate America — IBM, Uber and the NBA are among those that have shown their support — Black Lives Matter has become more than a protest movement. It’s also an aspirational rallying cry.
“The power of this movement is helping young people develop an analysis to name the things that are hurting us,” Ufot said. “People are learning how to organize and not just be activists. There is a discipline of organizing that is being developed.”
The following timeline charts the emergence and development of Black Lives Matter:
On Feb. 26, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman after a brief altercation in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman had called police and described Martin, who was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and carrying a bag of Skittles, as a “real suspicious guy,” but the police dispatcher told him not to approach. Zimmerman, who was carrying a handgun, ignored the instruction and a scuffle broke out with Martin, who was unarmed.
On July 13, 2013, following Zimmerman’s acquittal, three Black female organizers — Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi — launched a protest movement they dubbed “Black Lives Matter” to combat violence and systemic racism. The phrase "Black lives matter" was first used in a Facebook post by Garza after the acquittal; Cullors recognized the power of Garza's words and created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Thus a campaign was born. The movement, according to its website, is an affirmation of the humanity and historical and societal contributions from Black people. The goal of Black Lives Matter, the website states, is to “support the development of new Black leaders, as well as create a network where Black people feel empowered to determine our destinies in our communities.”
As a slogan, “Black Lives Matter” grew steadily on social media. As a movement, activists continued to amplify their voices on the streets of America, protesting the police killings of several Black Americans, including John Crawford III, Ezell Ford, Laquan McDonald, Akai Gurley and Tamir Rice. In 2014, two more deaths captured the attention of the country and the world, those of Eric Garner and Michael Brown Jr. In July of that year, Garner, who was accused of selling loose cigarettes, was put in an illegal chokehold by a New York City police officer that killed him. A month later, on Aug. 9, 18-year-old Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson, Mo., police Officer Darren Wilson after Wilson responded to reports of a robbery and assault at a nearby convenience store. Several months of nationwide unrest and protests followed both deaths as BLM activists called on the officers involved to be held accountable. Cori Bush, a registered nurse and a pastor in a community near Ferguson, attended BLM demonstrations that lasted for more than a year.
On June 17, 2015, nine Black church worshippers were killed during a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., by 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Roof. On July 13, Sandra Bland, a Black woman, was found hanging in her jail cell in Texas, just three days after she had been stopped and arrested following a traffic stop. With the horror of the Charleston massacre still fresh, an investigation into Bland’s death left more questions than answers. BLM continued to organize demonstrations throughout the year, specifically drawing attention to the plight of Black women and Black transgender women, who were increasingly becoming victims of deadly violence. By the end of the year, 21 transgender people had been killed in 2015 in the U.S., a record number at the time, and 13 of the victims were Black.
In July 2016, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two Black men, were shot at point-blank range by police officers in separate incidents. Sterling was killed in Baton Rouge, La., by two white officers as they pinned him down. Castile, a licensed gun owner, was killed by an officer in a suburb outside St. Paul, Minn., as he raised his hands after the officer allegedly told him not to move. More than 100 protests around the country followed these killings. Professional athletes also began to speak out. During the ESPY Awards in July 2016, NBA superstars LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony delivered a joint statement about the killings of African Americans by police. In August, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick became the first NFL athlete to protest systemic racism and police brutality by taking a knee during the national anthem. Other NFL players would later follow his example.
In February 2017, Black Lives Matter put on its first art exhibition. It was held at the Museum of the City of New York and featured work from more than 30 artists to celebrate Black History Month. That August, BLM activists protested at a white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in which Heather Heyer was killed when a man ran her over with his car. Several others were injured in the clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters.
Black Lives Matter marked five years of fighting systemic racism in 2018 and continued to protest in various cities across America. A Pew study published that year found that by May, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter had been used nearly 30 million times on Twitter since the first instance in 2013.
On Feb. 3, 2019, rapper 21 Savage, whose real name is Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was arrested and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors convened a group of more than 60 high-profile celebrities to advocate for him, and the rapper was released on bond 10 days later.
Following the 2020 killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Black Lives Matter became a household phrase. Arbery was shot and killed by three white men while jogging in Brunswick, Ga. Floyd was pinned to the ground and had a knee pressed into his neck for more than seven minutes by a Minneapolis police officer for allegedly attempting to use a counterfeit $20 bill. Taylor, an EMT, was killed when officers serving a no-knock warrant in Louisville, Ky., broke into the apartment she shared with her boyfriend and opened fire. Each of these deaths sparked international BLM marches. Corporations and elected officials, many for the first time, began to promote the term “Black Lives Matter,” and murals featuring the slogan began appearing all over the globe.
On Jan. 4, 2021, Rep. Cori Bush was sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming the first Black woman to represent Missouri in that chamber. Bush, who went from an activist in the streets to an activist in Congress, helped bring Black Lives Matter into the mainstream. Later that month, the BLM movement was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for its work in helping rid the world of systemic racism.
Full interview with Rep. Cori Bush and Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors right here on Yahoo News