Five Years in a Movement, Hundreds of Years in the Making

A couple of weeks ago, our staff attended a lecture at the Carter Center by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, author of When They Call You a Terrorist. Patrisse’s book was released in January, five years after she co-founded the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

We thought we’d share some of the highlights from Patrisse’s conversation with NPR’s Rose Scott (but don’t just take it from us, listen to a snippet for yourself!):

On a movement: A movement isn’t something that is simply declared, it is something that is felt, by many. Its success isn’t always linear - there will be some wins, along with many setbacks. To try and determine impact solely by progress undercuts the soul of the vision. According to Patrisse, the success of a movement is determined by the energy surrounding it. The start of #BlackLivesMatter was both raw and entirely necessary - inciting action and raising widespread awareness of realities that had been present for hundreds of years.

On being a disruptor: In the work of justice, being a disruptor is something to be applauded. To disrupt “business as usual” means interrupting the norm - to question narratives, and subsequent systems, that affect individual people and entire communities. (For example, the disproportionate incarceration rates of black and brown people.) Questioning the status quo means having courageous conversations that increase awareness - paving the way for change.

On prioritizing the people around you: Not unfamiliar to us, Patrisse spoke to the need for prioritizing each other. Sitting on the stage, she attributed her success to being mentored and invested in at the age of 16 by another organizer. What it took (and what it takes) for so many of us, is to have someone see our potential, to experience someone taking the time to support us in our growth and development, and to participate in building a reciprocal relationship.

Patrisse Kahn-Cullors reminded us of the influence storytelling can have: using experiences as power to unite people around a vision. Black lives matter. Our society recognizing that is imperative. In order to feel compelled to act, we need to feel the urgency of this movement.

In some of her final words - Patrisse left the group with a critical reminder to keep asking ourselves, what am I doing for the team around me? And so - how are we, as active citizens, expanding our understanding of the people on our team and what are we doing, every day, for them?