This is the text of a homily given at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville on August 30th, 2015.
Alicia Garza, Patrice Cullors, Opal Tometi created #BlackLivesMatter as a call to action after the loss of Trayvon Martin, and after witnessing how he was put on trial instead of his attacker. They could clearly see that something new was needed in the fight to free black lives from institutional and cultural white supremacy. Alicia describes it as “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted[…]”
Reverend Gail spoke to us a few weeks ago about how true innovation cannot aim itself, as that means it’s not truly innovative. To make real change, sometimes one must just fire. So Alicia, and Patrice, and Opal fired the hashtag out into the world to see where it would land, and Alicia says they were humbled when people from all vocations heard that call to action and stepped up to help these women expand #BlackLivesMatter beyond the hashtag, creating an infrastructure to the movement that connected the online activism with the street activism. The movement grew even more after the devastating loss of Michael Brown, when Patrice co-organized a #BlackLivesMatter ride to support the communities in Ferguson and greater St. Louis.
But Alicia, Patrice, and Opal knew that as powerful as people in the streets are, more was needed. So they’ve also been using modern technology to host national conference calls focused on lifting up the issues critical to Black lives as they work for freedom. They’ve reached out to connect people across the country who were previously fighting injustice in isolation, and are now stronger for those connections. Alicia describes their work as creating “space for the celebration and humanization of Black lives.”
And when she says that, she doesn’t mean that Black lives aren’t already human, aren’t already worth celebrating. It’s the opposite — that the history of slavery and white supremacy in this country has actively prevented Black lives from celebrating their inherent worth and dignity, has denied their inherent humanity. Their lives have been, and continue to be, stolen from them. Alicia, Patrice, and Opal, continuing the work of Black lives like Martin Luther King Jr., James Cone, bell hooks, and numerous others, are fighting to create space in which Black lives can live without being silenced or erased.
And so, given that so much of this story is about creating space for Black lives, and Black words, and how Alicia, Patrice, and Opal are shut out even more for being women and being queer while also being Black, I feel a moral imperative to lift up Alicia’s words from her story:
“We completely expect those who benefit directly and improperly from White supremacy to try and erase our existence. We fight that every day. But when it happens amongst our allies, we are baffled, we are saddened, and we are enraged.”
This is what happens every time someone responds to #BlackLivesMatter with All Lives Matter. The whole point of this movement is that no one can claim that all lives matter until it is clearly demonstrated in our media, in our politics, in our judicial system, that Black Lives Matter. Until that happens, the system in which we all live, that was built upon kidnapping Black lives and using them as slaves, will continue to trickle out into further oppression of other communities and identities.
Here’s more from Alicia’s story:
“BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it mean that Black Lives, which are seen without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. […] When Black people get free, everybody gets free.[…] We’re not saying that Black lives are more important than other lives, or that other lives are not criminalized and oppressed in various ways. We remain in active solidarity with all oppressed people who are fighting for their liberation and we know that our destinies are intertwined.”
“Lift up Black lives as an opportunity to connect struggles across race, class, gender, nationality, sexuality, and disability.”
Alicia, Patrice, and Opal have waded into the water, taking that leap of faith. They are working for a world that offers healing to wounded bodies, to wounded hearts. They are leading, and we must follow.