Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter Movement: “We have to look at structural racism”


Ryan Fang

Students hold signs in protest while listening to “Love Note” in snow at the Anniversary Plaza on Wednesday, Dec 2 2015.

By Samantha Jones Toal

“It broke my heart. I felt like I got punched in the gut,” said Opal Tometi, co-founder of the movement, during her talk at Allen Hall Friday afternoon.

Tometi said that multi-racial democracy won’t work if black lives “don’t matter.”

Tometi, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors created the political movement to call attention to the discourse that declared the present as post-racial.EJ

“Colorblindness and this discourse that said, ‘don’t talk about race, don’t talk about racism,’ was a way to silence our voices, silence our concerns, silence our pain,” Tometi said. “This was very acute and problematic as we watched the trial of George Zimmerman.”

Tometi is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants and has been involved in issues of race and immigration, as well as organizing communities.

She said while interpersonal racism is important, structural racism has resulted from United States history and is the result of years of injustices.

She cited research that showed half of all American prisoners are black, while black people only make up 12 percent of the population.

“We have to look at structural racism,” Tometi said.

Still, Tometi said the Black Lives Matter movement goes beyond police brutality and aims to include all black people, not just black males.

“You’re either with the movement, or you’re not,” Tometi said. “You’re doing something, or you’re not.”

Around 200 people were in attendance for the Friday Forum lecture series called, “Breaking Down Racism: Fighting Racial Injustice in the U.S.”

Cashmere Cozart, junior in LAS, said Tometi’s talk of structural racism stuck out to her; she said the issues Tometi touched on can be seen in the “Illini White Student Union” Facebook page that was created in November.EJ

However, she said she was glad to see diversity amongst the crowd.

“There was a good amount of diversity,” Cozart said. “A movement really needs diversity to be successful because different people have access to different places, ideas and input.”

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