On Nov. 7, Opal Tometi, a New-York based Nigerian-American writer, activist, organizer and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, visited ETSU and gave a lecture in the Martha Street Culp Auditorium.
A student in the crowd questioned Tometi about her call to action and asked what her opinion was in terms of protesting and of the destruction of property during Black Lives Matter rallies.
“I don’t know that there is a lot of damage on property. And if there is, I don’t mind. People or property?” Tometi said.
Tometi lectured for an hour and explained her efforts as an activist and organizer as well as the history of the Black Lives Matter movement. She explained that the acquittal of Officer George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin trial of 2011 is what fueled her desire to do something.
“I took to social media to voice my outrage and to voice my concern and to see how some of my friends were reacting to what was going on and happened to stumble upon a Facebook post by fellow organizer Alicia Garza—another co-founder of Black Lives Matter,” Tometi said.
In this post, Tometi explained that Garza penned the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and it moved her so deeply that she wanted to get involved. She reached out to Garza, and after a few meetings and some mobilization efforts, the movement was recognized nationwide.
Tometi shared a UCLA study that addressed some of the racial bias that exists in America. The study found that police see black kids as older; white people and police feel less empathy for black people in pain; white people see darker skin as less trustworthy; white women in college see black kids as the same age until they are 9-years-old.
“I really believe that the status quo is intolerable. We are living in a time where there are so many injustices, and we don’t necessarily have a government or an administration that’s building to provide any regress; in fact they are actively exacerbating the situation for people of color,” Tometi said.
She went on to say that lawmakers in America are even using phrases like “economic terrorism” when referring to protest in an effort to undermine and eliminate them. Tometi urged the audience that your voice needs to be heard and encouraged the crowd to stand up and take action against these injustices.
“We literally have no choice. When people are able to kill you in the street in cold blood and still get off free, you have no choice,” Tometi said.