In the last several months, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” has become the calling card for the defining movement of millennials that began as a groundswell of activism in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. With baited breath, the world awaited the verdict and in response the Black Lives Matter Movement began to take shape. From the outset, this collective of mostly Black and Brown twenty-something’s has made it their mission to expose racial injustices whenever and wherever they occur. The focus on the significance (or the apparent insignificance) of Black life in America has become the subject of much discussion and debate as the movement gains traction in American cities. And as we gather at rallies and protests and chant “Black lives matter” and write out the words “Black lives matter” on flimsy poster board and add #blacklivesmatter to all of our Twitter and Facebook posts, it strengthens our resolve when we know (and others know) exactly what we are saying.
First Things First
Let’s make this clear, “Black Lives Matter” is not a request. It is not a cry from the meek and humble populace seeking scraps from the table of an almighty governing force. It is not the lowly declaration of an oppressed people shouted in hopes of mercy from the benevolent elite. “Black Lives Matter” does not crawl, beg, shrink, or placate. It is not an appeal to be recognized by anybody or anything. “Black Lives Matter” does not operate from a space of lack or compromise. It is not the end-goal of a righteous struggle. “Black Lives Matter” is not a brand new revelation or philosophy to be taught and sold to a sleeping world.
“Black Lives Matter”, in its simplest form, is a fact. Black lives do matter. They have since the beginning of creation and will continue to matter as long as humans inhabit the Earth. “Black Lives Matter” is a bold, fearless statement of the contributions of a race to an often ungrateful nation. “Black Lives Matter” is a courageous reminder of our regal roots and unbelievable story. It is a command to the uneducated and a call to action to the well-equipped. “Black Lives Matter” is a celebration of unified humanity that undermines the forces of inequity and empowers the winds of change. “Black Lives Matter” is gallant, stands tall, and speaks truth to power, looking it square in the eye. It is so much more than a hip brand or trend or the coolest thing to say in current times; it is the necessary work to sustain a lasting legacy that is sometimes forgotten in the midst of frenzied modern life.
Moving a Movement Forward
The prevailing question is “what’s next?” Of course, history will be the ultimate decider, but the future for this young movement looks hopeful. Perched on the shoulders of a Civil Rights Movement that is nearly mythical in its stature, it would be an understatement to say that the youthful and idealistic organizers of the Black Lives Matter Movement have their work cut out for them. Living up to the gargantuan standard set by sit-ins, bus boycotts, and historic marches will be formidable. But, like every other massive human undertaking for change the Black Lives Matter movement will evolve over time and come to mean many different things to many different generations.
As it stands right now, the movement seems to be mainly reactionary in nature and driven by protest, civil disobedience, and a common rhetoric grounded in human rights and racial equity. At the moment, the movement is also seemingly leaderless and this could be intentional. The only true faces of Black Lives Matter are the victims— Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray and the hundreds of unspoken names and unseen faces lost to senseless violence.
Like its predecessor, the Civil Rights Movement, this movement too will find its way. Reactionary calls to justice following the unjustified deaths of black bodies will soon morph into more proactive calls to political action, pushing voters towards candidates who will take up their cause. The tenor of the language surrounding the Black Lives Matter cause will evolve from “please convict the murderers of black and brown bodies” to “stop killing black and brown bodies” to “stop fearing black and brown bodies” to “you will learn to respect, perhaps even love, black and brown bodies.” This movement, like so many others, will come to understand the force of deliberate economic action. If Black lives matter, then Black dollars must matter as well. The younger generation will soon learn the power of mass consumerism, the value in pressuring advertisers, and the beauty of promoting and supporting Black-owned businesses. Our children, of all races and ethnicities, will be able to look back on the Black Lives Matter moment with tremendous pride and with the same reverence that we hold for the Civil Rights Era.
In closing, take a moment to imagine a world where Black life doesn’t matter. Imagine if every Black person you know instantly vanished into thin air—a veritable urban rapture. In the blink of an eye more than 40 million Americans would disappear from the Earth. Hospitals would scramble to replace more than 50,000 doctors and surgeons and a third of the United States’ entire healthcare support workforce. More than 130,000 firefighters and law enforcement officers and nearly twenty percent of our entire armed forces would be gone without a trace. School systems would disintegrate losing nearly half-a-million educators all at once*. We haven’t even begun to consider the innumerable losses to the arts, sciences, and entertainment industries that would occur. How many songs would go unwritten? What incredible human feats and achievements might be missed? How many potentially great thinkers, philosophers, artists, and athletes might never be born? Our culture, our very way of life, would be left with an eternal, unfillable void. Indeed, ours would be a nation without a soul if Black did not matter.
(*Statistics from US Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2014)
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