By Crystal Shaw
Black Lives Matter co-founder and Dignity and Power Now founder and Executive Director, Patrisse Cullors-Brignac
During Liberty Hill Foundation’s annual Uplifting Change luncheon last month, Black Lives Matter co-founder and Dignity and Power Now founder and Executive Director, Patrisse Cullors-Brignac spoke to attendees about the orgins of the Black Lives Matter movement and her own path, which lead her to fierce organizing around racial justice.
Her motivation to fight for civil and racial justice and equality are deeply rooted in her childhood experiences. Liberty Hill understands that activism and organizing, especially around equality and racial justice, in this day and age has been fueled by a powerful youth leadership movement, so we spoke with Patrisse about how her own youth experiences have led her to becoming a prominent voice in fighting for justice on the streets of Los Angeles and Ferguson and empowering youth at every turn.
Liberty Hill: Why was important to participate in Uplifting Change this year?
Patrisse: I think it’s really important that Liberty Hill is bringing together Black philanthropists to think about this current moment, this Black Lives Matter movement. I think being here today was moving, was inspiring and I truly believe Black folks, who have historically, and now are putting dollars toward Black movements. We saw it in the 60’s and 70’s, we’re seeing it now today and I think that Black Lives Matter has created an opportunity and an opening for Black people to stand in solidarity with this movement.
Liberty Hill: What was the one moment for you, that you knew you had to join the fight for racial justice?
Patrisse: When Treyvon Marton was murdered I was 26 and when the acquittal happened I was 27, and I just remember feeling a significant amount of rage because it wasn’t just about Treyvon Martin, it was about Oscar Grant, it was about being 9 years old when the uprisings happened with Rodney King and he was beaten right around the corner from my own neighborhood. It was about growing up with seeing the level of violence at the hands of the police and acted upon Black communities and feeling like this can’t be the way we are living our lives, there has to be more, there has to be a way in which we can interject into this narrative. And because I’m an organizer I think that has been the most intuitive way to combat state violence and also to “visiblize” the ways in which state violence impacts Black people’s lives every single day.
Liberty Hill: Do you think everything happening when you were a youth – do you think that fact that that happened has empowered you now? Do you think that what you saw when you were young has ignited the fire?
Patrisse: Definitely, definitely. Part of my own story is that my brother was almost killed by the sheriff’s department. He was brutally beaten by the sheriffs when he was 19 years old in the county jails. It’s why I started the organization that I founded here in LA, which is called Dignity and Power Now I’m the Executive Director of it, and our focus has been to fight for the civilian oversight of the sheriff’s department and we’ve won, and that has everything to do with my story, has everything to do with what I witnessed as a 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, so I think we’re in a generation where young Black people are seeing terrible acts of violence and any human is going to respond at their breaking point. And I think this is our country’s breaking point.
Liberty Hill: You closed the Uplifting Change program with a call-and-response quote from Assata Shakur. Why that quote?
Patrisse: I first heard that quote probably seven years ago and it rung so true and deep for me. Feeling like it is our duty to fight for this, to fight for our freedom and our children and our children’s freedom. And that it’s not just our duty to fight for it, but it’s our duty to win. So figuring out the ways we can win, the victories that we can win and I love the idea of “we have to love and support each other” right? We could talk about policy all day but if we’re not loving each other while we’re doing this work, this work it not going to move very far. We have to understand and be in a place where we are actually living in this movement the way we want to see the world. And so that quote, I literally close every meeting, every march, and every rally with it. And when I brought it into Ferguson it struck a chord with the young women in particular and so they’ve yelled it and chanted it throughout the streets, in front of Ferguson PD and now it’s in almost every video that I’ve done. It’s going to be my thing that everybody knows me for.
It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We most love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains. – Assata Shakur
Read more on Liberty Hill’s support of youth leadership.
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