Race is an issue than stands at the forefront of today’s society. But it’s not something everyone wants to discuss or acknowledge.
Alicia Garza, a co-creator of the Black Lives Matter movement that has brought the conversation of race and inequality to the nation’s center stage, aims to reverse that trend.
“It’s OK to talk about race,” she told a energetic crowd in the Marshall Student Center Ballroom on Tuesday night.
“We have to move through it. We can’t close our eyes to it, we can’t ignore it. It’s been here for hundreds of years. And until we begin to address it, people will continue to be resentful.”
That’s why Garza, along with a few others, started the BLM movement to create a dialogue about what they feel is wrong with race relations in this country.
Though it started as a social media movement, Garza wanted to ensure that it didn’t stop there and began to move it to the streets, empowering groups to stand up for the cause.
“We started Black Lives Matter in 2013,” said Garza, who was paid $20,000 to speak as part of the University Lecture Series. “At that point, we were trying to make sure that people weren’t just participating in online activism. That they were using all of the passion to like and share and retweet into their communities and change in real time and real life for real people.”
The movement has a basic principle, Garza said, to make sure that “all lives have value.” In Garza’s eyes and many eyes around the country, that principle has not been met.
“There’s been a lot of progress made, but of course, we’re in a different political climate now,” Garza said, referencing the election of Republican Donald Trump. “So I think our story is not fully written yet.
“We’re not sure what’s to come, but were done.”
One of Garza’s key stances centers around how black people are policed, citing multiple killings of unarmed black individuals in the past few years, beginning with Trayvon Martin in 2012, which sparked the movement.
The most common defense, Garza said, is that these shootings are the result of a few bad people giving the group as a whole a bad name.
But that’s not how Garza sees it.
“It’s not a question about a few bad apples,” she said getting a rise out of the crowd with every word. “It’s not a question against good people vs. bad people. It’s a question of a bad system. Good people can do bad things.
“And so we want to create a system where good people can do good things and create a dynamic where we can be honest about the ways that we’re falling short.”
Policing, Garza said, is where it begins and what their movement is trying to solve.
“We aim to reform the way policing happens in this country and there are many of us that have different ideas about what that looks like, but fundamentally, what we believe, is that we all deserve to be safe,” Garza said.
“We need systems that can put that into practice. We do not have that right now.”
The movement has been met with much resistance from opposition. One of the biggest criticisms is the violence that has been enacted under the BLM name in places such as Milwaukee and New Orleans.
Garza’s response to those is that it’s out of her control, but it’s not what the movement stands for.
“We’ve never called for violence or revenge,” Garza said in an interview before the lecture. “In fact we’re calling for justice. Justice is not revenge, justice is making right wrongs that have been done and making sure everybody’s involved in that.
“We can’t control every single person who wants to do whatever they want to do under our name. The only thing we can do is to be very clear about who we are and what we’re fighting for.”
What has become a polarizing issue for some, is a necessary issue for Garza and her movement. Asking “Are you ready?” repeatedly to the crowd at the close of her speech, she aims to empower more people to stand up and continue the discussion.
“Now, more than ever, we need everybody,” Garza said. “That’s not to give people a pass, but it does mean that not everybody comes out the womb ‘woke.’ We have to figure out how it is we work with people who are still learning and give compassion and still hold people accountable.
“Don’t be the smallest group of the most aligned, but be the biggest group of people who are moving toward freedom.”