SF State graduate student and the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza, spoke at SF State Monday about the organization’s origins and misconceptions about it.
Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and an SF State graduate student, founded the organization with two other friends in 2013 after the not-guilty verdict George Zimmerman received from the death of Trayvon Martin.
“Ultimately what that verdict said was that you could be killed if you’re black for no reason,” said Garza. “If somebody else is afraid of you and you live in a state that has stand your ground laws, you can be killed with impunity.”
The concept of Black Lives Matter was born after Garza created a Facebook post titled, “A Love Letter to Black People.” During the lecture, Garza spoke on the ramifications of what the verdict meant in a greater scheme for the black community.
Garza explained that the Black Lives Matter movement that began after the death of Martin was greatly skewed by the general media in an attempt to sell and sensationalize.
According to Garza, the organization, which now has 39 chapters spanned globally, was made to seem as though it was only pushing an anti-police rhetoric. While they do emphasize social justice, Garza clarified they focus on a broad spectrum.
“Lots of the values behind Black Lives Matter are about really making a demand, and making visible all of the ways in which anti-black racism shapes our economy,” Garza said. “It shapes everything, and lots of the work we do with other groups is to surface that.”
Milan Cooper, anthropology major, said she was inspired by the presentation and learned how to incorporate her artistic ability into a cause.
“(Garza) really inspired me because I had been thinking of doing activist work, but I don’t really consider myself an organizer,” Cooper said. “She said you can be a part of the movement and make other contributions.”
The other key emphasis Garza made while here at SF State was the way Black Lives Matter has been wrongly portrayed in the media as having a lack of leadership.
Garza spoke about the way Black Lives Matter had been compared to the Occupy movement, which notably had no specific leader because they stood for an entire group people.
“We have leaders – lots of them,” Garza said. “We encourage the cultivation of leadership at every level. We see ourselves as leader-full not leaderless. We are not afraid of leadership.”
SF State students from all ethnic backgrounds were in attendance. Damneet Kaur, a public health major, was positively impacted by the message.
“As a South-Asian woman, I think it’s really important for me to learn all of this because of the anti-blackness in our community,” Kaur said. “Knowing that she (Garza) spoke about the brown and black solidarity, having indigenous solidarity, it’s empowering.”
Hassani Bell, an Africana studies student, also felt inspired by Garza.
“It was inspiring meeting her, especially her being from the Bay Area and seeing how she was so successful in her field,” Bell said. “I want to do the same type of work.”
Garza also gave a short comment on her opinion of the dreadlock controversy at SF State over a video that recently went viral.
“Cultural appropriation is a real thing, and it’s important that on campuses people feel that their contributions are valued and recognized,” Garza said. “There is something that happens where, in the face that people may feel alienated here, there are certain expressions that probably push people over the edge.”