Whenever there’s mass media coverage of a large social movement, women organizers and leaders often don’t receive the recognition and credit they deserve. Black women have been some of the first to organize around the #BlackLivesMatter movement, advocating for changes to ensure that police brutality and racial profiling are no longer tolerated by our justice system. Yet in the media, their work has been rarely mentioned. Every woman involved in #BlackLivesMatter who shares their story, mourns the loss of a loved one who has died without justice, or lends their voice and time to the movement has been an instrumental component of the #BlackLivesMatter story. This article was written in recognition and celebration of the thousands of black women who are leading the #BlackLivesMatter movement forward in their communities, in order to create a more just and inclusive world.
Erika Totten (@2LiveUnchained): activist in Washington, D.C.
This mother of two has continued the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the nation’s capital by organizing unique demonstrations as a call to action for policy against police brutality. Before the nationally publicized Justice for All March, Erika Totten had already organized demonstrations and marches in Washington D.C. She has led demonstrations in front of The Department of Justice, during screenings in movie theaters, and has even shut down Interstate 395, to disrupt what she and others describe as “business as usual” and raising consciousness about overlooked and under-publicized issues around the latest events surrounding police brutality and institutional racism. Through her unavoidable protests throughout the D.C. area and active social media presence, she has raised awareness and media coverage for the #BlackLivesMatter movement in Washington D.C., proving that these issues are a shared sentiment between Blacks and other Americans across the US.
Erica Garner (@es_snipes): 24, activist, daughter of Eric Garner
After her father died on July 17 after being placed in a choke hold by a New York City police officer, Erica Garner has stepped up as an activist to ensure that more innocent black men don’t become victims of police brutality. In December, she led a protest and staged a “die-in” at the exact location her father was killed. She recently released a song in tribute to her father called “This Ends Tday.” Throughout the song, her father’s last words of “I can’t breathe” can be heard. Erica continues to lead protests in New York City.
In late November, Synead Nichols created a Facebook event called Millions March. She hoped to gather millions of people in Manhattan to peacefully demonstrate against the nn-indictment of Darren Wilson and ongoing instances police brutality. She and Umaara invited their friends to share the page, and eventually the event went viral. On December 13, with the help of several other racial justice organizations, the two led over 50,000 people through the streets of New York City to protest the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and “for all innocent people of color killed by the misuse of police force.” But their activism didn’t end with the march. Their efforts are now focused on changing police brutality and racial profiling on a national, legislative level.
Johnetta Elzie (@Nettaaaaaaaa):
This St. Louis native and Smart Girl began her call to service and activism in her community by volunteering with The Sophia Project, a teen girls’ support organization, and Amnesty International. But after witnessing the aftermath of the Mike Brown shooting in her Ferguson neighborhood, she took to her social media accounts to voice her frustration and concern with the racism that she has experienced in the St. Louis area. As residents from her neighborhood and volunteers from out of town sought ways to join the movement, Johnetta became the point person for organizing peaceful protests in Ferguson. Since then, Johnetta has peacefully protested and demonstrated every single day in Ferguson and has helped to organize others in her neighborhood to do the same. Despite
being tear gassed and shot at by rubber bullets for peacefully protesting, she has fearlessly continued to lift the legacy of Mike Brown and other victims of police brutality. She continues to educate others and speak out against the effects of St. Louis’s history of racism online and on-the-ground.
Alexis Templeton (@keenblackgirl): 20, student organizer in Ferguson, Missouri
Since Mike Brown’s death on August 9, Alexis Templeton hasn’t missed a day of organizing on-the-ground in Ferguson. On two occasions, she was arrested by Ferguson police for protesting. She writes, “[My family] still cannot fathom how I was detained for peacefully protesting, yet Darren Wilson was not detained for killing an unarmed 18-year-old young man and still remains free.” Along with Ashley Yates and Brittany Ferrell, Alexis co-founded Millennial Activists United after the three noticed an omission of women’s voices among organizers. The organization has led countless protests and “die-ins” in Ferguson and stands in solidarity with similar movements across the country. In addition, MAU assigns its supporters to various task groups to work towards solutions to problems impacting black women in the community.
Alicia Garza (@aliciagarza), Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors: co-creators of #BlackLivesMatter
The phrase Black Lives Matter started in July 2013 after Alica Garza learned that George
Zimmerman was acquitted of Trayvon Martin’s murder. She began adding the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter to her posts on Facebook. She writes, “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” The three activists took the movement offline by hosting national conversations about police violence, organizing a 500-person bus tour from L.A. to St. Louis to support activists in Ferguson, and working with local organizations nationwide. Not only have they created a viral online platform, the activists have helped connect black communities all over the country in order to mobilize for justice.
Dominique Sharpton (@MSSharpton2u): Director of Membership at National Action Network
Dominique is an emerging civil rights activist working under the direction of her father Reverend Al Sharpton as the Director of Membership for his civil rights non-profit organization, the National Action Network (NAN). NAN was the leading sponsor behind the Justice For All March in Washington D.C. where thousands gathered to march to the Capitol, mourning the lives of those lost to police brutality and urging Congress to take action. Though she comes from a theater and communications educational background, Dominique has since shifted her focus to civil rights and has been instrumental in the organizations efforts to promote issues of the modern civil rights agenda through initiatives in criminal justice, voter protection, anti-violence, and jobs. Dominique has grown NAN’s membership to include thousands of new members and oversees over 60 local chapters that have been actively implementing the organization’s national efforts in their own communities as part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Before Twitter and the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, there was Kadiatou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant and mother of four living in the Bronx. Her unarmed son Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times and killed by four plain-clothed NYPD officers outside of his apartment complex. The officers were acquitted at trial after being charged with second-degree murder. Kadiatou filed a lawsuit against the City of New York and the officers charging racial profiling, gross negligence, and wrongful death all violating her son’s civil rights. Though the Diallo family ended accepting a $3 million settlement, this only began Kadiatou’s civil rights work, jumpstarting her to become an activist to prevent similar tragedies. Kadiatou published a memoir called My Heart Will Cross This Ocean: My Story, My Son, Amadou and began the Amadou Diallo Foundation, a non-profit education scholarship to honor her son’s academic spirit. Kadiatou recently spoke at the Justice for All March in Washington, D.C., and has used the memory of her son to educate and encourage change in our criminal justice system.