By Jenny Wallace
Arts & Entertainment Editor
Throughout KU’s third week of classes, the Multicultural Center held a three-day Ujima conference where students had the privilege of listening to activist Patrisse Cullors.
Cullors is an “artist, organizer, educator, and popular public speaker…Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network,” according to her website. She also recently wrote, “When They Call You a Terrorist,” which is a book about the story of Black Lives Matter.
As a black woman growing up in Los Angeles, Cullors talks about the harsh reality that was her childhood. “There wasn’t a moment in my life where police presence did not exist,” she said as she recollected a strong memory of her home being raided at the mere age of four. Now a mother herself, she must worry about her child, asking herself daily, “is this a safe place to raise him?”
“I’m an abolitionist,” Cullors said, describing herself. “I don’t believe in prisons and jails, courts and surveillance as a form of accountability.”
She believes in an “economy of care” rather than an “economy of punishment,” thinking societies should ensure individuals that have caused harm will not be repeat offenders, and we, as a society, should unlearn this culture of revenge and punishment.
When speaking of reforming the economy, the word ‘defund’ in regards to cutting police budgets is viewed as controversial to many, but in Austin, Texas, defunding police actually led to creating housing for the homeless. This has been one of Cullors’ biggest successes, but also a huge challenge.
“I think a movement is successful when they are able to change the material conditions for the people they’re fighting for,” she said, and that’s what she did. “For years this work was not acknowledged…outside of the black community, many people believed the police.”
Cullors main goal is to transform people’s lives–with necessities of life like employment, healthcare and food–not just in Austin but across the whole nation.
A large part of Cullors’ beliefs include “challenging our own understanding of intersectionality inside of our community,” as it is a crucial part of the fight for Black Lives Matter. Black American immigrants face challenges not only with their race but also their legal status in this country. 21 Savage in particular was one black immigrant Cullors helped get out of ICE custody.
Not only is Cullors a black woman, but she is also a queer black woman. She believes all black lives matter, whether they are women, transgender, immigrants, disabled, etc. When the most marginalized groups get free, all groups get free. She uses affirmative action as an example, as white women benefited the most from it.
But Cullors doesn’t want someone to advocate for her. “I don’t want someone advocating on my behalf,” Cullors said, as she wants others to help her build power rather than speak for her. She insists that these “advocates” must listen to people who they are in an allyship with and then take action.
In response to the phrase “all lives matter,” Cullors used to say, “We believe all lives matter…but until black lives matter, all lives won’t matter.” Now that the movement has gone on for over seven years, she says these people are “not interested in the movement at all” and that those who still speak those words are “actively opposing black lives matter.”
Cullors encourages young activists and organizers to step up and act now. “[They] are so critical to our movement; it’s the way we are able to continue to make the change that’s so necessary.” As far as on campus for activists is concerned, Cullors said, “The more people working together the better; the more that you have a shared agenda the better.”
Read more about Cullors and her life of activism at patrissecullors.com.