'We Do It Best When We Do It Together': BLM's Patrisse Cullors Inspires New Generation Of Activists

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Co-founder of Black Lives Matter Movement Patrisse Cullors attends the United State of Women Summit on May 5, 2018, in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images)
Co-founder of Black Lives Matter Movement Patrisse Cullors attends the United State of Women Summit on May 5, 2018, in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images)

Back in June, support for Black Lives Matter reached an all-time high as people around the world spoke out against racism and bigotry.

But in the months since America's racial reckoning, support has declined: A recent Pew Research Center study found that 55% of adults support the movement, down from 67% during the demonstrations in June. But this is nothing new for Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors.

Recently named in “Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2020," Cullors wrote a book in 2018 about the country's relationship with BLM. A young readers’ version of "When They Call You A Terrorist: A Story of Black Lives Matter and The Power To Change The World” is out now to inspire a new generation of burgeoning activists.

Cullors says she and co-author asha bandele always planned to adapt the book to reach young millennials and Generation Z.

“I did not realize that we would be speaking to them during an uprising,” she says, “and during one of the most important moments in our country's history, which is this national election.”

There's always been a partisan divide for support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Last summer seemed to mark a turning of the tide, but opinions shifted again after confrontations between protesters and police. And, President Trump stepped up his criticism of the movement.

Black people are demonized and undermined when they call for freedom and opportunities to thrive instead of survive, Cullors says. This moment isn’t different from movements for civil rights, the abolition of slavery and an end to Black codes, she says.

Trump and the right are using Black Lives Matter as a “pawn” to win the election, she says, despite that the movement is not just for Black people — but “for all of us.”

“We are part of a long legacy of Black freedom fighters who have challenged America to really stand up to its Constitution, to really look Black people in the eyeballs, look us in our souls and say that we matter to this country,” she says. “That we've always mattered to this country.”

Here & Now host Tonya Mosley’s 13-year-old daughter, Audrey, read the young adult release of Cullors’ book. As a younger teen who can’t vote, Audrey wondered what she can do the keep the movement going with the election coming up.

Teens under 18 can remind other young people why voting is important, Cullors says. To gear up to take part in the movement to heal and transform the U.S., she suggests learning about the Voting Rights Act and voter suppression.

Young people can also remind each other to avoid disinformation online and explain how to, she says. And with many teens and younger kids joining demonstrations over the summer, Cullors says to remember protesting is a constitutional right.

“Do not let people tell you otherwise,” she says. “And protest is at the very fabric of this country's existence.”

In the book, Audrey recalled reading about rescue plans to address rates of attempted suicides and wanted to know more about what that means.

Many Black and poor communities can’t rely on the government for help, Cullors explains. This is evident in the government only giving people one $1,200 check to survive during a global pandemic, she says.

But to make up for the government’s “gross neglect” during this difficult time, people are checking on each other and bringing their neighbors food, she says. Cullors works with an organization called Trap Heals that hosted a Bye COVID event to provide free testing in Compton.

“The government, unfortunately, is not trying to save us,” she says. “And so there has been so many powerful ways that I've seen the community band together and show up for each other. Mutual aid programs that we've only dreamt about were created in this moment, in this pandemic.”

In the book, Cullors writes in great detail about the physical and mental exhaustion of activism work. Rest is part of the work, she says.

Check in with your team and community if you feel like you’re doing too much. Some moments may require you to stretch your body to its brink, she says, but don’t stay in that place for long.

“There is a long fight ahead of us,” she says. “Do not overburden your body. You don't have to.”

Protests in the U.S. sparked major movements in places like the United Kingdom, Kenya and South Africa. Beyond demonstrating in solidarity with the U.S., protesters around the world held up a mirror up to their own racial history in policing.

Cullors is working with BLM organizers from the U.K. to Brazil on how to build infrastructure for Black people fighting for freedom. As she witnesses the global impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, she says she feels grateful to be a part of the “powerful team” who created it.

“We have such opportunity to get us to the places that we deserve,” she says. “And I think we do it best when we do it together.”

Ciku Theuri produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku RayAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

Book Excerpt: Introduction To 'When They Call You A Terrorist'

By Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele

Days after the elections of 2016, asha sent me a link to a talk by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. We have to have hope, she says to me across 3,000 miles, she in Brooklyn, me in Los Angeles. We listen together as Dr. deGrasse Tyson explains that the very atoms and molecules in our bodies are traceable to the crucibles in the centers of stars that once upon a time exploded into gas clouds. And those gas clouds formed other stars and those stars possessed the divine-right mix of properties needed to create not only planets, including our own, but also people, including us, me and her. He is saying that not only are we in the universe, but that the universe is in us. He is saying that we, human beings, are literally made out of stardust.

And I know when I hear Dr. deGrasse Tyson say this that he is telling the truth because I have seen it since I was a child, the magic, the stardust we are, in the lives of the people I come from.

I watched it in the labor of my mother, a Jehovah’s Witness and a woman who worked two and sometimes three jobs at a time, keeping other people’s children, working the reception desks at gyms, telemarketing, doing anything and everything for 16 hours a day the whole of my childhood in the Van Nuys barrio where we lived. My mother, cocoa brown and smooth, disowned by her family for the children she had as a very young and unmarried woman. My mother, never giving up despite never making a living wage.

I saw it in the thin, brown face of my father, a boy out of Cajun country, a wounded healer, whose addictions were borne of a world that did not love him and told him so not once but constantly. My father, who always came back, who never stopped trying to be a version of himself there were no mirrors for.

And I knew it because I am the thirteenth-generation progeny of a people who survived the hulls of slave ships, survived the chains, the whips, the months laying in their own shit and piss. The human beings legislated as not human beings who watched their names, their languages, their Goddesses and Gods, the arc of their dances and beats of their songs, the majesty of their dreams, their very families snatched up and stolen, disassembled and discarded, and despite this built language and honored God and created movement and upheld love. What could they be but stardust, these people who refused to die, who refused to accept the idea that their lives did not matter, that their children’s lives did not matter?

Our foreparents imagined our families out of whole cloth. They imagined each individual one of us. They imagined me. They had to. It is the only way I am here, today, a mother and a wife, a community organizer and Queer, an artist and a dreamer learning to find hope while navigating the shadows of hell even as I know it might have been otherwise.

Excerpted from "When They Call You A Terrorist (Young Adult Edition): A Story of Black Lives Matter and The Power To Change The World" by Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele. Copyright © 2020 by Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele. Republished with permission of Macmillan Publishers. 

This segment aired on October 14, 2020.


Tonya Mosley Correspondent, Here & Now
Tonya Mosley was the LA-based co-host of Here & Now.


Allison Hagan Digital Producer, Here & Now
Allison Hagan is a digital producer for Here & Now.



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