The women behind the hashtag.
Announcing the first of twelve pages dedicated to notable female leaders of our time, the creators of the hashtag and movement, #BlackLivesMatter: Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi.
I am so excited to be kicking off the third annual Badass Ladies Calendar, and even moreso to be filling another 12 pages with truly inspirational womxn. The amount of research that has gone into this project year after year is some of my favorite, because I have the honor and opportunity to deep dive into the work and lives of so many impressive individuals (even those that don't end up in the final selection). In years passed, I have felt that part of the project was to nudge the curiosity of my collectors towards researching these women. That each calendar flip would spark the questions "who is she?" or "what has she done?", resulting in a google search, book purchase, etc. My creative goals are constantly evolving, and it now feels important to create a space where that information can be easily found, and my own lens can be shared - welcome!
As I was cultivating my list for the 2021 calendar, I started by reflecting on the year of 2020. The first three names that I wrote down were of these dedicated, bold, and inspiring women. Patrisse Cullors. Alicia Garza. Opal Tometi.
While they have made international news this year in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others, the movement and hashtag began long before. The three co-founded #BlackLivesMatter in 2013 as a response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin's murderer. They describe the organization as "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’ humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression."
Something that I learned through my research of these leaders (and that doesn't get a lot of air play) is their vision of Black liberation movements and, subsequently, #BlackLivesMatter. In birthing this organization, the three recognized and challenged pre-existing movements that made space only for Black heterosexual, cisgender men. #BLM was built on the foundation, and since it's inception has recognized the importance of making space for all Black lives, including women, queer, transgender, and other historically marginalized groups.
While their combined efforts to create the #BLM movement are more than enough to earn a place in the 2021 calendar, individually all three women are impressive beyond compare.
A fellow creative, Patrisse views her work as a place for art and activism to intersect. The Los Angeles native has incorporated social justice and organizing into her artistic pursuits through projects with a range of themes such as exhaustion, restoration, and queer world building through ritual Black hair washing and procession movements. She is also the founder of the organization Dignity and Power Now, which seeks to achieve transformative justice and healing for those affected by incarceration, and very recently, Reform L.A. Jails, a campaign and coalition focused on including a ballot measure in this year's election that would empower a civilian oversight committee to investigate misconduct in the police and prison system and, ultimately, reduce incarceration in L.A.
I couldn't help but dive into her art, and am blown away by the intention, thought, and beauty of her work. While there are many that I simply couldn't pull my eyes away from, I wanted to share with you all one, and hope you'll follow the link to learn more about each layer of symbolism. Patrisse describes Prayer to Iyami for Allegories of Flight as "a love letter to Los Angeles and, most importantly, a loving prayer for [her] brother Monte."
Prayer to Iyami for Allegories of Flight, June 2020. Learn more here.
My favorite quote: “Living in patriarchy means that the default inclination is to center men and their voices, not women and their work.”
A common theme and point of passion for Alicia in her work is interectionality, and the critical importance of viewing the world around us through lenses of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Through her work as a public speaker, writer, and advocate, Alicia challenges the misconceptions of violence in Black America, specifically that only cisgender Black men encounter it. Through her leadership and identity as a queer Black woman, she has created space for the stories of the underrepresented to be heard and valued.
She is currently the Special Projects Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance (this one might sound familiar - NDWA was founded by 2019 Badass Lady, Ai-jen Poo!), which is dedicated to the inclusion in labor protection, respect, and recognition of domestic workers, and her resume also includes roles such as director of People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), member of the Board of Directors for both Forward Together and Oakland's School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL), and chair person for the Right to City Alliance.
My favorite quote: “Anger is not a sustainable emotion in and of itself. It has to be transformed into a deep love for the possibility of who we can be.”
As a daughter of Nigerian immigrants, race, immigration, and gender justice have been on the forefront of Opal's career in advocacy. Growing up in Arizona and witnessing the heartbreak and crisis surrounding the US-Mexico border, she began her work in immigration justice at an early age, creating student organizations and participating in youth programs and extracurriculars. For the eight years prior to #BLM, she worked as an Executive Director at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), which helps mobilize Black immigrant communities and advocates for social and economic justice (earning her position at the impressive age of 27).
Today, seven years after its creation, #BlackLivesMatter has gained momentum and people all over the world are inspecting their social consciousness. Through the growth of this movement, Opal has turned her sights towards unifying the Black community on a global scale. She created Diaspora Rising, which is a visual art piece that invites all of African descent to recognize the history, resiliency, and bond of their heritage.
My favorite quote: "We gave tongue to something that we all knew was happening. We were courageous enough to call it what it was. But more than that, to offer an alternative. An aspirational message: Black lives matter."
Through three simple words, Black Lives Matter, Patrisse, Alicia, and Opal called out the complexity of American racism by calling white people into the reality that they have yet to fully acknowledge. To "matter" is not just to exist, but to be recognized and to be understood as equally worthy of protection and peace in both practice and policy. The movement they have given rise to seeks to fulfill all of the dreams of liberation that these three great way-showers demonstrate through their many mediums. They have been explicit from the start that their intention was not to center the actions or intentions of #BLM on one identity within the Black community but, instead, for all to be lifted and celebrated at once. "By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives."
It was an honor to create this portrait, and I'm so excited for this upcoming calendar! While my typical calendar template is one portrait per page, I felt that this movement deserved more. It deserved the break from my mold, an openness to change, and a clear understanding of my stance. I hope that you'll use this blog post as a start, but will continue to research, to take what you've learned and translate it into action, and that you'll VOTE with all of it in mind.