How BLM went from Facebook post to global movement

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How BLM went from Facebook post to global movement


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Media caption‘I feel like Black Lives Matter has become a trend’

A slogan chanted by tens of thousands around the world, Black Lives Matter has sparked a hashtag, a network of grass-roots organisations, and a moral collective of activists.

But how did it go from a social media post to a global phenomenon, and where does it go now?

The names most associated with Black Lives Matter are not its leaders but the victims who have drawn attention to the massive issues of racism this country grapples with: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, to name a few.

The movement can be traced back to 2013, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Florida.

The 17-year-old had been returning from a shop after buying sweets and iced tea. Mr Zimmerman claimed the unarmed black teenager had looked suspicious.

There was outrage when he was found not guilty of murder, and a Facebook post entitled “Black Lives Matter” captured a mood and sparked action.

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BLM LA chapter

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An early Black Lives Matter demonstration in Beverly Hills following the acquittal of Goerge Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin

“Seven years ago, we were called together. There were about 30 of us standing in the courtyard of this black artist community in Los Angeles, summoned by Patrisse Cullors, one of our co-founders and one of my dearest friends,” says Melina Abdullah, a professor of Pan African Studies in Los Angeles and co-founder of one of Black Lives Matters first “chapters”.

“It was students … artists, organisers and mommas. We knew that it was part of our sacred duty to step up. And there was an audaciousness that we could transform the world, but we didn’t have a plan for it,” she laughs.

If calls for justice for Trayvon Martin lit the spark for Black Lives Matter, it was the death of Michael Brown a year later that really brought the movement to national attention.

The unarmed teenager had been shot dead by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri and Black Lives Matter took to the streets, often in angry confrontation with the police.

But the killing of George Floyd took the movement to areas it had not reached before.

This moment of national reckoning gives Ambassador Andrew Young, a legendary civil rights leader, a “tremendous sense of pride”.

“Especially that they have remained overwhelmingly nonviolent,” the 88-year-old says.

For years he marched shoulder-to-shoulder with Rev Martin Luther King Jr, but very much as a civil rights leader in his own right.

He was later awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and served as US Ambassador to the United Nations.

“Of course it was very different back then. We had to go door-to-door, church-to-church,” he says.

“When Dr King went to jail, only 55 people showed up,” Ambassador Young remembers.

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Getty Images

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Ambassador Andrew Young, seated to the right of Martin Luther King Jr with other civil rights leaders

In the 1960s, many of the key American civil rights figures were known the world over, but even someone as connected to the struggle for equality as Ambassador Young finds it hard to name contemporaries in the modern movement.

“Honestly, I don’t know who Black Lives Matter is,” he acknowledges.

“I don’t know who the leaders are. In fact, I don’t know that they even have any leaders. I think perhaps it’s a spiritual, emotional movement created by implicit evils in our society that we have not been willing to face.”

Those who have been involved with Black Lives Matter since its embryonic stages say this decentralized approach is intentional.

“Group-centred leadership is in our guiding principles,” says Prof Abdullah.

“Leadership is not just about oratory, it’s also about facilitation, planning, bringing arts to the movement, things that don’t get as much recognition,” she says.

The leadership in many Black Lives Matter chapters is also often female.

“Black women have always been at the heart of the black freedom struggle. Often times they have been painted over, and this time we are refusing to allow ourselves to be painted

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