By Ivan Cazares
Patrisse Khan-Cullors told East Los Angeles College students who aspire to be activists on March 19 that they need to find the issues that impact them the most, because that is what will keep them motivated and committed to their work.
Cullors is a cofounder of the Black Lives Matters movement, an educator and an author whose books have made it to The New York Times best sellers list.
Her latest book “When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir” is a direct response to conservative media and those skeptical of the movement. After they were labeled as terrorists when some protestors clashed with police and instances of looting took place following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.
Cullors said labeling movements like Black Lives Matters is a strategy white supremists use to change the public narrative. She said the strategy was used against the Black Panther movement as a way to criminalize activism in the minds of the general public.
“The work that BLM is doing is trying to undo 400 years of harm violence and trauma caused by white supremacy,” Cullors said.
“That is actually psychologically and physiologically very hard to do, because one thing that’s important to know if you’ve studied psychology, physiology or biology is that human beings, even if it’s not good for us, if we’ve been doing it over and over again we’ll lean toward the thing doing us harm, because it’s what we’re use to.”
In January thousands of supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. capitol in what Cullors said was a clear act of terrorism, but she said despite that being blatantly obvious using the term comes with negative repercussions for people of color and their movements, because it results is more anti terrorism law enforcement that ends up targeting people of color.
“Making an institution like the U.S. change is not easy. You’ll get resistance from your own people, because it feels like their foundation is being ripped from underneath them, and it is, but we can establish new foundations. It just takes time,” Cullors said.
She told aspiring activists that they can’t be discouraged by the colossal obstacle of institutionalized racism, because the work must be done. She said supporting causes through social media helps, but that they need to get involved and be ready to face challenges if they really want to affect change.
While she said BLM is fighting hundreds of years of trauma, Cullors said it’s important for people to understand that the movement isn’t only motivated by pain.
“You can only use anger as your anchor for so long. It’s not sustainable. It destroys individuals and it destroys matters. BLM is motivated by black resilience, black joy and love.”
Culllors was invited to speak to ELAC students as a collaboration between One Book One College and Gender Studies program.
The college will continue to host similar seminars and workshops to help educate staff and students on activism throughout the year.