On the same night George Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin, Alicia Garza and fellow community organizers Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi coined a hashtag that would birth an international movement: #BlackLivesMatter. Black women have always been involved in liberation work and protested in their own ways. They led revolts and uprisings. They committed arson and poisoned slaveowners. They instilled the value of education into their children and taught them to read. They formed activist organizations and investigated lynchings.
And yet they’ve long been marginalized by major protest movements. But not today.
From Tamika Mallory to the Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, black women are at the forefront of the protests globally sparked by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, in the name of Black Lives Matter. Below, is a list of 14 black women of different professions, ages, and locations all across the country who have organized protests and contributed to the renewal of the Black Lives Matter movement in the way that only a black woman can.
Phyve-Nellie, dancer, organizer, and entrepreneur
Source: PhyVe_kisses Instagram
Based in Los Angeles, California, PhyVe is an activist who has taken a leadership role in organizing multiple marches across Hollywood, Highland, Compton. She is known for going viral in a video on ABC7 News, where she gracefully stood her ground and claimed her rights when a police officer attempted to physically move her during an interview with a reporter on the site.
“As a people we are hurting. As a leader, I noticed that there was room and opportunity for an organizer and camaraderie. I decided to step into that leader role because I knew I could bring different sides of the cause together to make a bigger voice to be heard and show solidarity in this very important movement,” she said.
“It was a personal choice...and it is a choice I have dedicated my life to.”
In one video, she explains how she puts her freedom in jeopardy in order to keep protests peaceful. She drew an agreement with the officers that if anyone in her group throws anything, she will go to jail for them, making herself accountable for nearly 1,200 people. Her next steps are to keep marching, keep educating, and even run for local office.
“So that I can put my actions to actual use within my community… I plan to continue to have uncomfortable talks. I will use my love for love and my love of people to keep the ball rolling as I do my part in this very important movement.”
In addition to her protests, she is a professional dancer and travels the world entertaining people through the art of dance. As an entrepreneur, and uses her funds to donate to organizations that support families from domestic violence. According to the National Center for Women and Policing,at least 40% of families with police officers experience domestic violence.
Teens For Equality, student led organization
A group of six teenage girls from different parts of the country came together for a unified mission: to organize a peaceful protest in support of Black Lives Matter. As the girls created the Teens 4 Equality organization and spread the message through social media, they hoped for at least 1,000 attendees. Instead, they were met with a crowd of at least 15,000 people.
Jade Fuller, Nya Collins, Zee Thomas, Kennedy Green, Emma Rose Smith and Mikayla Smith -- all freshmen through juniors in high school and ages 14 to 16 -- took only five days to organize the massive June 4 march that took place in Nashville, Tennessee to protest police killings of black men and women, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, as reported by ABC News.
When asked what she had learned by organizing her first protest, 16 year old black teen Mikayla Smith told Good Morning America, "No matter what you are or who you are, if you put your mind to it, you can make a difference. A week ago I did not think I would be capable of doing something like this."
Surprisingly, the girls --who attend different high schools--met for the first time on the day of the march. Now, their Teens 4 Equality organization has nearly 25,000 followers on social media and is already planning a second protest this Fourth of July, Independence Day.
Bree Newsome Bass, activist
Ms. Newsome scaled a flagpole to remove the Confederate battle flag from the State Capitol in Columbia, S.C., in 2015.Credit...Adam Anderson Photo/Reuters
In June 2015, Bree Newsome Bass was arrested after climbing a flagpole at the South Carolina State Capitol. Five years later, her protest strategy is going mainstream.
After white supremacist Dylan Roof had killed eight black parishioners and their pastor at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church church in Charleston, South Carolina, Newsome Bass decided she was going to scale a flagpole outside the State Capitol and take down the Confederate battle flag that flew there.
As the New York Times reported, Newsom Bass recognized that it was most meaningful to have a black woman remove the flag, because “the political power of black women is often overlooked and taken for granted.”
“We need to understand black women as the integrating force within the Democratic Party, an institution and a political party that historically was preserved for white men,” Ms. Newsome Bass told the New York Times. “The things that black women say become the talking points for politicians, but we don’t really have much political leverage beyond people calling for a kind of token representation from us in certain places or playing the role of mascot.”
In the last few weeks amongst the mass black lives matter protests, NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from its events and races, the Marine Corps ordered the removal of public displays of the Confederate flag from its military installations, Virginia gov. Ralph Northam ordered the Removal of Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy,and protesters have defaced and removed confederate statues across major cities. Even in Britain, people removed a statue of a 17th-century slave trader and threw it into a harbor.
“These monuments have little to do with the Civil War,” Mr. Bunch said in an email to the New York Times. “They first appeared in large numbers in the 1890s as symbols of white resistance to racial justice and as concrete manifestations of the ascendancy of racial segregation as justified by the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision that legalized the concept of separate but equal, which was inherently unequal.”
Though the flag was back on it’s pole lafter Newsome Bass was released from jail, her deliberate choice as a black woman to remove the flag that represents oppression and racism echoes symbolically at the head of a global movement.
Ariah Bremby, activist and organizer
Greenville High School junior Ariah Bremby, 16, left, receives a fist bump from Greenville Department of Public Safety Director Dennis Magirl, at the start of a peaceful protest she helped organize at Veterans Park in Greenville Saturday, as protesters gathered in solidarity of the Black Lives Matter movement. — DN Photo | Cory Smith
Ariah Bremby, a 16-year-old high school student concluded her sophomore year with an impressive resume.
Bremby, a junior at Greenville High School, organized the protest with help from friends, parents and teachers after she participated in a protest last week in Grand Rapids.
Bremby filed a special event application with the city, receiving permission to hold the two-hour protest at the public park.
Bremby expected about 50 people; however, according to Greenville Department of Public Safety Director Dennis Magirl, there were more than 100 people present.
“We definitely did not anticipate this great of a turnout, but it is so awesome that everybody is here right now,” Bremby said. “We’re going to make sure we are all here for good intentions, nothing crazy and no violence. That is not the message we are trying to spread.”
Greenville Mayor John Hoppough and his wife, Susan, were also in attendance with the Mayor holding a protest sign and Susan wearing an apron full of protest messages.
“I’m proud of the young people of our city, very proud of them,” John said. “They are staying focused on their cause and it’s a very important cause. I think that’s the important part of today, this is about the greater good. They are our future, they are our strength, and they are leading by example. Now people just have to listen.”
Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and Professor of Pan-African Studies at California State University
© (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Based in California, Melina Abdullah is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and recently credited for leading reforms that call for alternatives to current law enforcement practices, like “community policing”
Abdullah led a crowd during the memorial service honoring George Floyd on June 8. She honored the lives of people whose lives had been stolen by police violence.
In the microphone, she called out George Floyd, Ryan Twyman, Wakiesha Wilson, Kisha Michael. After each name, she poured water from a plastic bottle onto the pavement while protesters responded with “Àse” (ah-shay), a word used by the Yoruba people of Nigeria akin to ending a prayer with “Amen.”
“Our power comes not only from the people who are here but from the spirits that we cannot see,” said Abdullah,“When we say their name, we invoke their presence.”
In an interview with “Call and Response”, a new show designed to respond to the changes and activism of our time, Abdullah explained her efforts as a community organizer and latest victory with “The People’s Budget LA. ” In June, a motion she proposed for police to no longer be deployed for non violent calls was passed by the City Council and Mayor of Los Angeles.
“They’re serving as social workers, EMT’s and drug rehab counselors, well they shouldn’t be because they don't know how to do those jobs, and they were not created to do those jobs,” she told “Call and Response.”
For the last five years, she has protested the mayor's budget. This year was especially crucial because of the coronavirus pandemic and economic fallout. According to Abdullah, the plan has led to more than 16,000 city workers (most of whom were black and brown) to be furloughed, and the LAPD budget increased, spending a total 3.15 billion dollars on police force.
Instead, Abdullah fought for an alternative budget, emphasizing defunding the police and community policing. On June 24, she told “Call and Response” that the mayor said Police will now “not be deployed for non-violent calls.”
“We have to couple this call to defund the police, with reimagining public safety,” she said
The mother of three argued that deploying mental health and social workers could have saved countless lives like Jesse Romero, a 14 year old child accused of tagging, who was killed by LAPD officers.
Foyin Dosunmu, student activist
Source: Cole McNanna
In recent weeks, high school students have led protests in Greenville, Mich.; Laurel, Md.; and Berkeley, Calif. Adding to that list, are three teenagers from Katy, Texas, one of whom was a 16-year old Foyin Dosunmu.
As the New York Times reported, the teens organized together under the name Katy4Justice. Over four days, through text messages and video chats, they organized a protest that drew over 1000 demonstrators at a neighborhood park.
Foyin Dosunmu, 16, told the New York Times “It really takes action in order for real change to come,” said. “That’s what we’re trying to get across and drill into the minds of the people of Katy.”
Born in Houston to Nigerian immigrants who are engineers, Dosunmu moved to Saudi Arabia when she was 5, and then to London three years after that. She was frequently the only black girl in her class.
“I remember thinking, Oh, I wish I was white,” she said. “I felt so left out.”
She told the New York Times her family moved to Katy when she was in the fourth grade. Throughout her school years, she encountered racist behavior. When her family first arrived at their new home in Katy, they did not yet have a key and were accosted by a white man while trying to get inside. He yelled at them and accused them of being looters, and using racist slurs.
Although she takes part in speech competitions, Ms. Dosunmu had not generally been politically active. After the killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, however, she began to feel guilt, she said, for her relatively safe and stable life in Katy. She felt a bubbling need to do something in her community, she told the New York Times.
“I need people to hear my voice,” she said. “I need Katy to hear what I’m thinking.”
Co-founder of Until Freedom and former Co-chair of the Women’s March
Activist Tamika Mallory‘s speech during a rally in Minneapolis protesting the death of George Floyd has gone viral.
“America has looted black people. America looted the Native Americans when they first came here, looting is what you do. We learned it from you. We learned violence from you. If you want us to do better, then damnit, you do better.”
Mallory, the cofounder of Until Freedom, an intersectional social justice organization, and former Women’s March co-chair said Black America was in a “state of emergency” at the demonstration, where she was joined by community leaders including Jamie Foxx, Floyd’s close friend, former NBA star Stephen Jackson, and others.
“This is a coordinated activity happening across this nation, and so we are in a state of emergency. Black people are dying in a state of emergency,” said Mallory, 39, who formerly worked with Al Sharpton‘s National Action Network in New York City.
Video of Mallory’s speech has been widely shared online and has garnered more than 5 million views on Twitter alone.
Although the officers responsible for Floyd’s death were recently charged, this is still not enough, Mallory told Vogue. “Breonna Taylor still needs to be addressed as well as Ahmaud Arbery,” Mallory says. “There’s more work to be done and we cannot take our eyes off of the ball or we might not see convictions,” she says.
As the child of two civil rights activists, Mallory has been going to protests for as long as she can remember. Even still, she feels that we’re living through an extraordinary time, calling it “one of the most courageous and bold moments in American history.”
Mallory recognizes a new level of empowerment in today’s protesters. “We’re not asking and begging for respect, we’re demanding it,” she said.
8. Jordyn Caldwell, student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia
Theater major Jordyn Caldwell, who organized a Black Lives Matter rally in Fairfax, Virginia, on June 7, took a lesson from her parents and grandparents. Photo by Kevin Krisko.
Jordyn Caldwell, a rising theater major at George Mason University, organized a Black Lives Matter rally in Fairfax Virginia. The rally was personal for Caldwell because her father was a friend of George Floyd.
June 7, Caldwell organized a rally that saw more than 1,000 people in the old town Fairfax, Virginia.
“The video was everywhere and he was, like, ‘I know him. That’s my Floyd,’ she said.
Caldwell said her father met Floyd at South Florida State College, and when he found out she recalls his somber reaction:
“I remember he fell into a deep depression. It was just so sad.”
Jordyn, who lives in Chantilly, Virginia, called her father “a talker.”
“That’s the way he gets through things,” she said, “so I wanted to provide a space where he could talk about his friend and be honest about race relations in America.”
“This is somebody who is not going to be deterred by obstacles and naysayers,” said Kristin Johnsen-Neshati, associate professor of theater at Mason told Fourth Estate. Johnsen-Neshati had Caldwell in several classes and who attended the rally with her husband.
“She’s really going to stand up for what she believes in. This success is really going to fuel her,” said Johnsen-Neshati.
“Anybody can do this,” Caldwell said. “You don’t have to be a politician. You don’t have to be a lawyer, you don’t have to be an expert, but you can lift black voices. Go out, spread the word, donate, sign petitions, whatever you can do.”
9. Patrisse Cullors, Black Lives Matter Co-Founder
Photo by Ryan Pfluger
Raised in Los Angeles, Calif., Patrisse Cullors is an artist, organizer, and co-founder of Black Lives Matter. She is a New York Times Best Selling Author, Fulbright scholar, popular public speaker, and Sydney Peace Prize awardee.
During the mass protests against police brutality, Cullors has been a strong leader for prison abolition and defunding the police as the next step of liberation.
“I don't have any more faith in charges and convictions.” she told NowThis.
“The demand of defunding law enforcement becomes a central demand in how we actually get real accountability and justice,” she told WBUR radio. “because it means we are reducing the ability of law enforcement to have resources that harm our communities.''
Patrisse also recently toured her multimedia performance art piece, "POWER: From the Mouths of the Occupied," a gripping performance piece highlighting the impact of mass criminalization and state violence in Black communities across the United States.
10. Tayla and Cherese Myree, Community organizers
Cherese Myree looks at her daughter Tayla Myree as Tayla speaks to protesters gathered on the Decatur Square during a peaceful “Black Lives Matter” demonstration they organized. June 5 Photo by Dean Hesse.
In Decatur, GA, hundreds of people gathered around the Confederate monument outside the Dekalb County Courthouse to call for the monument’s removal and support the Black Lives Matter movement taking place in Atlanta and across the country.
The demonstration was organized by mother-daughter duo Tayla Myree, a recent graduate of Syracuse University and her mother, Cherese Myree.
“I wanted to help her organize a protest and she expressed interest,” Tayla Myree told Decateurish, standing next to her mother at the bandstand in the Square.
“We’re advocating for Black Lives Matter and making sure we’re getting out and making sure that our voices are heard. Clearly we’re both two fantastic beautiful Black women here, and wanted to make sure that everyone knows that our lives matter, that our brothers’ lives matter, that our uncles’ lives matter, that everyone in those spaces’ lives matter, and we need to continue to advocate and fight for this specific movement in different ways.”
Tayla Myree continued the narrative that has become prominent within the past week, that “it is not enough to just not be racist; we must be anti-racist.”
Cherese Myree has been a Georgia resident since 1988 and is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University.
“[Tayla] had a big part in informing my activism because she protested at her university against racism against marginalized students,” Cherese Myree told Decaturish.
“Supporting her in that work kind of opened my eyes and motivated me to continue to speak out. It’s always a subject of discussion. It’s nothing new for us. What motivated me to be here was, of course, another killing. The thing that happened with Ahmaud Arbery, he’s 25, my son will be 25 on June 17. That could’ve been him,” she said.
“We can’t just sit by and be silent. At the end of the day, people call for certain types of protesting, and call out protests that Martin Luther King did, but let’s not forget that they assassinated him. So, everybody’s got a voice, everybody’s path is different. So, my path may not be your path, but everybody’s got a path to the same end.”
11. Makia Green, Lead Organizer of Black Lives Matter DC
Source: Definidentity Project
Makia Green joined the movement by co-founding an activist collective in Rochester NY, during the aftermath of the Ferguson Uprising, and has since then led mass actions such as J20 Resist and BlockDevos. In 2015, Green moved to D.C and started going to the healing circles provided by Black Lives Matter D.C. As an activist and organizer, Green's passion is using radial honesty to give others the permission to be themselves, unapologetically so that we all have the power to manifest the world within which we want to live.
“There’s this idea that in order to be an organizer, you have to be perfect,” she said in her bio.
“There are lies that you are told about being a woman and being black: “we are here to serve other people”, “there's no time for rest”, “just give up your whole self”. Those are untruths that I want other women to unlearn or resist when they join a movement. You are still valuable and your time is valuable. Don't lose your humanity in fighting for other people's humanity,” she said.
“Additionally, in a time when big businesses are constantly co-opting movements and co-opting everything we create, it's really important to stay true to yourself and to remember that the work that you're doing is getting people to a freer life.”
Green is also known for their criticism of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s choice to not defund the police, while commissioning a Black Lives Matter mural in the street now known as Black Lives Matter Plaza. Black Lives Matter D.C. tweeted the original mural commissioned by the city “is a performative distraction from real policy changes,” she said. In contrast, Green says the “defund the police” display by the organization is a “direct response” to the mural from the mayor.
12. Nia White, student activist and organizer
Source: Brooklyn Paper
Nia White, a 17-year-old from East New York, never guessed she would be at the forefront of a social justice movement as a senior in high school.
White has spent her spring semester organizing rallies and drafting policy proposals with Freedom March NYC. Last week, the group released its policy platform for 2020, which pushes for a number of police reforms, White told the Brooklyn Paper.
“One of the [policies] I find most important because I’m young is getting police officers out of schools,” she said. “It would definitely help with the school-to-prison pipeline, and we feel it’d also help the education system.”
White said she began volunteering for organizations advocating for Black women after getting rejected from several internships and realizing how few Black women there were in leadership roles.
“I didn’t see anyone who looked like me,” she said, explaining that she was routinely rejected from internships at law firms and political offices. “I wouldn’t get the positions, and I feel as though it definitely was because I already had two strikes against me already — I was Black, and I was a woman. And then my third was that I was young, so it was automatically, ‘You’re out.'”
White has interned for Chelsea Miller’s advocacy group Women Everywhere Believe (WEBelieve) and for Black Women’s Blueprint, an organization that hosts workshops and advocates for policies on behalf of Black women. Both experiences have helped fuel White’s activism, she said.
“It gave the skills to speak up and the information as well,” White explained.
White, who plans to work in politics in the future, said that growing up in East New York also gave her the tools to call out injustice.
“In Brooklyn you always see these types of violent actions happening, and it definitely forms you.” she said. “Brooklyn is definitely the reason I have my voice today because no one in Brooklyn is silent. Everyone in Brooklyn speaks up. That’s just how my neighborhood conditioned me.”
13. Chelsea Miller, activist, co-founder Women Everywhere Believe
Chelsea Miller, a 23-year-old Brooklynite, co-founded the advocacy group Freedom March NYC after noticing a critical lack of oversight at one of the first New York City protests following Floyd’s death.
“When I went out that Saturday night, what I saw was really disheartening,” she told the Brooklyn Paper. “What I saw on the ground was that there wasn’t leadership.”
After Miller saw the destruction of New York City post-protest, Miller and her good friend Nialah Edari worked tirelessly to organize a protest which drew hundreds of people. Soon, Freedom March NYC began hosting larger events — including a massive June 4 march which led thousands of protesters from George Floyd’s memorial service in Cadman Plaza to Washington Square Park.
“That was one of the most memorable and significant marches,” Miller said. “There were thousands of people who crossed that bridge, it was non-violent … it was an incredible moment.”
The Brooklyn native said her experience growing up in Flatbush with a single mother played an important role in her activism.
“My activism has been informed by being a first generation American, by being raised by a single mother,” she said. “For me, my mom has always instilled in me a resilience and an understanding of your power and your voice, especially as a Black woman.”
Miller’s mother worked for many years at a foster agency, but eventually left the industry and decided to turn the second story of their family home into a group home for girls, Miller said. “I grew up with foster sisters and the stories of their experiences in the foster care system,” she explained. “To me, being able to turn the blinders to other people’s experiences is something I cant do.”
The experience inspired Miller to co-found a mentorship program as a student at Columbia University. The program, called Women Everywhere Believe, provides training sessions, resources, and events for young girls of color.
“I remember being in college and there were a lot of protests going on and feeling as though my voice wasn’t being heard,” Miller said. “So we created Women Everywhere Believe because we realized that Black women were not being centered in the conversation about police brutality.”
14. Nupol Kiazolu, president of Black Lives Matter Greater New York
Artwork: Jessica Holmes, Photo: Teen Vogue
Nupol Kiazolu, the 20-year-old president of Black Lives Matter Greater New York, (and 2036 presidential candidate) has organized some of the largest George Floyd protests in the city — including a march on June 2 from Bryant Park to Trump Towers that drew more than 15,000 people.
New York City’s Black Lives Matter chapter organizes demonstrations, drafts legislation, hosts a youth coalition that teaches young people to be effective organizers, and runs a political action committee that supports grassroots candidates.
“Black Lives Matter, we don’t just protest, we work behind the scenes and the front lines,” she told the Brooklyn Paper.
Kiazolu had her first brush with activism when she was just 12 years old, after George Zimmerman killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. After holding a silent protest at her Georgia middle school, teachers sent her to the principal’s office and wrote her up for detention, but her math teacher — a Black woman — stood up for her.
“This woman literally risked her job by walking down to the principal’s office with me with her hoodie on in solidarity,” Kiazolu told the Brooklyn Paper. Thanks in part to her teacher’s advocacy, the principal allowed Kiazolu to research her first amendment rights as a student to prove her right to protest, which she did. “At that point, I knew being an activist was my calling.”
Now, Kiazolu is a student at Hampton University, where she studies political science and pre-law. She plans to become a civil rights lawyer and politician. While balancing her school work, career ambitions, and activism isn’t easy, she says it’s worth it.
“Time management and working with my team is what keeps me afloat,” she said.