Opal Tometi talks Black Lives Matter movement at Take Back the Night

Izzy Schellenger || Staff Writer 

F&M’s Alice Drum Women’s Center and the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House hosted their annual event, Take Back the Night, on Thursday, March 24. This event is held nationally with the intent of starting a discussion about ending all kinds of violence that results from fear, ignorance, and hatred. This year, F&M’s Take Back the Night was expanded to include the help and input of more organizations, such as S.I.S.T.E.R.S., IMPACT, the Black Student Union, and the local Lancaster chapter of Black Lives Matter 717. Student organizers said the increased amount of sponsors symbolizes a new format of group collaboration, which is necessary to fight adversity.

The speaker this year was Opal Tometi, a Co-Founder of the Black Lives Matter movement along with Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors. She created the popular Twitter hashtag, “#BlackLivesMatter,” and organized the social media aspects of the movement. Tometi is a Nigerian-American writer and community organizer. She is the Executive Director at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, where she organized the first ever Black-led rally for immigrant rights and planned the first Congressional briefing on Black immigrants. Tometi identifies as a transnational feminist who is passionate about connecting immigrant and human rights with the Black liberation movement. In 2014, she was named a new civil rights leader by Essence Magazine.

During her speech, Tometi asked the audience to reflect on our own personal experiences with violence. What are we taking back the night from? Tometi explained that the event is focused on reclaiming a lost identity and self from when others and society have tried to take away our race, religion, and gender. She said that Take Back the Night, like the Black Lives Matter movement, is about claiming what we deserve.

Tometi argued that we live in a multiracial society which we must recognize and accept. She believes that all lives matter, and said she would not have had to co-create the Black Lives matter movement if all lives truly and equally were treated as though they mattered. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” By co-founding this movement, Tometi has chosen not to be silent. She said this is what makes this movement so revolutionary– people have dared to speak out against racial and human injustices.

The responses to this movement have included people substituting other words in for “Black,” such as “All Lives Matter” or “White Lives Matter.” Tometi described this as “erasure, or the push towards being colorblind.” Some people believe that we do not have to worry about race anymore because we have a Black president and powerful Black public figures such as Oprah Winfrey. Tometi argued that bigotry, ignorance, and hatred are still permissible, and in order to combat this we need to take action– just our silent thoughts alone will not change the world.

Tometi encouraged the audience to not just sit on the sidelines, but to actively fight for justice. She said we can either work for justice or be inactive and passively support injustice; there is no in-between. One way that we can fight racial violence is by using our privilege for justice. Tometi, a transnational Black feminist, recognizes her privilege as a resident of the U.S., and she tries to bend this privilege so others can benefit. Tometi believes that we need to begin to look at racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia as not only occurring at an interpersonal level but also from an institutional and systematic level. That way, we can understand how these institutions, such as the criminal justice system and the housing system, have shaped us and our beliefs.

Tometi ended her speech with another Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Following Tometi’s speech, there was a public march and a speak out that allowed students to voice their thoughts, opinions, and personal experiences with violence, race, and gender.

Sophomore Izzy Schellenger is a Staff Writer. Her email is ischelle@fandm.edu

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