Cullors encourages audience to “reclaim” the legacy of Martin Luther King

Jan 20, 2016

Nearly 500 people of varied ages, races and hometowns listened as Patrisse Cullors, cofounder of Black Lives Matter, shared her view of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the need for continued social activism and community organizing.

“This is our holiday,” she said of the observance of King’s birthday on campus and across the country. “Community activists don’t have many holidays.”

Cullors pointed out that King was arrested 32 times for purposeful actions related to his work as an activist and organizer. “He understood the role of civil disobedience,” she said. “Over the last two decades, we’ve seen a sanitized version of MLK. We need to reclaim his legacy.”

Cullors, an established community leader and performance artist, has become a prominent voice for those afflicted by social injustice and discrimination. She was inspired to action by the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Cullors cofounded the Twitter hashtag—and movement—#BlackLivesMatter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi that has prompted activism nationwide, including Chicago.

“BlackLivesMatter comes from a place of love but also a place of rage,” she said. “Our role as community organizers is to imagine something different and then create it … we need to imagine black life.”

Before Cullors started her speech, she encouraged audience members to talk among themselves about what they are doing to save black lives. Her appearance included time for meetings with North Central College students (photo, right) and her talk was followed by audience questions, moderated by Stephen Maynard Caliendo, professor of political science. Among the questions asked regarded what people of all races could do to help the movement. “We should challenge racism in the spaces where we are,” she told the audience member.  

“She’s thoughtful, compassionate and educated,” said Brandon Barnes ’16, a sociology/anthropology major, who attended with his high school-aged son.

On Thursday, North Central College welcomes another prominent speaker as part of its MLK Week activities. Dr. Leah Gunning Francis, associate dean for contextual education and assistant professor of Christian education at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, will speak at 12:15 p.m., in Meiley-Swallow Hall. Gunning Francis was an active and visible presence in Ferguson, Mo., in the weeks after the tragic shooting of Michael Brown in August.