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Black Lives Matter: The Growth of a New Social Justice Movement

In the article below, Syracuse University historian Herbert Ruffin explores the rapid rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement as the most recent development in the ongoing struggle for racial and social justice in the United States.

In the summer of 2013, three community organizers Alicia Garza, a domestic worker rights organizer in Oakland, California; Patrisse Cullors, an anti-police violence organizer in Los Angeles, California; and Opal Tometi, an immigration rights organizer in Phoenix, Arizona, founded the Black Lives Matter movement in cyberspace as a sociopolitical media forum, giving it the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The idea came when the three, who became aware of each other through Black Organizing for Leadership & Dignity (BOLD), a national organization that trains community organizers, all responded similarly to the July 2013 acquittal of neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman by a Sanford, Florida, jury for the murder of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin. Angered and deeply burdened by the verdict, members in BOLD social forums began asking the organization’s leaders how they were going respond to the assault on and devaluation of black lives. Garza wrote a Facebook post which she titled “A Love Note to Black People” calling on them to “get active,” “get organized,” and “fight back.” For Garza, the injustice targeting black people was a disease called institutional racism that could not be defeated by just voting, being educated, and pulling oneself up with strapless boots. She ended by telling her readers that she loves them and that “Our Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter.” Cullors responded to the post with the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter.” Tometi added her support and a new organization was born.

Black Lives Matter, like Dream Defenders in Daytona Beach, Florida, Million Hoodies Movement for Justice in Washington D.C., and Baltimore Bloc in Baltimore, Maryland, was one of many freedom rights groups formed during the protest for George Zimmerman’s arrest and trial. Unlike most other

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