Alicia Garza, An Ode to Black Women, 2017

Alicia Garza

Activist and Writer

In 2013, Alicia Garza was working as a community organizer in California when news broke that a jury had acquitted George Zimmerman in the death of the African-American teenager Trayvon Martin. Garza, who saw in Martin something of her little brother, expressed her grief in a Facebook post entitled ‘a love letter to black people’. ‘Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter,’ she wrote. Garza’s friend and fellow organizer, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, added a hashtag and #BlackLivesMatter, the movement, was born. Since then, Black Lives Matter activists have founded dozens of local chapters and participated in protests around the United States and abroad, demonstrating against police brutality and systemic violence against black Americans.

Garza, who was born in 1981, often works behind the scenes (she believes in a flat organizational structure). Still, she is looked up to by many as a leader of a social movement with broad implications for race relations in America and elsewhere. In 2017, she gave a commencement speech at San Francisco State University, which she dedicated to a long line of powerful black women who came before her. She tells her audience that she would not be standing in front of them without the persistence and strength of black women, including her mother. Identifying as a queer woman herself, Garza has created space for voices outside of the mainstream. She ends with a question, which carries with it echoes of Sojourner Truth’s sentiments and functions as both a rebuke and a call to action: ‘Who does she think she is, that Black woman?’

An Ode to Black Women 2017

This is an ode to Black women—because Black women are magic.

This is an ode to the Black women who persisted and the Black women who helped them each and every step of the way.

Were it not for a Black woman from the Midwest who could do anything a man could do and definitely do it better.

Were it not for that same Black woman getting pregnant with me and not being quite sure how she was gonna do it but she did it anyway.

… I would not be standing here today.

Were it not for Black women, there would be no Underground Railroad, no one to campaign agvvvainst Black bodies swinging from trees like strange fruit, there would be no protest songs like the ones that came from the toes through the womb up through the lungs and out of the brilliant mind and mouth of Nina Simone.

… There would be no America were it not for Black women.

… Were it not for Black women like Dr. Dorothy Tsuruta and Dr. Dawn Elissa Fisher and Lynette Schwartz and Patrisse Cullors and Ada Bogan Trawick and Myrtle Buckhaulter and June Jordan and Barbara Smith and Lateefah Simon and Harriet Tubman and Malaika Parker and Angela Davis and Ericka Huggins and Linda Burnham and Diane Nash and Ella Baker and Brittney Cooper and Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells and Audre Lorde and Nina Simone and Mya Hall and Penny Proud and Patricia Hill Collins and Jessie Powell and Betty Higgins and Joanne Abernathy and Emma Harris and Espanola Jackson and Islan Nettles and Assata Shakur and Renisha McBride and Janetta Johnson and Kimberle Crenshaw and Janet Mock and Miss Major Griffin Gracy and dream hampton and Michelle Obama and MaeEtta Buckhaulter and Korryn Gaines and so many others whose names I may never know to speak but whose spirits course through my blood … there would be no me no you no us no civilized society of which we speak.

We, I, you and me—we owe EVERYTHING to Black women.

Thank any and every god you want.

For the resilience.

And the lifting up of all of us all the time without hesitation or apology or the need to talk about all of us (cuz we been telling y’all that forever now, let’s move forward) we just DO for all of us.

This is an ode to the potential and the possible….

This is an ode to the potential and the possible.

Alicia Garza