Heroes: Patrisse Cullors

The founder of #BlackLivesMatter talks about the actions needed today, plus a look back at the legends that have found themselves back in the spotlight.

This article appears in V128, now available for purchase. 

From pounding the pavement with BLM to fighting for the rights of the formerly incarcerated—activist, artist, and author Patrisse Cullors has been a beacon of hope, pushing this nation forward. Following the news of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the 2012 Trayvon Martin murder trial, Patrisse Cullors took to social media in protest of the gross injustice. Closing out her post with “#blacklivesmatter,” a hashtag that swept the nation. It quickly became a symbol of solidarity and ultimately led to one of the largest grassroot movements in the world. To some it may seem like a stroke of chance, but Cullors was destined to lead a revolution.

Portait of Patrisse Cullors by Gabe Gault.

 Born and raised in a city with a sordid history of police brutality, the L.A. native realized early on that change was needed, and that she wanted to be the one to bring it. “I became an activist because of what I was seeing and experiencing in my community,” said Cullors. “I grew up in a neighborhood that was over-policed, and where folks were being incarcerated often. A [neighborhood] that punished children for being poor and Black. It was depressing to witness and experience, so I wanted to do more.” Preparing for what would become her life’s mission, the activist nurtured her passion for social reform by studying thought leaders who came before her. “I started reading Audre Lorde and bell hooks to learn moreabout people who challenged the system,” she explains. And although Cullors was already light years ahead of her peers, it wasn’t until she attended a camp for social justice that she developed her unapologetic, unwavering sense of self that we know and love. Cullors credits the National Conference for Community and Justice as the catalyst for a journey of self-discovery saying, “The NCCJ had us go through a series of experientials where we were confronted with all the socialization around our womanness, our manness, our transness, and our queerness. It’s where I really developed my identity and found myself.”

Shortly after that, the activist also found her voice through a sobering encounter with homophobia, which she faced head-on. While sitting with her girlfriend in a public park, Patrisse was berated by a man for having the courage to live openly. Left with feelings of embarrassment and shame, the 18-year-old struck back. The following weekend she wrangled up 10 of her closest friends and took to the streets of Los Angeles holding signs that read “Love Is Love” and “Stop Hate.” “It was really empowering, it was one of the first moments where I felt like I had agency,” said Cullors. “I realized that my voice and what I do in the world can change the system for the better.” From that moment on, the activist has served as a voice for marginalized communities across the United States. Most recently, Cullors was instrumental in the $150 million LAPD budget cut. Now she’s setting her sights on passing the Breathe Act, which would divest taxpayer dollars from policing and instead invest in community-based approaches to public safety. “It’s important that this [act] gets passed, we need [the Biden-Harris administration] to invest in healing this country from racism and racial terrorism. Now is the time.”

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