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Black Lives Matter is marking its 10th anniversary this week

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Black Lives Matter is marking its 10th anniversary this week. The movement began in the wake of the acquittal of the shooter who killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager. The police killings of Michael Brown and George Floyd, among others, put BLM at the center of the push for criminal justice reform. Joining us now is Black Lives Matter co-founder Aya Tometi.

Now, Aya, if you can take us back 10 years, when the movement first began, what was its mission? What did it set out to do?

AYO TOMETI: Its mission was really to ensure that the voices and concerns of Black people were being heard. We were tired of the countless numbers of people that were being killed - if it was vigilantes, if it was law enforcement, if it was security guards. We were just sick and tired of hearing these stories in our communities. We were sad. We were devastated. And we knew that we had to take the tradition of community organizing that leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and many others have taught us, and we needed to remind the larger public that we actually have something that we can do when we're faced with these types of challenges, that we can organize, that we can harness the voices, the concerns, the work of our community, and we could step out in courage and do something to change it.

MARTÍNEZ: How heard has it been?

TOMETI: You know what? It's been a very difficult journey. I won't lie. You know, it's been an uphill battle to ensure that our voices were heard. We took to social media back in 2013 because we weren't being heard by traditional media, to be quite frank. We weren't hearing our stories. We weren't seeing the media cover it, and we knew that we had to use the tools of our time to ensure that our concerns were being, you know, heard. And we were sharing those stories amongst ourselves, and, you know, we saw the rise in our voices. We saw that people were concerned, and then we saw that, you know, media began to pay attention to our stories. And I think that was very important because we saw it pivot, if you will, where our voices were finally being amplified and taken more seriously.

And over the years, we've seen many more people join us. Millions and millions of people have joined around the world to declare that Black lives do matter and that we want a different kind of world. We want a world where we have multiracial democracies that work for all of us, and it's very heartening to see that this movement is actually, in fact, very multiracial. It's very multifaceted. And it's not just about criminal justice or criminal justice reform, but it's about the quality of life that Black people should have in every sphere of life. So if it's the health care industry, if it's our workplace...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

TOMETI: ...If it's the education, everywhere, we're seeing that people are understanding that this is about Black lives, period, no matter what because racism is embedded in every facet of our society. And so we require that we have transformation and...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

TOMETI: ...Changes in every facet of our society.

MARTÍNEZ: In 2021, you said that the Biden administration has a lot of work to do and has a long way to go on issues important to Black Lives Matter. How does the Biden administration look to you today?

TOMETI: You know what? The Biden administration still has a long way to go. But the truth is that we are seeing that even just, you know, a little over a week ago, we saw the Supreme Court overturned affirmative action. We saw this pushback against the gay community, the queer community, LGBTQ folks. We've seen so many different setbacks. We've seen laws and proposals to criminalize activism in the wake of the 2020 uprisings against the murder of George Floyd and so on, and so we know that there's a lot of work to do across all aspects of our government.

MARTÍNEZ: Ayo Tometi is a human rights advocate, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter. Thank you very much.

TOMETI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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