Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Alicia Garza: “Black People Deserve to Live in Dignity”

Photo of Alicia Garza taken from Marshall College Speaker Series event page.

Black Lives Matter co-founder and Marshall College alumna (‘02) Alicia Garza returned to UC San Diego on February 26 to speak about issues pertaining to the Black Lives Matter movement. Hundreds of students, staff, and faculty packed the Price Center Ballroom for the event, presented by the Marshall College Speaker Series in honor of Black History Month.

Garza began by highlighting the persistence of violence against Black people. After a moment of silence to honor the family of Trayvon Martin on the seven-year anniversary of his murder, she recounted the more recent deaths of Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Sandra Bland, and Michael Brown.

“Six years [after the creation of Black Lives Matter], there are still questions that sound like those asked the first year after we created Black Lives Matter,” said Garza. “After Trayvon and before Trayvon, there are Black people being murdered…without cause.”

Garza dismantled mis-characterizations of the Black Lives Matter movement as violent, “anti-white people,” or “anti-policing.” She believes movements such as All Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter deliberately obscure what Black Lives Matter stands for in order to redirect conversations away from Black issues.

“Everybody’s waiting for the riot. There will be no riot today,” Garza said with a wry smile.

Although the Black Lives Matter movement is best known for organizing around high-profile cases, Garza emphasized that the movement is not limited to a singular issue or group, but is instead a “movement for all of us.”

“Black people deserve to live in dignity. What happens to Black people in this country affects everyone,” Garza said.

Beyond tackling criminal justice, Garza pointed to the systemic issues faced by Black people, such as a lack of access to affordable housing, healthcare, and education. She referred to how women of color are among the fastest growing prison populations, and Black women face an even more significant gender wage gap.

Garza also took special care to criticize issues within the Black community—specifically, cultural attitudes against LGBTQIA+ people. She advocated for trans rights, citing the story of CeCe McDonald; she challenged negative reactions to Pose actor Billy Porter for wearing a tuxedo-gown on the Oscars red carpet.

Regarding activism, Garza reserved candid criticism for what she called the “trend of keyboard warrioring.” The term refers to people who post online about social justice without taking concrete action.

“Solidarity is a verb, not a brand, not a coat you put on and take off when it’s convenient,” she said. “Clicking ‘like’ or sharing does not equal doing something.”

This theme of taking action came up again towards the end of her talk, when she stressed political mobilization. Garza spotlighted the issue of voter suppression during the 2018 midterm elections. She encouraged students to vote not only to make a statement, but also to help preserve democracy itself.

When asked about how to increase Black student enrollment at UCSD, Garza spoke about the importance of providing Black students with a sense of belonging. She emphasized the need for classes or majors geared towards Black students. Drawing from her own experiences, Garza also urged university administrators to create a campus culture more supportive of activism.

“[UCSD needs to be] diligent about protecting and supporting Black activists on campus,” Garza said. “[Administrators] must encourage changemakers in development to actually make change—not filtered change, but real change.”

Isabelle Yan is the Managing Editor of The Triton.