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Last month marked 10 years since Trayvon Martin’s death, a moment that catalyzed the Black Lives Matter movement. New York Magazine released a special issue that tells the story of the first decade of Black Lives Matter, the movement, as well as the country it moved.
On February 9, 2022, Inside New York Magazine’s event “What Happened to Black Lives Matter?” featured a conversation with The Cut contributors on what Black America has learned since the killing of Trayvon Martin and an exploration of self in a movement. The panelists included Brittney Cooper, writer, Rutgers University professor, and author of Eloquent Rage, A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower; Camonghne Felix, writer, poet and communications strategist; and Morgan Jerkins, editor, Columbia University adjunct professor and author of This Will Be My Undoing. The Cut’s editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner moderated.
The start of the Black Lives Matter movement
The discussion began with recognizing the impact of Trayvon Martin’s death, which sparked groups of people to protest across the United States in March 2012. Brittney Cooper recalled how she hadn’t seen a movement like that in her lifetime as she joined the Million Hoodie March in New York City among thousands of other protestors. At a time when people across the country were protesting Martin’s death and closely following the trial of George Zimmerman, the tragedy also highlighted the incongruities in the country as Martin was killed during President Barack Obama’s first term and Zimmerman’s acquittal in his second. Cooper remarked, “What does having a Black president mean if a Black boy can be shot down in his neighborhood unprovoked and nothing happen to his killer?”
Remembering Black lives
Peoples Wagner explored the evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement by noting that “there’s a feeling that people forget” about violence against Black people, and asked the panelists how they wrestle with that, posing the question “do you feel like Black lives are any safer?” The discussion began with Morgan Jerkins, who pointed to the volatility of the news cycle as the culprit for the forgetfulness of the movement. While Camonghne Felix discerned how the hyper-focus on one individual (such as Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin) can result in the neglect of those needed to be held accountable and a system that fails trans, Black, or brown people.
The lessons of a movement
The panelists agreed that ultimately the rise of the movement isn’t to start something, but instead a response to treatment and oppression. The years of having communities experience compounding grievances with the inability to respond have led up to the coalition of bodies amassed together to enforce their rights, treatment, and humanity.
The lesson is that the meaning of a movement is community. The contributors described feelings of belonging when marching for the same purpose and feelings of isolation when not seeing that affinity. The community that the movement enables also has to be aware of the duration of progress and the problems at hand to address: “Remember that we’re part of a long Black freedom struggle, we can’t just think about what’s happening in the movement and in this moment because in the ’50s and ’60s folks didn’t know what the bounds of the movement were, they responded to immediate concerns” Cooper states, reinforcing the fact that movements aren’t static but a continual battle for freedom and equality.
With human involvement, the only thing certain is uncertainty and the long duration of a movement can cause natural ebb and flows in momentum. Stated Jerkins: “It’s okay to be in the state of not knowing, it’s okay to be in the state of still processing, it’s okay to be in the state of a lack of a resolution because that’s part of our humanity too.”
The evolution of Black Lives Matter
The panelists point out how the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t new but a different shape to the generational fight for civil rights and equality for Black people. The generational gap between the civil rights movement and the Black Lives Matter movement has been labeled as abatement, but it’s actually the new form the civil rights movement evolved into. And after the election of Donald Trump, the movement also grew in terms of creativity as artists and activists also took to other mediums in order to demonstrate support for the movement – in some cases driven by the fear of the same violent repercussions that had befallen civil rights leaders of the past.
Together, new forms of activism develop and propel the movement. Panelists hope the Black Lives Matter movement will not only ensure that Black lives matter, but also install conditions for Black prosperity, formulating the next phase of the movement by recognizing institutions, basic needs, food, healthcare, policy, government, and schools.