Black Lives Matter Pioneer Named 2021 Commencement Speaker Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the global movement, is an author, educator and artist who has dedicated her life to racial justice
By Zoe Day
Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, delivered a prerecorded address as part of the 2021 virtual commencement ceremony at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
In 2013, the UCLA alumna created the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter, which grew into an international movement for racial justice and reform. Last year, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in 2020.
“Patrisse Cullors is at the heart — and the foundation — of a movement for human rights, social change and genuine equality under the law,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said in March when Cullors was announced as a speaker. “Her work and the work of those who follow is way past due.
“The time has long since come for our society to come to a reckoning regarding the violence and abuse we visit on Black Americans,” Segura said.
As a teenager, Cullors became interested in activism and joined the Bus Riders Union, an advocacy group that fought for increased funding for bus systems in Los Angeles. She later started Dignity and Power Now, a coalition formed to shed light on brutality by sheriff’s deputies in county jails.
She has also led the JusticeLA and Reform L.A. Jails coalitions, helping them to win progressive ballot measures, fight against a $3.5 billion jail expansion plan in Los Angeles County, and implement the first Civilian Oversight Commission of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
Her activism has been informed by her studies of revolutionaries, critical theory and social movements around the world. She earned a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy from UCLA in 2012 and received her master’s in fine arts from USC.
In 2013, Cullors co-founded the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi in response to an acquittal in the killing of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Today, the organization supports Black-led movements in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada and has been nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2018, Cullors and co-author Asha Bandele published “When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir,” which became a New York Times best-seller.
In 2020, Cullors co-produced the 12-part YouTube series “Resist,” which chronicles the fight against Los Angeles County’s jail expansion plan. She also signed a multi-year production deal with Warner Bros. and has said she intends to use the contract to continue to uplift Black stories, talent and creators.
Cullors serves as the faculty director of Arizona’s Prescott College, where she designed the curriculum for a new master’s of fine arts program focusing on the intersection of art, social justice and community organizing.
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