Veteran activist Opal Tometi, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, urged Penn State Abington students to become "collaborators for justice" during a daylong roving discussion last week.
Black Lives Matter (BLM), she explained, is far richer than its viral hashtag. It's a demand for transformation and structural change; it's an organization, a social movement, and a philosophy that reaches across sexual, gender, and class identity.
"It's a comprehensive vision for racial, social, and economic justice for all of us," she said. "The goal is to educate and inspire so all are treated equally."
Tometi, fresh off of a plane from Germany, gave students specific steps when they asked how to support BLM's goals.
"Find out more information about racial injustice. Join groups. Talk to each other. Have the challenging conversations with your own cohorts," she said. "And be an active alliance. Just saying you're an ally won't change anything"
"It's a comprehensive vision for racial, social, and economic justice for all of us," Opal Tometi, Black Lives Matter
Tometi called out the media for giving "hate speech a national platform" with its coverage of the presidential candidates.
"The media must critically ask questions and situate questions in historical context. It allows us to understand where candidates really stand and the implications of platforms," Tometi, who earned a bachelor's degree in history, said. "Right now, bloggers and alternative media outlets allow for more complex discussion."
Tometi shared her personal story about the birth of BLM three years ago after a jury acquitted George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
"My phone blew up with messages from people who were crushed by the verdict," Tometi said. She also felt its impact on a deeply personal level, thinking of what it meant for her teenage brother.
During an informal talk with two classes, Tometi praised the campus community for re-invigorating the Abington Black Student Union and founding the new feminist organization, SHE.
As the group broke up, one student thanked Tometi and said: "What's interesting is how today made me look at myself and society differently."
Each semester Penn State Abington invites speakers such as Opal Tometi exclusively for students to interact with and dig into issues on a more critical level. This week, Kevin Breel will present "Confessions of a Depressed Comic," one of the most popular TED talks about suicide. Next up, journalist and activist Noor Tagouri will speak for women's history month.