It’s important to be educated about the ways we can support and be part of the Black Lives Matter movement. The recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Brionna Taylor, and many more have caused our society at large to reach a tipping point. Even those on the fringes of the movement have been galvanized to action -- protesting, donating, educating ourselves, and entering into dialogues with others about what we can do to fight for racial equality in America, to fight for the dignity of Black life, to fight for systemic change.
The Black Lives Matter movement is an extension of the civil rights movement and began in 2013, originally as a hashtag on Twitter, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a Black child. Started by activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, Black Lives Matter is a decentralized network with no formal hierarchy that has chapters in thirty locations throughout the United States, including New York.
Along with spurring officially coordinated Black Lives Matter protests and activism, the phrase has become a rallying cry attached to individual and organized activism centered on raising Black voices, fighting systemic racism, and fighting for Black equality, opportunity, and life.
Whether you have been fighting alongside the movement from the beginning or are just learning about it and getting involved now, here are some things you can do to make a difference.
Hire Black People, Support Black-owned Businesses
If you own a business, hire or promote Black employees. Support Black-owned businesses, including but not limited to Black creatives. This is a simple and effective way to raise Black voices and empower Black people. Historically, Black men and women have been systematically discriminated against and are vastly underrepresented in high levels of leadership.
Attend a Protest
Currently, there are many protests happening nationwide and around the world. Adding yourself to the number not only makes a statement but also shows solidarity with the movement. It will likely be inspiring and cathartic to turn your beliefs into actions in such a definitive way. If you attend a protest, there are certain guidelines to follow. (Please do not forget protective steps you can take to prevent the contraction and spread of COVID-19, even as you participate.)
Make sure you come prepared — bring first aid supplies, water, and your ID and emergency contact information. Pack a change of clothes, choose a buddy to check in with at the protest, and wear comfortable shoes. Find out how to deal with real possible safety threats like tear gas and rubber bullets, document suspicious activity (infiltration by white supremacists is a real possibility), and follow the lead of the grassroots Black organizers.
If you are not Black, remember that you are acting as an ally. The best thing that you can do is to protect Black protesters by staying safe and intervening if you see any threat to your fellow Black protesters. In some cases, non-Black protesters have made a human shield between Black protesters and police. In other cases, non-Black protesters have documented ill-treatment of Black protesters by military or police. Your allyship is important. Your voice can make a difference.
Money is a primary driver of privilege and power. Donating funds to organizations working for Black equality and spending money at Black-owned businesses makes a big difference. We vote with our dollars — let’s put them to good use.
Many organizations have been flooded with donations in recent weeks. Setting up recurring payments if you are able ensures that organizations have cash flow to count on into the future.
At time of publication, here is a list of organizations taking donations at this time.
Here is another list broken down by state.
And the National Bail Fund Network by state to help incarcerated people pay for bail and avoid extended time in jail.
Education is a portal into understanding. There are many books from which to learn about systemic racism in the United States, including (but certainly not limited to) the following:
White Rage by Carol Anderson
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
How to Be an Antiracist by Abram Kendi
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
A People’s History of The United States by Howard Zinn
For other resources, you might find this Google Document compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein in May of 2020 helpful.
Much of the activism happening now is tied in with calls to defund the police. Learning about the connection between slavery and prison is an important step in understanding why many activists feel that the police should be defunded. A good documentary explaining this is the film 13TH by Ava DuVernay (available on Netflix).
There is a wave of passion driving all of the work happening now. Making sure that this is a movement and not just a moment requires us to continue to work for racial equality and justice long after the moment has passed. This work is hard. Mistakes may be made. Discomfort is part of growth. Keep going. Together, we can do this. Keep on going.