Patrisse Cullors in an African American activist and artist based in Los Angeles, California. She is a cofounder of the Black Lives Matter movement, which campaigns against racial injustice and violence toward black people. She also campaigns for LGBTQ rights and identifies as a queer activist. In 2017 she signed a book deal to write a memoir titled When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. The book was set for release in 2018.
Patrisse Cullors was born in 1984 and grew up in the Van Nuys and Pacoima neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, California. She was one of nine children in a poor family that was supported by a single mother. Her mother worked long hours to support her children. As a result, Cullors rarely spent time with her. Growing up in 1990s Los Angeles, Cullors witnessed the effects the federal war on drugs had on her community. Prison populations soared during these years, mostly with black men. Her father and brother were in and out of prison frequently.
Cullors came out as queer in high school and began dating her first girlfriend at 16. Although her family disapproved, her friends were supportive, and she became involved in local LGBTQ activism in her teens. Cullors was involved in many social justice efforts during this period. At 17, she joined the Bus Riders Union, which advocated for better funding for more affordable public transportation in Los Angeles. Alongside her activist efforts, Cullors took an interest in performance art.
Education and Activism
Cullors attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she studied philosophy and religion. She continued to participate in multiple activism campaigns throughout college, and she was awarded the Mario Savio Young Activist Award in 2007. She also earned a Fulbright Scholarship, receiving her degree from UCLA in 2012.
Cullors remained interested in performance art during this period, often creating her own performance pieces. These performances usually incorporated an activist message. Her 2012 work STAINED: An Intimate Portrayal of State Violence focused on violence in prisons. She toured this performance piece, which led to the establishment of the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence and later the nonprofit organization Dignity and Power Now. These organizations campaigned against the brutality inmates experience at the hands of prison officials. Cullors's activism helped lead to the formation of a civilian oversight commission for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Founds Black Lives Matter
In the summer of 2013, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering a black teen named Trayvon Martin. Martin was walking home in Zimmerman's Florida neighborhood when he was approached by Zimmerman, who later shot and killed Martin. Zimmerman, a member of his neighborhood watch group, stated he acted in self-defense. Martin was unarmed at the time of the shooting. Zimmerman's acquittal outraged many people across the country. In response to the acquittal, Cullors's friend Alicia Garza posted a statement on Facebook that ended with the statement "black lives matter." Cullors turned the phrase into the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, and it quickly spread across social media sites.
The hashtag's popularity inspired Cullors, Garza, and their friend Opal Tometi to found the Black Lives Matter movement. Within a few years, the movement led to the formation of multiple chapters across the United States and in other parts of the world. The movement aimed to educate people about the ways black people are negatively affected by state authority. Cullors also ensured Black Lives Matter was inclusive of all black people, including the LGBTQ and disabled communities.
In addition to her work with Black Lives Matter, Cullors continued her activism efforts related to law enforcement accountability. In 2014 she was awarded the Contribution to Oversight Award by the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. She also received a fellowship from the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, which culminated in a think tank discussion on state violence at the Without Borders Conference. This led to her receipt of a Google Racial Justice Grant, which she used to develop a rapid response network designed to help communities address law enforcement violence. Cullors was named a History Maker by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 2015.
Throughout 2016 Cullors received multiple honors and a number of honorary doctorate degrees. She married her partner, Janaya Khan, in the spring of 2016. The following year, she received the Sydney Peace Prize as one of the cofounders of Black Lives Matter. She also signed a book deal with St. Martin's Press to publish her memoirs. Cowritten by journalist asha bandele, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir was set for release in January of 2018.
Mario Savio Young Activist Award, 2007; Contribution to Oversight Award from the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, 2014; named a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) History Maker, 2015; Sydney Peace Prize, 2017.
- "A Black Lives Matter Leader Opens Up about Marrying Her Partner," Esquire, http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a45823/patrisse-cullors-black-gay/ (December 16, 2017).
- "A Founder of Black Lives Matter Answers a Question on Many Minds: Where Did It Go?" http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-patrisse-cullors-black-lives-matter-2017-htmlstory.html (December 16, 2017).
- "The Founders of Black Lives Matter: 'We Gave Tongue to Something That We All Knew Was Happening,'" Glamour, https://www.glamour.com/story/women-of-the-year-black-lives-matter-founders (December 16, 2017).
- "Patrisse Cullors Biography," Patrisse Cullors, http://patrissecullors.com/bio/ (December 16, 2017).
- "Patrisse Cullors of Black Lives Matter Discusses the Movement," Teen Vogue, https://www.teenvogue.com/story/patrisse-cullors-of-black-lives-matter-discusses-the-movement (December 16, 2017).
- "These Savvy Women Have Made Black Lives Matter the Most Crucial Left-Wing Movement Today," LA Weekly, http://www.laweekly.com/news/these-savvy-women-have-made-black-lives-matter-the-most-crucial-left-wing-movement-today-6252489 (December 16, 2017).