“We cannot forget that the work that we do as artists has to be deeply aligned with the movements that are calling for artists to be some of the visionaries in this process.” Patrisse Cullors, Black Live Matter, Co-Founder.
Patrisse Cullors has devoted over one decade of her 37 years of life to ending police violence, mass incarceration and other social injustice perpetuated against Black people in America as co-founder and national leader of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement. She shares openly in a recent interview with Rolling Stone Magazine her motivation, as she tries to recall if she was five or six years old when she had her first police experience growing up with a single mom in Van Nuys, California. The police were looking for one of her uncles. “We were children. My mom was young. I just remember them having no care in how they treated us. I remember them not looking us in the eye. It felt like it didn’t matter if we were collateral damage to their raid. I grew up just watching so much violence at the hands of law enforcement, and a deep rogue nature that felt like it was going to be like that forever.”
Many have been asking who is behind BLM and how did it morph from a grassroots community initiative, into a larger than life world Movement. I am sure facts and fiction are being reported by investigative journalists, provocateurs and good old skeptics, but that is not my concern as I see results and reform in both private and public institutions occurring. Instead, I wanted to focus on the founder. Why? She is an Artist! My typical promotion of socially conscious artists contributing to social change has a poster child in Patrisse Cullors. “Art is how we get to the places that we want to get to…Art creates vision and hope and it grounds us. We cannot forget that the work that we do as artists has to be deeply aligned with the movements that are calling for artists to be some of the visionaries in this process” says Cullors.
She has directed and produced world renowned theater, performance pieces and docu-series with features on networks like BET and in theaters and galleries internationally. Patrisse recently conducted her first solo show “Respite, Reprieve and Healing: An Evening of Cleansing”. Her work focuses on trauma, healing and resilience inviting many awards including the 2019 Champion for Peace and Justice from the Trayvon Martin Foundation, The Next Generation Award (2018) from ACLU National, Black Woman of the Year Award (2015) from The National Congress of Black Women, Civil Rights Leader for the 21st Century (2015) from the Los Angeles Times, Community Change Agent Award (2016) from BLACK GIRLS ROCK!, Inc., Women of the Year Award for the Justice Seekers Award (2016) from Glamour, and ESSENCE’ first-ever Woke Award. Her art continues to create platforms for exchange of ideas and education, challenging communities to confront white privilege and subsequent forms of systematic racialism.
Cullor follows in the footsteps of 90 year old African America female artist Faith Ringgold, a native New Yorker born in 1930. Well known for her series of paintings, American People, depicting the civil rights movement from a female perspective, she also created African-inspired masks, painted political posters in a quest for racial integration of the New York art world in the 1970s. By the 1980s, Ringgold began a series of internationally acclaimed quilts and later began a successful career as a children’s book author and illustrator. According to the ArtNewspaper, “Protest and activism still underpin all of Ringgold’s activities-from her politically charged oil paintings of the 1960s, to soft sculptures, performance and public art projects, as well as the often more affirmative story quilts.” Ringgold reveals, “I was encouraged to look around me and to paint what I saw. I painted my story, and it had a lot of angles to it. I was trying to explain how I saw life as a black person living in America, and I put things together that were not acceptable. A lot of people did not want these kind of paintings representing America in any sense, but I wanted to tell my story and what I saw. The art and the political expression were all together-it was a fantastic time to take part in the growing of America’s sensitivity towards our culture. I was involved in the Civil Rights movement on many levels, and one was in creating art. I’m very happy to have told that story because it doesn’t look quite the same today.”
The future remains bright with 17 year old Ethiopian American, Bitaniya Giday, the 2020-21Seattle Youth Poet Laureate. Preparing through her poetry, Bitaniya says, “Right now I’m doing a lot of thinking about what it means to be a Black woman occupying the space as the Seattle Youth Poet Laureate – what it means as an artist to bring healing to the community but also to represent liberation, to represent resistance.” Bitaniya, who immigrated to the U.S. at four years old, explores themes of womanhood and Blackness and uses her poetry to draw attention to police killings such as that of Charleena Lyles in 2017. Bottom line – the artistic expressions of Black women of all ages are behind and in front of social struggles informing, entertaining and reminding us, lest they forget, that Black Lives Matter.

Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.