Black Lives Matter at UF

Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi spoke to about 500 UF students

Thousands have protested police and racial violence. About 500 UF students and staff joined the conversation with the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement.

During an hour-long virtual event hosted on Microsoft Teams Thursday night, Black Lives Matter founders Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi talked about LGBTQ+ leaders at the forefront of their movement and the importance of students standing up for their Black peers.

Accent Speakers Bureau, UF Black Student Union and UF Pride Student Union organized the appearance. Anyone with a UF email was able to register for the event by noon Thursday.

In response to UF students’ questions about how they can assist the BLM movement, Tometi said students need to support Black people on campus, and they need to ensure that the school system is affirming the lives of Black people.

For some colleges, fighting injustice might require kicking law enforcement off campus, ensuring more scholarships or reimagining tuition, she said. Each campus is different, she said, and she doesn’t know what UF will need to do to make sure the campus is safe for Black people.

Task forces on campus that handle diversity and equity need to have decision-making powers, Garza said. She also said rather than having a task force handle removing racism and barriers for Black people at UF, the university should designate a department to handle race issues.

This event was especially important now because of recent protests against racial injustice following the death of George Floyd, Accent Chair Steven Wolf wrote in an email to The Alligator. BLM has been a prominent theme of the protests.

“From everything I've heard so far, the students very much enjoyed it and walked away with an even better understanding and sense of awareness for the issues Black people face in the United States on a daily basis,” Wolf wrote.

He said the speeches also commemorated Pride Month because Cullors and Garza shared their experiences as queer people.

Accent paid Cullors, Garza and Tometi $10,000 each in student fees for their appearance, according to the event contracts. Their honorariums are less than recent speakers. Comedian John Mulaney was paid $50,000 in student fees to speak virtually last month, and Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle were paid $50,000 in total to speak on campus in Fall.

Jasmine McNealy, an associate professor in the UF department of telecommunication, moderated the event, which included a 45-minute interview and a 15-minute student Q&A.

During the interview portion, Garza said BLM aims to change the laws and culture devaluing Black lives to provide dignity and humanity to Black people worldwide.

The media wasn’t accurately showing the violence and degradation against the Black community, Tometi said, and the injustice helped motivate them to start spreading the message online that their lives matter.

Social media was a powerful tool, she said. It allowed them to speak directly to other members of the Black community.

“We're living in a new time that’s really empowering,” Tometi said. “It was always about using the online tools to take action in our lives offline.”

It is important to be proud as a queer Black female leader to set an example for younger people, Cullors said. It’s important that leaders are allowed to be themselves, she said, because it inspires others to be themselves, too.

Students said they were grateful to learn about activism and what they can do to join the movement.

Learning about intersectionality, which is how different social identities can lead to disadvantages or privileges, was eye opening, Daniela Ordonez said in an interview after the event.

The 20-year-old UF political science and sociology junior said she appreciated hearing the founders explain about how students can contribute to the BLM movement.

“It was just nice to hear from the founders themselves, what they want for a movement that they themselves created, because sometimes that gets lost in the middlemen,” Ordonez said.

Ordonez grew up in a conservative and religious Latinx household where she didn’t learn about racial injustice, she said, but opportunities at UF like this event have taught her how to be anti-racist and a voice for BLM.

UF should facilitate conversations from different perspectives, 22-year-old UF agricultural operations management senior Philip Smith said.

But he said he was disappointed in the university and Accent when he asked for the co-founders thoughts on tearing down art that depicts Jesus as a white man. His question was not posted onto the public board, and he said he felt censored.

When Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle came to campus, students questioned them a lot. He said it’s good that people voiced their concerns about Trump Jr., but he was disappointed that no one challenged Cullors, Garza and Tometi’s ideas about topics like defunding police.

Contact Meghan at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @meggmcglone.

Meghan is the Student Government Reporter this semester. She was previously a general assignment reporter and news assistant, and she’s majoring in English and minoring in economics at UF. Meghan loves horror movies, sour candy and her dog, Alice.