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2017 Black Lives Matter

Movement for freedom, justice and dignity for all Black lives

Sydney Peace Prize Citation

For building a powerful movement for racial equality, courageously reigniting a global conversation around state violence and racism. And for harnessing the potential of new platforms and power of people to inspire a bold movement for change at a time when peace is threatened by growing inequality and injustice.

On Thursday 2 November at Sydney Town Hall, Patrisse Cullors, Rodney Diverlus, and Dawn Modkins accepted the 2017 Sydney Peace Prize on behalf of the Black Lives Matter Global Network.

In 2014, Black Lives Matter emerged as a global phenomenon when the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter turned into a rallying cry for a new generation of civil rights activists and organisers. A movement swept across the United States, affirming Black humanity in the face of relentless police brutality, mass incarceration and racial disparity.

Built and sustained by many, the Black Lives Matter Global Network (BLM) has played a vital role in growing the Movement for Black Lives, and its loud calls for justice, dignity and equality have resonated around the world.

It’s about love

Black Lives Matter started with a love letter. In 2012, 17-year-old , unarmed Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch who felt Travyon, walking home after buying a pack of Skittles at a nearby service station, was ‘out of place’ in the middle-class area. Zimmerman was acquitted for all charges.

Alicia Garza retells the experience: “Trayvon could have been my brother. I immediately felt not only enraged, but a deep sense of grief. It was as if we had all been punched in the gut. Yet soon people shrugged, as if to say: “We knew he was never going to be convicted of killing a black child,” and “What did you expect?””

Turning to Facebook, Alicia wrote a ‘Love Letter to Black Folks’: “We don’t deserve to be killed with impunity. We need to love ourselves and fight for a world where black lives matter. Black people, I love you. I love us. We matter. Our lives matter.”

In a matter of moments, fellow community organiser Patrisse Cullors created the social media hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, and Opal Tometi created the website and social media platforms that soon connected people across the country. Black Lives Matter was born, and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter started spreading like wildfire. A year later, it went viral during the 2013 uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, when people took to the streets with a simple demand: Stop Killing Us.

Not a moment, but a movement

Since creating the social media hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in 2013, BLM’s Co-Founders, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi steadily and strategically built the scaffolding of a nationwide on-the-ground political network that now has more than 40 chapters worldwide.

Encouraging a broader and deeper conversation about what justice for Black people looks like — and how people can join forces to achieve it — the Black Lives Matter Network nurtures an inclusive, decentralised and leaderful movement from the bottom-up. The Founders want the faces of this movement to reflect the change they strive towards in their own communities, which is that all Black lives matter, regardless of their gender, class, sexual orientation, or age.

An intervention

For the Founders, Black Lives Matter Network is not ‘just’ about extrajudicial killings and police reform. Rather, it is an intervention: Black Lives Matter demands that American society reconsider how it values Black lives by identifying where and how Black life is cut short by the state, whether in viral videos of police brutality, the self-fulfilling prophecy of the criminal justice system, or in areas where Black communities disproportionally face homelessness, poverty and economic disparity.

Black Lives Matter is our call to action. It is about replacing narratives of Black criminality with Black humanity. It is a tool to reimagine a world where Black people are free to exist, free to live, and a tool for our allies to show up for us.

As we say ‘Black Lives Matter’, you see the light that comes inside of people from Black communities and other communities. People are like, ‘I’m going to stand on the side of Black lives.’ You see people transforming, and that’s a different type of work. For me, that is a spiritual work, a healing work. What a great time to be alive.

Patrisse Cullors, Co-Founder

Black Lives Matter is about changing culture and changing the conversation: If it is true that Black lives matter, then what does that mean for police reform, for our justice systems, for schools, for jobs, for infrastructure, and for economic development? If Black lives matter, then what needs to change in politics and in the media?

In only a few years, it has rapidly evolved well beyond a hashtag, into a social movement that is healing and organising communities across the USA, and has both political aims as well as visionary policy demands.

Vision, leadership, heart and courage

Without justice, peace is hollow and fragile. As societies and human beings, we cannot be at peace when people around us are suffering. Or when rules, institutions and behaviours that shape our daily lives – visible or invisible – tell us that the lives of people around us matter less, or don’t matter at all.

The committee noted that the conversation about Black Lives Matter is an age-old conversation, but commended today’s movement for creating a unique opportunity to change the course of history:

Black Lives Matter offers bold and visionary solutions to build societies where Black people, and by extension all people, are free to live safe and dignified lives. This vision of love, hope, resistance and dissent resonates around the globe and particularly in Australia where the struggle with racism towards our First Peoples, asylum seekers and other excluded and marginalised communities scars our country and tarnishes our international reputation.

To turn a radically inclusive message into a rallying cry for millions of people requires vision, leadership, heart and courage. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi and the many other Black Lives Matter leaders challenge us all to rethink, reimagine and reconstruct the societies we live in. This is an urgent and vital challenge, not least here in Australia, a country that struggles to come to terms with its past and fails to right ongoing wrongs.

This is the first time that a movement and not a person has been awarded the Peace Prize – a timely choice. Climate change is escalating fast, increasing inequality and racism are feeding divisiveness, and we are in the middle of the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Yet many establishment leaders across the world stick their heads in the sand or turn their backs on justice, fairness and equality. The power of ordinary people is a phenomenal force for change – now more than ever, popular movements and political resistance is crucial.

The Black Lives Matter Global Network declared “we receive this award with tremendous gratitude and in solidarity with organizers throughout Australia who, in the face of egregious oppression, fightback against the state and proclaim that all Black Lives Matter.”


The Sydney Peace Prize is an affirmation and reminds us that we are on a righteous path. Accepting this award is about our people on the ground striving for justice every single day. It’s truly meaningful to be recognized in this way.  We’ll continue to push forward until structural racism is dismantled and every Black life matters. It’s our duty in times like this to keep our eyes steadfast on the freedom we deserve.

Opal Tometi, Co-founder Black Lives Matter and Executive Director, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)

City of Sydney Peace Prize Lecture:
“Freedom and justice for all Black lives”

I recognize that the history here is a brutal and racist history. One that sometimes mirrors the U.S.’s brutal history. But it would be easy to only talk about the past. Let’s not make this an easy conversation. Let’s be courageous and talk about what is happening today.

Our movement is built by all of us. It is our duty to join the growing movement for justice inside and outside of this country. If you don’t see yourself as an active participant in liberation of Black people now is your opportunity. All of our lives depend on it. Ase.

Watch BLM’s City of Sydney Peace Prize Lecture and Award Ceremony

With contributions from Archie Roach, Prof Larissa Behrendt, Prof Gracelyn Smallwood, Maxine Beneba Clarke, and Lord Mayor Clover Moore

Laureate Media

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