If 2020 was a time of uprising, reckoning and unlearning across industries and around the world, 2021 is for meaningful change-making.
At C2 Online — Montréal 2020, Patrisse Cullors — social activist, best-selling author and co-creator of the viral Twitter hashtag and movement #BlackLivesMatter — called on business leaders and community members alike to have honest conversations on racial justice and join together in support of Black lives.
Organize your office like an activist
Cullors and her Black Lives Matter co-founders kicked off a global, community-led movement that took to the streets in a resounding response to anti-Black racism. A trained organizer in activist circles, Cullors was taught to learn as much as she could so she could help build power for her community.
“The role of an organizer isn’t to get the credit or make all the decisions,” she said. “An organizer is a group-builder who brings people together and helps communities build power.”
Black Lives Matter may not have a leader, but the movement isn’t leaderless. “We’re a leaderful movement,” she said. That means action-oriented and group-centred.
Organizations that want to join the movement need to take note: “Black Lives Matter cannot just be a trend for a company to tack onto — it has to be something that you are willing to prove inside of your company.”
Cullors’ tips on how to start:
- White people, organize yourselves and engage in significant actions — show up!
- Take inventory of who is in your company and what your company is working for and towards.
- Ask if your company is committed to supporting Black lives. If not, start now.
- Enter honest, bold conversations about your company and systemic racism.
- Absorb what the phrase “Black Lives Matter” really means and prove it inside of your company.
- Join community-based anti-racist groups focused on accountability.
“We’ve lived under white supremacy and racism for so long,” said Cullors. “This kind of unlearning is generational and only happens when we’re honest and bold and face these issues head on.”
Go beyond “diversity and inclusion”
“I hate those words. Stop using them,” advised Cullors. “What those words do is create quotas, where white people determine what’s diverse and what’s inclusive.
“Challenge yourself to create a workplace that is anti-racist, that has an anti-racist identity and culture.”
If your business has been led by white men for decades, challenge that too, even if your employee makeup looks diverse on the surface. “You can still have a racist culture in an inclusive company,” Cullors explained. “It’s not about race, it’s about the institution.”
Shift culture by co-creating it
Building new infrastructure is a creative act, said Cullors. “Create an infrastructure in which people can challenge what we understand as normal, what we have seen as normative, so everyone can envision a new world.”
Take it from Black Lives Matter: when it started, they didn’t know that they would shift the entire culture but simply recognized they had to confront the prevailing ideology. Today, her job is to continue to push the ways we understand what’s possible and create a new narrative — one that becomes the cultural norm.
“Everyone should be an activist today. The opportunity to change the world [happens] by joining movements.”
TAKE ACTION: Read the Black Lives Matter toolkits for change
JOIN: There is a Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) group in Montreal currently looking for members
WATCH: Patrisse Cullors in the 2020 documentary Not Done: Women Remaking America
LEARN MORE: Discover Black American artist Allison Saar, whose work we saw hanging in Cullors’ home
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