June 20, 1983
|Education||University of California, Los Angeles (BA)|
University of Southern California (MFA)
|Occupation||Activist, artist, writer|
|Black Lives Matter|
Patrisse Marie Khan-Cullors Brignac (née Cullors-Brignac; born June 20, 1983) is an American activist, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, artist and writer. Cullors created the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag in 2013 and has written and spoken widely about the movement. Other topics on which Cullors advocates include prison abolition in Los Angeles and LGBTQ rights. Cullors integrates ideas from critical theory, as well as social movements around the world, in her activism. She is the author of When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir.
Early life and education
Cullors was born in Los Angeles, California. Her mother Cherice Foley is a Jehovah's Witness. Her biological father was Gabriel Brignac, whom she didn't meet until she was eleven years old. She was raised in the home of Alton Cullors, who used to work at a General Motors plant in Van Nuys before it was shut down, forcing him to work in low-paying jobs. She has three siblings - two bothers named Paul and Monte, and a sister named Jasmine. Gabriel was a repeat offender who was jailed many times on drugs-related charges and died in 2009 in a homeless shelter. Despite his legal issues, Cullors described him as having a constant and caring presence in her life.
Cullors grew up in a Section 8 apartment in Van Nuys, a poor and largely Mexican-American neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. Her step-father Alton eventually left his family, leaving Cherice to raise her kids on her own. Cullors said that she witnessed her 11 and 13 year-old brothers being needlessly slammed into a wall by police when she was 9 years old. At the age of 12, she was arrested for smoking marijuana. At this time, she was a student at Millikan Middle School, an affluent mostly-white school for gifted kids in Sherman Oaks. Cullors describes that she felt ashamed going there with her mother in a car, borrowed from their neighbor and Monte's on-and-off girlfriend Cynthia, since it was in a state of disrepair. She also states that it was the white girls at the school who introduced her to weed. However, when she was arrested, she was attending the Van Nuys Middle School, a school consisting mostly of children of working-class families and non-whites, as part of summer school, due to her poor grades. For her the transition was a shock, as the school had a metal detector and was guarded by police unlike her other school.
Monte was arrested in 1999 after robbing his mother's car and arrested. Later he was diagnozed with schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder. In a fight with prison officers, he was allegedly choked, beaten up brutally, and was forced to drink toilet water. Patrisse has cited this as one of the reasons for her activism. Cullors became an activist early in life, joining the Bus Riders Union (BRU) under the leadership of Eric Mann as a teenager during which time she attended a year-long organizing program led by the Labor Community Strategy Center (which organised the BRU). She learned about revolutionaries, critical theory and social movements from around the world, while practicing activism. Cullors also enrolled at Grover Cleveland High School (now Cleveland Humanities Magnet) in Reseda and was admitted into its social justice magnet program. Cullors went onto acquire a degree in religion and philosophy at UCLA, as well as a MFA from the Roski School of Art and Design at the University of Southern California.
Cullors recalls being forced from her home at sixteen when she revealed her queer identity to her parents. Raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, but due to her mother's teenage pregnancy, Cullors immediate family was shunned by both the church and their extended family members; she remained committed to the faith for years, even in exile, but later grew disillusioned with the church. She developed an interest in the Nigerian religious tradition of Ifá, incorporating its rituals into political protest events. She told an interviewer in 2015 that "seeking spirituality had a lot to do with trying to seek understanding about my conditions—how these conditions shape me in my everyday life and how I understand them as part of a larger fight, a fight for my life."
Black Lives Matter
Along with community organizers and friends Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, Cullors founded Black Lives Matter. The three started the movement out of frustration over George Zimmerman's acquittal in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Cullors created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in 2013 to corroborate Garza's use of the phrase in making a Facebook post about the Martin case. Cullors further described her impetus for pushing for African-American rights stemming from her 19-year-old brother being brutalized during imprisonment in Los Angeles County jails.
Cullors and her BLM co-founders Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, set out to build a decentralized movement governed by consensus of a members’ collective and in 2015, a network of chapters were formed. Cullors, has been the most publicly visible of the co-founders, especially after Garza and Tometi stepped back from regular involvement in the organisation. She credits social media being instrumental in revealing violence against African Americans, saying: "On a daily basis, every moment, black folks are being bombarded with images of our death ... It's literally saying, 'Black people, you might be next. You will be next, but in hindsight it will be better for our nation, the less of our kind, the more safe it will be."
In 2017, she said that the movement would not meet with United States president Donald Trump just as it wouldn't have met with Adolf Hitler, as Trump "is literally the epitome of evil, all the evils of this country — be it racism, capitalism, sexism, homophobia."
In May 2021 (after holding the position for six years which included setting up the organisation's infrastructure) Cullors resigned from her formal role as executive director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, to focus on her second book and a multi-year TV deal with Warner Bros. She said that her resignation had nothing to do with attempts to discredit her and that it had been planned for over a year. Cullors said “I think I will probably be less visible, because I won’t be at the helm of one of the largest, most controversial organizations right now in the history of our movement...But no movement is one leader.”
She has served as executive director of the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails. The group advocated for a civilian commission to oversee the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in order to curb abuses by officers. By organizing former jail inmates as a voting bloc, the group hoped to sway the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to create such a commission, as well as gather enough votes to elect a replacement for L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, who resigned in 2014 for separate reasons. However, the group did not succeed in its efforts.
She is also a board member of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, having led a think tank on state and vigilante violence for the 2014 Without Borders Conference. In October 2020, she launched a production company with a deal with Warner Bros. Television.
Ideology and policy positions
Cullors defines herself as a prison, police and "militarization" abolitionist, a position she says is inspired by "a legacy of black-led anti-colonial struggle in the United States and throughout the Americas". She also favors reparations for what she describes as "the historical pains and damage caused by European settler colonialism", in various forms, such "financial restitution, land redistribution, political self-determination, culturally relevant education programs, language recuperation, and the right to return (or repatriation)".
She cites the activist and formerly incarcerated Weather Underground member Eric Mann, as her mentor during her early activist years at the Bus Riders Union of Los Angeles. She draws on various ideological inspirations. One is black feminists such as Audre Lorde and her "Black, queer, feminist lens", as well as bell hooks : both "helped [her] understand [her] identity". She cites Angela Davis for her "political theories and reflections on anticapitalist movements around the world", her work towards "a broader antiracist and antiwar movement", and her fight against white supremacy in the US. Frantz Fanon is another inspiration, his "work on colonial violence in Algeria and across the Third World [making] timely connections" for the understanding of the context in which Black people live across the world. She also cites Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong, as "provid[ing] a new understanding around what our economies could look like".
Asked whether she believed in violence as a method of protest, she has said that she believes in "direct action, but nonviolent direct action", and that this was also the belief of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In 2014 Cullors produced the theatrical piece POWER: From the Mouths of the Occupied, which debuted at Highways Performance Space. She has contributed articles about the movement to the LA Progressive, including an article from December 2015 titled "The Future of Black Life" which pushed the idea that activists could no longer wait for the State to take action, and called her followers into action by encouraging them to begin building the world that they want to see.
Cullors' memoir, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir was published in January 2018. It was co-written with the journalist asha bandele and featured a foreword from Angela Davis. The book has 2 parts, All the Bones We Could Find, which narrates her adolescence, and Black Lives Matter, which explains how those experiences led up to her to co-establishing the social justice group. The book deals with the imprisonment and disenfranchisement of black men like her father, incarceration “is how our society responded to his drug use...I think we have a crisis of divesting from poor communities, black communities in particular, and reinvesting into these communities with police, jails, courts, prisons”. In the 13th chapter A Call, A Response, Cullors outlines the first series of marches she, Garza and Tometi organized in the wake of Zimmerman’s acquittal. The chapter concludes: “We are a generation called to action.” The Times Literary Supplement regarded the book as a "magnificent accomplishment." It appeared at number 12 on the nonfiction hardcover The New York Times Best Seller list on February 4, 2018.
Her second book is set to be released by St Martin's Press on the 5th October 2021, titled “An Abolitionists Handbook,” Cullors describes it as a guide for activists on how to take care for each other and resolve internal conflicts while campaigning.
Documentary and television/film
Cullors appeared in the 2016 documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement. In October 2020 she signed her first over 'overall deal' with Warner Brothers. Which was described as multi-year and wide-ranging, agreement that will see Cullors develop and produce original programming across all platforms, including broadcast, cable and streaming, aimed at amplifying the work of Black Lives Matter, black storytelling and perspective. Cullors produced a YouTube Originals series entitled Resist, which premiered November 18, 2020.
In 2021, a controversy arose in some media outlets, following reports that Cullors (or entities associated with her) had purchased several homes during a five year period. This led to a denial of any wrongdoing and accusations of racism, with Cullors defending her decision to take care of her family and describing the criticism as a right-wing effort to discredit her. On 13, The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation denied it had paid for her purchases of real estate and said they had not paid her any money since 2019, adding that she had only received $120,000 since 2013 for carrying out her work related to the organization.
- 2007 Mario Savio Young Activist of the Year.
- An NAACP History Maker, 2015
- With Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza (as "The Women of #BlackLivesMatter") listed as one of the nine runners-up for The Advocate's Person of the Year, 2015
- A Glamour Magazine Woman of the Year, 2016
- One of Fortune's World's Greatest Leaders, 2016
- An Honorary Doctorate from Clarkson University, among several others
- the 2018 recipient of the José Muñoz Award from CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center
- In 2015, the Los Angeles Times named her one of "The new civil rights leaders."
- In June 2020, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first LGBTQ Pride parade, Queerty named her among the fifty heroes "leading the nation toward equality, acceptance, and dignity for all people".
- Cullors is included in Time magazine 's 100 Most Influential People of 2020.
- Cullors was on the list of the BBC's 100 Women announced on 23 November 2020.
- Along with Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza, Cullors was named the 2013 Women of the Year by Time in 2020 as part of the their 100 Women of the Year project.
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- Patrisse Cullors (April 10, 2019). "Abolition And Reparations: Histories of Resistance, Transformative Justice, And Accountability". Harvard Law Review. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
Our task is not only to abolish prisons, policing, and militarization, which are wielded in the name of “public safety” and “national security.”
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Patrisse Cullors.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Patrisse Cullors|
|After Words interview with Patricia Khan-Cullors on When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, February 10, 2018, C-SPAN|
- Official website
- Aisha K. Staggers, "‘Dignity and Justice’: An Interview with Patrisse Khan-Cullors", New York Review of Books, January 18, 2018.