BLM co-founder sees opportunity to build upon
On a day that’s being viewed as a major milestone in the Black Lives Matter movement, civil rights activist and #BLM co-founder Alicia Garza was honored as the 13th recipient of the Alice and Clifford Spendlove Prize in Social Justice, Diplomacy and Tolerance.
“You can understand, in this moment, while we are experiencing incredible, incredible victories that we did not think or see possible, a year ago, five years ago, a decade ago, that we still have a lot of work to do,” Garza said Tuesday evening during a virtual ceremony organized by UC Merced, where the award was established.
Garza’s words came a few hours after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on all three criminal counts he faced in the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was handcuffed and pinned to the ground at the time of his arrest last May. The death caught on camera set off a year of anti-racism protests unlike anything seen in this country for decades.
Sadly on Tuesday, there was yet another killing making headlines: A 16-year-old Black girl was fatally shot by a white officer outside of her home in Columbus, Ohio after she called the police for help, according to her family.
“I really see both this prize and this moment as an opportunity for us not to despair, and not to become disillusioned (though it’s OK to be disappointed), but take this moment to really think about what kind of builders we will be, and what are we building for the future,” Garza told the online audience.
The Black Lives Matter movement began in the summer of 2013, after Trayvon Martin, 17, was gunned down by George Zimmerman. Garza mentioned the phrase in a social media post and it soon became a hashtag and call to action as more and more shooting deaths of unarmed Black men came to light in recent years with the help of camera footage.
Garza eventually founded the Black Futures Lab that works with Black people to transform communities, building Black political power and changing the way that power operates —locally, statewide, and nationally.
“I believe fundamentally in every cell of my body that Black communities deserve to be powerful in every aspect of our lives,” Garza said. “And that is why over the last two decades, I have worked tirelessly to build the power of our communities, to interrupt that which is unconscionable, and to make a new way, to forge a new path, leaving behind the limited options that have been placed in front of us. It’s actually what led me to utter the words Black Lives Matter — first as a social media post, and then as an organizing principal, and then as an organization that has grown into a powerful force with chapters all over the world, joining a generations-long Black liberation movement, and stamping it with the contributions of my generation. …
“When our lives are shaped and determined by rigged rules that leave us out and leave us behind, we have to find a new way, because we have to survive. The last decade in particular has been shaped by the audacity of Black people to be free, to live lives that have dignity, to have our lives respected and valued beyond what we can produce for others. …
“Black folks have been clear, and Black voters in particular, since at least 1965, that power is our birthright. We have consistently showed up for the task of reimagining America, and fighting for that reimagined America to be real. Just last year, Black voters were critical to delivering power in the White House and changing the balance of power in Congress — not because we are enamored with political parities — it’s actually quite the opposite. We delivered this power because we are committed to our freedom dreams. And we are determined to use every tool necessary to get us there.”
The Spendlove Prize was established at UC Merced in 2005. The award is made possible by a generous gift from Merced native Sherrie Spendlove in honor of her parents, Alice and Clifford, who were focused their whole careers on improving the lives of children, particularly those with challenging circumstances.
“Welcome everyone to a great day in America,” Sherrie Spendlove said on Tuesday night. “Welcome Alicia to the Spendlove Prize family — a family unit built on the shared intention of making our community, our nation, and world a better place for everyone to thrive.”
The annual Spendlove prize recognizes a renowned scholar, author, artist, or citizen who exemplifies, in their work, the delivery of social justice, diplomacy and tolerance in the diverse local and global society. The recipient serves as a role model and inspiration for students, faculty, staff and the community surrounding UC Merced.
“Alicia Garza was selected to receive the 2021 Spendlove Prize because of her tenacious work to help improve the lives of countless people who may feel they have no voice,” Spendlove said. “We are living in uncertain times, which makes her work that much more important and vital across the globe.”
Past recipients of the Spendlove Prize include former President Jimmy Carter, 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú Tum, attorney and Professor Anita F. Hill, civil rights activist John Y. Tateishi, Harvard Professor Charles Ogletree, Jr., 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning poet Peter Balakian, a leading voice of Armenian Genocide recognition, among many other high-profile national and international figures.