Opal Tometi

individual

Overview

  • Co-founder of Black Lives Matter
  • Views America as a racist, sexist nation

Born in 1984 to parents who had immigrated illegally from Nigeria to the U.S. during the previous year, Opal Tometi grew up in Phoenix and attended the University of Arizona-Tucson, where she earned a BA in history and an MA in communications & advocacy. During her college years, Tometi volunteered for an American Civil Liberties Union project that monitored and reported on the activities of “vigilantes” who sought to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the United States.

Tometi later worked as a leasing associate and marketing manager for the Phoenix-based real-estate firm Cowen Commercial from 2006-08; a self-employed public-relations specialist from 2008-10; and a communications & outreach intern for Witness, a group that produced videos designed to draw attention to human-rights violations around the world, for part of 2009. Since January 2011, she has been a national organizer for Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), a George Sorosfunded group that strives to advance “immigrant rights and racial justice” for “African-American, Afro-Latino, African and Caribbean immigrant communities.” Tometi’s official BAJI profile describes her as “a Black feminist writer, communications strategist and cultural organizer.”

Tometi laments the “relentless discrimination and criminalization” to which African immigrants in the U.S. are subjected on a regular basis. In 2010 she condemned SB 1070, an Arizona law that authorized state police to check with federal authorities on the immigration status of criminal suspects. Characterizing this practice as “basically racial profiling,” Tometi warned that “if we don’t come together, we’re going to see the gains of the Civil Rights Movement fully gutted.”

Tometi similarly views Voter ID laws as racist schemes designed to disenfranchise nonwhite voters.

In 2013, Tometi collaborated with Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors to co-found Black Lives Matter (BLM), an online platform designed to stoke black rage and galvanize a protest movement in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a white man who was tried for murder and manslaughter after he had shot and killed a black Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin in a highly publicized February 2012 altercation.

On September 23, 2013, Tometi visited the White House, where she met with Heather Foster, President Obama’s then-lead liaison to the African-American community.

In 2014, Tometi spoke at the annual Left Forum convention in New York City.

In a February 1, 2015 article which she wrote for the Huffington Post, Tometi asserts that “the racist structures that have long oppressed Black people” in the United States have perpetuated a “cycle of oppression” and a climate of “anti-Black racism” that “operates at a society-wide level and colludes in a seamless web of policies, practices and beliefs to oppress and disempower Black communities.” This racism is evidenced, she explains, by the fact that “every 28 hours a Black person is being killed [by police] with impunity,” “unemployment in Black communities” is significantly higher than in white communities, and “Blacks make up 40% of the imprisoned population” in the U.S.  Moreover, Tometi claims, the combination of “divestment from the public sector” and the passage of “laws that criminalize non-violent activity” have led to “obscene rates mass of incarceration” for black people. In the same piece, Tometi charges that her own home state of New York “allows law enforcement to kill Black people at nearly the same rate as Jim Crow lynchings” once occurred in the Old South.

In a similar vein, Tometi’s December 2014 Huffington Post article, titled “Staying Focused in the Movement for Racial Justice,” condemns the “damaging and dangerous life-changing outcomes” that New York City’s “racially biased” criminal-justice system imposes on “communities of color.” The “overwhelming police presence in our neighborhoods,” says Tometi, “wear[s] people down.” In particular, she deplores the so-called “broken windows policing” practices rooted in the premise that cracking down on offenders who commit low-level offenses — such as panhandling, public urination, turnstile jumping, or graffiti vandalism — serves, ultimately, to prevent the commission of more serious crimes. Because blacks comprise a disproportionate percentage of those affected by the enforcement of laws against low-level infractions, Tometi considers those enforcement practices to be racist. “The time is now for real, deep, substantive change,” she writes.

In a January 2015 piece titled “Celebrating MLK Day: Reclaiming Our Movement Legacy,” Tometi calls for the development of a “new” and “radical” contingent of “Black trans people, Black queer people, Black immigrants, Black incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated people, Black millennials, Black women, low income Black people, and Black people with disabilities” to lead social-justice activism in the United States.

In January 2016, Tometi and her two BLM co-founders — Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza — were special guests of Rep. Barbara Lee at President Obama’s final State of the Union address.

In March 2016, Fortune magazine named Tometi and her two BLM co-founders to its list of the “50 of the most influential world leaders.”

In July 2016, Tometi spoke to the United Nations General Assembly on issues related to race, white supremacy, and police terror.

In addition to her work with BAJI and BLM, Tometi is also active in a network called Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD), which teaches black activists how to help build a “social justice infrastructure.” She is a board member of the Puente Human Rights Movement, a Phoenix-based group that opposes efforts to stem the flow of illegal immigration. And she describes herself as a “believer and practitioner of liberation theology.”

Further Reading: “Opal Tometi” (BAJI.org, LinkedIn.org, Keywiki.org); “Founders of [BLM] Have Long History of Working for Social Change” (MassLive.com, 3-30-2015); “The New Civil Rights Leaders” (re: SB-1070 and the “criminalization” of immigrants, Essence, 10-31-2014); “Black Future Month: Examining The Current State of Black Lives And Envisioning Where We Go From Here” (by Opal Tometi, Huffington Post, 2-1-2015); “Staying Focused in the Movement for Racial Justice” (by Opal Tometi, Huffington Post, 12-22-2014); “Celebrating MLK Day: Reclaiming Our Movement Legacy” (by Opal Tometi, Huffington Post, 1-18-2015); “SOTU Attendees Include [BLM] Co-Founder, Special Guests” (NBC News, 1-9-2016); “Fortune Mag Snubs Hillary, Names [BLM] Founders Among World’s Greatest Leaders” (TruthRevolt.org, 3-28-2016); “Watch Opal Tometi, a Co-Founder Of [BLM], Speak At The UN” (July 13, 2016).

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