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Black Lives Matter Finds 'Renewed Focus' 5 Years After Trayvon Martin

It's been five years since the death of Trayvon Martin — and the outrage that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.

Martin — 17 years old, black and unarmed — was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla.

Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. He claimed self-defense, and was later acquitted.

After the verdict, there were demonstrations — and an emotional Facebook post by an activist named Alicia Garza.

It read, in part: "Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter."

That phrase was streamlined by her friend, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and with the help of a third friend, Opal Tometi, "black lives matter" became a hashtag, a rallying cry and eventually a protest movement that gained steam after police killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Since then, much has changed, Khan-Cullors tells NPR's Audie Cornish.

"In that moment, it wasn't popular to be in the streets. It wasn't a part of the mainstream dialogue," she says. "What we've seen over the last five years is the popularization of protest and the willingness of both media but also Hollywood to talk about Black Lives Matter unapologetically."

Interview Highlights

On whether the movement would have benefited from focusing on a single policy issue

The movement is a decentralized one. Many different people across the country are entering from different angles. We're not looking for one fix-it policy. We're taking on our mayors, our chiefs of police, our sheriffs and our DAs. We're looking at the entire system and the ways that it can transform itself so that we can actually see a world where black lives matter. And I think it's been incredibly effective.

On whether Donald Trump's election felt like a rebuke

I'll say this: Whenever black people say enough is enough, we are often up against white nationalism. And so what this election showed us is our movement became too powerful and that white nationalism — although (it) has always existed — took power again.

On Trump's voter base

There are people who are white racists and identify as such. And there are people who are well-meaning white people who also voted for Trump. There also are a significant amount of people of color who voted for Trump. And I think we have to consider what kind of conditions allowed for people who actually believe in American democracy to vote for a Trump.

On what lies ahead for the movement in the Trump era

I see us moving forward with a renewed focus. We have to defend and protect our communities, but we also have to build a long-term strategy to ensure that those who are most at the margins, that we'll actually be able to build real political power.

To hear more of this interview, click on the audio button.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff