2015 BET Experience: Black Lives Matter takes center stage

2015 BET Experience: Black Lives Matter takes center stage
BET president Stephen Hill, here at the LA Live campus in 2013, moderated a conversation on the #BlackLivesMattermovement that was part of a series of talks hosted by BET during the network's weekend of activities leading up to its Sunday awards show. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

At the end of a week full of celebratory moments -- Supreme Court decisions affirming marriage equality, public housing and affordable healthcare and the removal of Confederate flags in pockets of the South -- political commentator Marc Lamont Hill cautioned a panel audience Saturday night at the Los Angeles Convention Center not to rejoice just yet.

Hill moderated a conversation on the #BlackLivesMatter movement that was part of a series of talks hosted by BET during the network's weekend of activities leading up to its Sunday awards show.

Along with two cofounders of #BlackLivesMatter, Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza, Hill opened the discussion with hopeful trepidation.

"At a moment when we are celebrating, my concern is that we not celebrate too soon because every time we celebrate too soon, like Cleveland Cavaliers fans after Game 3, we don't win," the Morehouse College professor and CNN regular said.


Laughter and moans of contemplation from an audience of about 100 greeted his statement.

The #BlackLivesMatter panel, by far the most serious (and least attended) of the day, was the final of five held throughout Saturday as part of the Genius Talks series.

The weekend, with events that included a Nicki Minaj-headlined concert Friday, a sneaker convention Saturday and a slew of free performances from up-and-coming musicians throughout, is known as the BET Experience.

During the 40-minute session, Hill posed a number of questions about the movement, black love and freedom. Some of Cullors' and Garza's responses (and Hill's assertions) are below.

On the role of black women in civil rights movements

"[Black Lives Matter] was started by three women of color," Hill said. "So often we try to write women out of history. We pretend that the Fannie Lou Hamers and Ella Bakers didn't exist. We pretend that for every Nelson [Mandela] there wasn't a Winnie [Madela]. This movement only exists because of black women. They are making freedom happen in 2015."

On the vision of #BlackLivesMatter

"When we started #BlackLivesMatter, we were very clear that it needed to be fuller than what was being talked about as a crisis only affecting black boys and men," Garza said. "We talked about state-sanctioned violence in a much broader framework to talk about the violence of unemployment, the violence of poverty, the violence of patriarchy and sexism, the violence of transphobia and homophobia and we put a stake in the ground and said, 'It's all black lives and we can't leave anyone behind if we're really trying to get free.'"

On what Black Lives Matter is for black people

"Black Lives Matter has come to signify a new era of black power, black resistance and black resilience," said Garza. "For black folks, this is our renaissance. For the right wing and Republicans, this is a brand they want to be a part of. It's important to distinguish the two."

"We're resisting white supremacy," said Cullors. "We're resisting the years and years, the generations, of hatred we've experienced, and the costs and sacrifice. For black folks, resistance is a part of our sanity. To resist it to be sane."

On crime, survival and what freedom looks like

"If we look at who is inside U.S. jails and prison, my own family, folks are committing crimes out of survival," Cullors said. "You are going to make sure yourself and your children eat, if you have to, by any means necessary. That's ludicrous. No one should have to fight that hard to feed their family. That should be easy. So, if we start with providing people with our basic needs, we can start seeing what freedom looks like."

On #AllLivesMatter vs. #BlackLivesMatter

"If all lives mattered, then we wouldn't have to say black lives matter," Cullors said. "There's an obsession with decentralizing blackness, and I think All Lives Matter is a clear opening to people's racism."

"When we deal with the conditions of black folk, then we understand that black people's liberation creates the potential for everybody's liberation," Garza said.

On black people loving each other and themselves

"The moment we start to love up on each other, people start trippin'," Cullors said. "It scares white America. It scares non-black folk."

"Black love is dangerous," Hill said.

On what's next for the movement

"Agitate, agitate, organize," Cullors said.

Follow the reporter on Twitter: @TrevellAnderson.