Student Organizations Host Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Opal Tometi

Courtesy of the Department of ProgrammingOpal Tometi, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, spoke to students and faculty about race, identity and immigration in Galvin Auditorium on the Lake Shore Campus.

Loyola groups hosted a Black Lives Matter co-founder, who highlighted the theme of identity in the topics of race and immigration, on March 21 in Galvin Auditorium on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus.

The co-founder, Opal Tometi, answered questions about intersectionality — the convergence of different identities — and immigration for over 200 students and faculty members in attendance.

An organization with a mission of lifting up black communities, Black Lives Matter was created in response to racially biased police brutality, according to Tometi. She was previously the executive director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration, a national immigrant rights organization.

The event was co-hosted by Loyola’s Department of Programming, African Student Alliance, Immigration Advocacy History Project, the sociology department, the history department and the women and gender studies program.

A key topic of the conversation focused on the way different identities blend and lead to specific forms of oppression and unique world views.

Tometi spoke about her experience as a Nigerian immigrant as well as a person of color and what it’s been like to navigate those identities. For example, she said when her father arrived in the United States, he was pulled over by police while driving so often he decided to get rid of his car.

“We feel the double impacts of both our immigration status as well of our race,” Tometi said during the event.

Ayomide Ogunsola, the president of the African Student Alliance, said she felt the event was important to host because some people have a narrow view of immigration.   

“When we talk about immigration, especially here in the United States, it has a very monolithic view,” Ogunsola, 21, said. “It’s adding another narrative to the story of immigration and how immigration and race and a bunch of other social identities play in.”

Throughout her time at Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Tometi said she worked to help immigrants understand the cultural atmosphere of the U.S. and also how to advocate for themselves.

Audience members asked questions about how to make a difference outside of the “university bubble,” how to feel accepted in multiple racial communities as a tri-racial person and how the Black Lives Matter movement helps black communities globally.

Ogunsola, a senior studying health systems management, said she hoped the event educated people but also inspired them to take action.

“I hope people can just walk out feeling convicted and feeling empowered to be more than awareness-builders but also advocators who are going out to the front lines,” Ogunsola said.

Tometi said while education and awareness are important, what really makes change are “courageous actions” — such as using storytelling to connect with people with different viewpoints — and participating in advocacy organizations.

“We have an abundance of awareness, of knowledge, all sorts of videos of unarmed black people being killed,” Tometi said while addressing the audience. “It’s disgusting. All these reports, all this data, but we’re still living in a world where it’s happening every other day. It’s unacceptable.”

Nathan Ellstrand, the co-chair of the Immigration Advocacy History Project which sponsored the event, said he thought the event was important because it discussed the convergence of different identities.

“One thing that really came up for us was this notion of intersectionality, the variety of identities that make people who they are,” Ellstrand said. “That, for us, is what makes this event so important because it’s talking not just about immigrant identity, but immigrant identity in association with blackness.”

Sumayya Hameed, a Loyola first-year studying sociology, said she was inspired by Tometi’s way of channeling her own experiences into activism and by how big of a movement Black Lives Matter has become.

“I just thought it was really interesting to see someone speaking up about [racism] who’s a leader and helping the movement actually move,” Hameed, 19, said. “Another thing I take from it is to look into her more and follow up with her and figure out the journey she’s going on and how I can somehow be a part of it in my own way.”

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