When 46-year-old George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin, it sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the planet.
It was the first time many people had heard of the movement and many thought that Black Lives Matter began as a result of what happened to George Floyd.
In reality, the movement was founded back in 2013 by Patrisse Cullors—alongside Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.
On the third anniversary of George Floyd’s death, here are ten things you need to know about Patrisse Cullors—whose full name is Patrisse Marie Khan-Cullors Brignac—and how she helped BLM become a force for change against the injustices Black people face every day.
1) Cullors, together with Garza and Tometi, originally started Black Lives Matter because of the acquittal of George Zimmerman, not because of the death of George Floyd
Cullors, Garza, and Tometi created the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag in July 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin 17 months earlier, in February 2012.
The movement became nationally recognized in 2014 for demonstrations that occurred following the deaths of two more African Americans: Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City.
Since the demonstrations in Ferguson (near St. Louis), participants of the movement have protested against the deaths of a number of other African Americans by the actions of authorities or while they were in police custody.
Over the next couple of years, the women expanded the project into a national network—and BLM activists also became involved in the 2016 presidential election.
Cullors created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was initially created to corroborate Garza’s use of phrase in a Facebook post in relation to Trayvon
2) Starting BLM was personal for her
Cullors described her initial drive for pushing for African American rights as coming from the fact that her 19-year-old brother was brutalized during imprisonment in Los Angeles County jails.
She has also said:
“On a daily basis, every moment, black folks are being bombarded with images of our death. It’s literally saying, ‘Black people, you might be next. You will be next, but in hindsight, it will be better for our nation, the less of our kind, the more safe it will be.’”
Out of the three co-founders, Cullors has been the most publicly visible as both Garza and Tometi have stepped back from regular involvement with the organization.
3) She believes in “direct action”
Cullors has often been asked if she believed in violence as a method of protest.
Her response is that she believes in “direct action, but non-violent direct action.” She added that this was also the belief of the Black Lives Matter movement.
4) She refused to meet with Donald Trump when he was president
In 2017, Cullors stated that the movement would not meet with then-United States President Donald Trump just as it would not have met with Adolf Hitler.
She called Trump “the epitome of evil, all the evils of this country—be it racism, capitalism, sexism, homophobia.”
5) Her 2018 memoir “When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir” was an instant New York Times bestseller
Cullors’ autobiography is divided into two parts.
“All the Bones We Could Find” delves into her adolescent years and it explains how her experiences compelled her to co-found Black Lives Matter. The book is co-written with journalist asha bendele who is also the former editor at Essence Magazine.
The second part of the book—entitled Black Lives Matter—talks about the imprisonment and disenfranchisement of Black men, including her own father.
This second part goes into detail about how Black people—the most vulnerable group in America—are deliberately and ruthlessly targeted by a criminal justice system that serves a white privilege agenda.
6) She has amplified Black Lives Matter on other platforms
In 2016, Cullors appeared in the 2016 documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement.
Then in 2020, she signed her first deal with Warner Brothers aimed at focusing on “Black storytelling and Black perspectives.”
The same year, Cullors also produced the YouTube Original series, Resist.
7) Upon the murder of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter became the largest reckoning with racism since the Civil Rights Movement
When 17-year-old Darnella Frazier recorded the Murder of George Floyd’s by police officer Derek Chavin, it sparked the largest racial justice protests in the US since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
His words, “I can’t breathe,” will haunt the collective American psyche forever.
Black Lives Matter transcended borders and it inspired worldwide protests and outright reckoning with police brutality and race.
8) She was on the list of BBC’s 100 Women as part of their Women of the Year Project
On November 23, 2020, Cullors—in addition to BLM co-founders Garza and Tometi—was on the list of the BBC’s 100 Women.
She was named for being an inspiring and influential woman who is helping to lead change and make a difference during turbulent times.
At the time, Cullors expressed that the achievement of BLM in 2020 would go down in the history books.
“What I’m excited about is that my son gets to say his mom, alongside other fierce Black women, did everything that she could, and we could, to make this place better for us,” she said. “I’m excited about that history being told.”
9) Police brutality against Blacks continues to be prevalent in her personal life
On January 3 of this year, Cullors’ cousin Keenan Anderson died after an incident involving LA police officers after he was in a traffic accident.
One police officer put an elbow on Anderson’s neck, while the other officer tased him for approximately 30 seconds. At one point, Anderson even said “They’re trying to George Floyd me.”
Anderson was taken to a hospital where he went into cardiac arrest four and a half later and died.
A toxicology report indicated that there was cocaine in his system. A cause of death has not yet been released.
10) Around the first anniversary of the death of George Floyd, she decided to step down from BLM
After six years of establishing the organization’s infrastructure and her formal role as Executive Director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, Cullors decided to resign in May 2021.
She said that her resignation did not have anything to do with alleged attempts to discredit her and that she had been planning to step down a year prior.
“I think I will probably be less visible, because I won’t be at the helm of one of the largest, most controversial organizations right now in the history of our movement,” she said.
Her parting words: “No movement has one leader.”