Patrisse Khan-Cullors

Commencement Address at Pitzer College – May 14, 2016

Patrisse Khan-Cullors
May 14, 2016— Claremont, California
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That was the longest bio ever – how embarrassing.

I'm grateful to be here. Thank you, students, for picking me to show up on your day. I'm excited and energized. I've been on this campus a few times to show my art and it's been incredible to listen to all of your accomplishments. I hope you're proud of yourself. Look at the person next to you and say, "Thank you and that's what's up." [laughter]

I woke up full of grace, stronger in my back, drank some water, asked myself what am I grateful for, gave my body room for doubt, and then I said I'm grateful I can share what does and what does not feel healing to me.

What did you say to yourself this morning, graduates? How did it feel to get up out of your bed and realize you are stepping into a new realm, that this life here at Pitzer College is over, that this is done? You completed your task. What do you see in your future?

Every single one of you had a start date here. You came in, you swore to God you knew your major, you then change it over a thousand times. You had some of the most trying tribulations in your personal life. You are leaving forever transformed.

This day is a powerful day, and it's not because you're receiving a degree. It's not how well you did or the job you have lined up, but rather you went through a process that transformed you. So take a deep breath. Yes. Take that breath. You did this.

And what – what are you all going to do after this? What are you gonna make of yourselves? What are you gonna dream of? What are you going to build?

Because we – we're living in amazing times, from Black Lives Matter to "Lemonade." [applause] I ain't sorry.

This – this is a declaration. And I want to take a moment to talk about how we started Black Lives Matter. 2013 – and – y'all are allowed to like amen and whoop and yell and hiss. I'm all into that. ["Amen!" from audience] Thank you.

In 2013. George Zimmerman – that's the hiss part – he was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin, may he rest in peace. And Alicia Garza, she took to social media because that's what this generation does – the public diary – and she wrote a love letter to black people and she closed it off with Black Lives Matter, and I put a hashtag on it because that's what we do. We put hash tags on everything.

And what we realized after Trayvon Martin and after the acquittal is we needed to show up differently. One year later, Mike Brown, may he rest in peace, was killed by law enforcement and he laid on a concrete for four and a half hours, and we witnessed through social media.

We witnessed Black Lives Matter become more than a hashtag. It has become a declaration. It has become a shedding of light. It has become a moment for many of us to express our rage.

And the reality is, we have lost too many people. We have hashtagged too many names. This is – you can clap, too [laughter and applause] – and this is why a movement like Black Lives Matter is happening right now – one that looks at the necessity of intersectionality, the recognition of our struggles, and the beings who exist currently, right now.

I want you to know something. I'm black. [cheers] I'm also queer [cheers] and I am femme [cheers]. I ain't sorry.

We live in an anti-black world. To be black is to know the harshest manifestations of oppression. To be black in this country is to have your father die in a homeless shelter at 50 with nobody, is to have your brother who has schizoaffective disorder being issued in and out of county jails, to watch your mother work three jobs and have very little time for her children let alone herself.

We live in a world that is anti-queer. My politic, my sexuality, my theory is informed by being queer and remembering being 15 years old and coming out. The fact that we had queer in common was not enough.

We live in a world that is anti-femme. My feminine identity has allowed me to celebrate the power of femininity and feminism, but misogynoir – go ahead, clap for that one – but misogynoir – the hatred of women – still exists.

Black Lives Matter as we know it – it could not have happened without the culmination of these intersecting identities. Black Lives Matter isn't just an intervention into the murder of black people by the state. Black Lives Matter is a vision, a vision for all of us – every single person – in this audience. [cheers]

Our movement is built by all of us. It is our duty to join the growing movement for justice inside and outside of this country, and I say this to every school I go to, to every audience that I talk to.

When I organize on the streets I say, "I didn't show up here to be a celebrity. I didn't show up here to just give a talk. I showed up to make sure that I recruit every single one of you into our growing movement." [cheers]

We have the opportunity to change the world. Do you hear that? The opportunity to change the world. And I'm not just saying change in the touchy-feely, new-agey way. I'm talking about change the course of history, save humanity from ourselves. [applause]

And the questions – the questions I have is how will you each contribute to that transformation? What will it take? Who will you recruit?

It starts – it starts with our imagination. Someone imagined a prison cell. Someone imagined handcuffs. Someone imagined guns.

But someone also imagined healing justice. Someone also imagined movement building. Someone imagined Black Lives Matter. [cheers]

What will you imagine, and how will it transform the course of history?

This – this is a wonderful time to be alive, y'all. Be in it. Love it. Live it. And show up radically different.

So proud of you, class of 2016. Be brave. [applause and cheers]

#BlackLivesMatter, #BLM