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Human rights activist, Black Lives Matter co-founder, speaks at BW MLK Day event

A simple hashtag may have provided the initial spark, but #BlackLivesMatter has grown into a global movement for racial equity since its founding in 2013.

Recounting the origin story, co-founder Opal Tometi, lauded as one of the most influential human rights leaders of our time, told a Baldwin Wallace University audience that building a movement "with a capital 'M'" was the original intention.

"It's bigger than any of us who coined that initial phrase," she said.

MLK Day Keynote

Opal Tometi and C.J. HarknessNamed by Time Magazine as one of the "100 Most Influential Women of the Last Century," Tometi appeared as BW's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Keynote speaker - a virtual event this year - with a Q&A led by BW's Chief Diversity Officer C.J. Harkness.

Tometi told about 300 students, faculty and others in attendance that Black Lives Matter is focused on more than the issue of police brutality; it shines a light on how racism leads to inequity in education, healthcare, employment and all aspects of life in America.

Naming and acting against racism

Tometi cited Dr. King's quote, "Our lives begin to end when we are silenced about the things that matter," and added, "That is the essence of Black Lives Matter. We have to name things explicitly if we're going to deal with them."

Responding to a question about what strategies might help BW build a stronger anti-racist culture on campus, Tometi suggested a tangible investment in resources and action.

"Every campus is different ... but awareness is NOT the end goal." Instead, the Coretta Scott King Center Legacy Award-winner advised, "The real change comes when we act."

Enduring Questions

Tometi's appearance, which included a small group meeting with student leaders following her keynote, was part of BW's observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and an Enduring Questions: The Mark Collier Lecture Series event.

Sponsors included the BW Center for Inclusion and Diversity, Center for Innovation & Growth (CIG), Academic and Cultural Events Series (ACES) and the Brain Center for Community Engagement.

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