Melina Abdullah remembers exactly what her brother said as George Zimmerman was being tried for the murder of Trayvon Martin.
“He’s getting off and they’re giving him his gun back.”
Abdullah, like many, said she felt “jarred and outraged” following Zimmerman’s acquittal on July 13, 2013. It was a verdict that hit close to home.
“Barack Obama was president at the time and he said, ‘If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin.’ Well, I actually do have a son,” said Abdullah, 50. “He was three years old at the time and he actually does look like Trayvon Martin. He had the same shiny brown skin and dancing eyes as Trayvon Martin. In Trayvon, I saw my own son.”
Motivated by her son, Amen, she went to the streets to protest. And she hasn’t stopped.
“I was compelled to get into the streets for Amen, to do work for Amen,” Abdullah said. “I didn’t realize that on the third day of protests we were actually pulled together and we pledged to build a movement, not a moment. I didn’t realize that my life would be transformed in making that pledge, but my life has been transformed.”
Abdullah is the co-founder and director of Black Lives Matter Grassroots and Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the birth of Black Lives Matter, Abdullah acknowledged that progress has been made, but there’s more work ahead.
“We birthed it as a movement, not a moment, and celebrating 10 years is a testament that so far we’re making good on that promise,” Abdullah said. “That it’s not just a moment of uprising but a movement to undo unjust systems.”
The People’s Justice Festival in Leimert Park on July 15 celebrated BLM’s 10th birthday with hundreds of supporters in attendance on a scorching summer day. The heat, however, didn’t slow down the celebration as children ran joyfully around the park’s many vendors and live performers got people out of their seats and dancing.
The festival was headlined by keynote speaker Cornel West, a philosopher and third-party 2024 presidential candidate. West spoke on the greatness of the movement and assured those gathered that the celebration was not just for the last 10 years, but the last four centuries.
“We [are] here for the 400 years that we have been wrestling with what means to be human in this strange land,” West said from the Black Brilliance Stage at the festival. “How do you sing a song in a strange land?”
West also spoke on the significance of love.
“Why is it that Black people never formed a Black version of the Ku Klux Klan? Too much love!” West said. “Let that love flow. And when the love flows, then you have a lens to which to view the world.”
The festival had multiple stages and spaces set up where panels, performances and workshops took place. Organizers from various BLM chapters across the country were some of those who spoke on stage.
“The movement is not done. We have not got justice,” said Chauntyll Allen, an organizer of BLM Minnesota. “We just had a moment of uprising and so there is so much more to do.”
Among those who spoke was Jacob Blake Sr., father of Jacob Blake. Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot seven times in the back as he walked towards his car by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 23, 2020. Blake Sr. emphasized the importance of unity in the fight against police brutality and racism.
“You all must remember the power that you possess individually,” Blake Sr. said. “We must collectively unite that power to defeat the beast because the beast is real, and if we do not unite, we can not beat that beast back.”
For Abdullah, “being able to be unapologetically Black” is one of the biggest things to celebrate in BLM’s 10th anniversary.
“There was a time when we couldn’t be real vocal about organizing for Black people specifically,” Abdullah said. “Now, people are painting ‘Black Lives Matter’ on streets. People get why we have to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ — that Black people remain at the bottom of virtually every single social, economic [and] political measure. We have to push for Black freedom [and] fight for Black freedom because when Black people get freed, everyone gets freed.”
What keeps Abdullah optimistic for the next 10 years isn’t just the progress that’s already been made, but the older and younger generations simultaneously fighting for change together.
“What gives us the greatest hope is that there’s a lot of us,” Abdullah said. “That the movement continues and spans generations and we are winning. That also gives me hope that we’re going to struggle until we win.”