The Feministing Five: Black Lives Matter Co-founder Patrisse Cullors

Patrisse Cullors is a queer artist, activist, freedom-fighter, and Black Lives Matter co-founder. Originally from Los Angeles, Patrisse is an NAACP History Maker and has received numerous awards for her activism and movement building, including being named a Civil Rights Leader for the 2st Century by the Los Angeles Times

Patrisse’s first book, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, co-written with journalist Asha Bandele, came out in January to critical acclaim. I had the pleasure of catching up with Patrisse for this week’s Feministing Five to talk about the process of writing this memoir, the future of BLM, what intersectional organizing means to her, and more. Catch Patrisse on Twitter @OsopePatrisse.

Senti Sojwal: Your first book, “When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir” is coming out this month with a foreword by Angela Davis. Can you tell our readers about the process of this book and what your hopes are for what the book can mean for readers?

Patrisse Cullors: A couple years ago I was on a panel and this woman came up to me and said, “You have a book in you.” I hadn’t even thought about writing a book until that moment. I was knee deep in Black Lives Matter organizing. I thought more about my story and spoke with close friends and really thought deeply about the daily grind of work and organizing. I called Asha and told her I wanted to do the project with her. That was the beginning. We spent a few months talking and sifting through what we were going to focus on. We decided we would discuss the war on drugs and mass criminalization. I wanted to think about the county I’d grown up in — this was really the story of a young black girl who grows up in the middle of a war and navigates how to keep her family and herself safe and most importantly, how to keep her community safe. I wanted to detail my own politicization, my own vantage point into why this movement and changing systems is so critical to my existence.  

Sojwal: What are your hopes for the goals and growth of BLM in 2018?

Cullors: This year is a big year politically for the country. It’s an election year! We’ve been at it for the last four and a half years, and it’s time to take stock of what we can do as an organization and what it means to grow. Black Lives Matter as an organization is focused on strategic planning and what direction we want to go in this year. We’ve been able to do such amazing and incredible work these past four years but we’re ready to go take some time and reframe what our organization can mean moving forward.

Sojwal: How do you care for yourself when so much of your work and life is consumed by working against and highlighting racism, systemic oppression, and death? What keeps you going and has this changed over time?

Cullors: I grew up dancing and am currently doing an MFA program at USC. Art is so central to my own care and how I understand my own resilience. I’m also big on therapy. I’m deeply committed to people moving their bodies — dancing, working out, whatever your body will do. We live in a society where we’re not invested in health for the right reasons. I remind myself why a healthy body is so important for this work.

Sojwal: “Intersectionality” has become a buzzword lately. As a queer black activist woman, what does intersectional organizing actually look like to you?

Cullors: Intersectional organizing looks like working in organizational institutions and in collectives that are looking at all the ways that the system impacts us. Instead of trying to do everything, it’s so important to frame why intersectional organizing is so important. When talking about economic justice, we should be talking about the impact of economic justice on the lives of black trans women. We should be able to talk about critical issues through the lens of how they impact people who live most at the margins versus what we’ve seen with the response from the Democratic Party. It means focusing on the most invisibilized. Intersectional organizing means focusing on that first, and building out from there so we can take care of everybody. .

Sojwal: Who is a feminist you admire and why?

Cullors: Charlene Carruthers is coming out with book later on this year that specifically looks at black queer feminist organizing. Charlene is the national director of BYP 100, a black queer feminist activist organization, and she has some of the fiercest analysis in our movement. Her practice is impeccable and I’m so inspired by how she moves in the world and what she gives to us in our movement. She is so sharp and witty and I’m really looking forward to reading her writing.


Senti Sojwal is an India born, NYC bred writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer. She graduated with a BA from Hampshire College in Gender Studies & Politics and has written on feminist issues for Mic, Bustle, and What NOW, the blog of the National Organization for Women's NYC chapter. She is currently pursuing her MPH at NYU's College of Global Public Health and works as Communications Coordinator at Planned Parenthood of New York City. Senti loves 90s pop, a bold lip, and is always hunting for the perfectly spicy Bloody Mary. She lives in Brooklyn.

Senti Sojwal is a writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer based in Brooklyn, New York.

Read more about Senti

Join the Conversation