That’s exactly what Cullors and Black Lives Matter have done. Dismissed as “terrorists” by their detractors, Cullors flips that definition back on them: “Terrorism is being stalked and surveilled simply because you are alive. And terrorism is being put in solitary confinement and starved and beaten. And terrorism is not being able to feed our children despite working three jobs. And terrorism is not having a decent school or a place to play.”

“What freedom looks like,” she continues, “what democracy looks like, is the push for and realization of justice, dignity and peace.”

3. Personal experience shapes you and kind of causes you’re drawn to

Cullors weaves her family’s story throughout the book: her father’s years in jail, her brother’s struggles with addiction and mental illness, growing up in southern California during the Reagan and Clinton years, when the War on Drugs was raging. These traumatic personal experiences shaped her from a young age, pushing her to fight against the multifaceted ways that Black people in America are oppressed, surveilled, and policed.

“For my father, my brother, others I know,” she writes, “chaos was a factor before drugs were a part of their lives.”

“We had — we still have — a hard time accepting drug policy as race policy and the war on drugs as the legal response to the gains of the Civil Rights and Black power movements,” Cullors adds. “America — the world — knew it owed us for centuries of slavery and Jim Crow. And instead of doubling down on how to repair the harm, it made us the harm.”

During one BLM protest, she led a crowd to the wealthy neighborhood of Beverly Hills and confronted patrons: “They, those who come for brunch, have to confront the police presence today but that this is our everyday.”

4. Organizing should always be intersectional

We bring all of ourselves to our experience of the world: our age, our gender identity, the color of our skin, our sexuality. Cullors and the other early BLM members — many of whom are Black, queer women — know this very well.

And they made intersectionality integral to the organization’s guiding principles, which commit to “acknowledging, respecting and celebrating differences.” Because all lives don’t matter until Black, trans and gender non-conforming ones do. At its core, BLM is committed to dismantling cisgender privilege and male-centered spaces, creating an intergenerational, affirming movement for collective liberation. The group’s principles hold that all Black lives matter “regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status or location.”

“The goal is freedom,” Cullors writes earlier in the book. “The goal is to live beyond fear. The goal is to end the occupation of our bodies and souls by the agents of a larger American culture that demonstrates daily how we don’t matter.”

5. Taking care of your mental health is essential

Cullors talks often about the things that keep her going: her family, friends, her loving relationships with partners, building community, creative expression through art. Finding these things is particularly essential for young women of color, who have to deal daily with the physical and mental toll of racism. 

As Cullors writes, “We deserve to be our own gardeners and deserve to have gardeners. Mentors and teachers who bring the sunlight, the rain, the whispered voices above the seedlings that say, Grow, baby, grow. We deserve love. Thick, full-bodied and healthy. Love.”

Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: Young Black Activists Are Leading the Movement for Black Lives

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