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Two Memoirs of Organizing for Black Life


In the spring 2018 issue of Bookforum, Dawn Lundy Martin reviews two memoirs by prominent queer black activists involved in the Black Lives Matter movement: When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele, and No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black & Free in America by Darnell L. Moore. As Martin writes, “Khan-Cullors and Moore inhabit radical hope so fiercely and bravely that it seems almost impossible.” Here’s an excerpt from the review:

These memoirs chart journeys from poverty and state violence against black people—for the affront, as Khan-Cullors says, of simply “being alive”—to empowered activism and social change. After a jury acquits Trayvon Martin’s killer George Zimmerman of all charges, Khan-Cullors, in a grief-stricken Facebook collaboration with Alicia Garza, coins the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. This is the moment that redefines what it means to do black intersectional activism in the internet age. Khan-Cullors develops her strategic and analytical skills at the Labor Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles—a “think tank/act tank” that focuses its campaigns on improving the lives of working-class communities of color. It’s this groundwork that will inform the longer Black Lives Matter moment.

Moore, a writer, social justice organizer, and Princeton-trained theologian, joins Black Lives Matter after eighteen-year-old Michael Brown is shot to death by police and Khan-Cullors and her crew decide to organize a Freedom Ride to Ferguson. This is where Khan-Cullors’s and Moore’s narratives intersect. Organizers from different parts of the country, restless and angry in the wake of yet another killing of an unarmed black person, are pulled to Ferguson (at that moment occupied by a militarized police force) in the fight for justice.

Image: Patrisse Khan-Cullors, 2016. Via Bookforum.