WATCH — What Canadian kids should know about #BlackLivesMatter

Published 2020-06-05 19:23
UPDATE: On June 8, 2020, CBC News announced a new policy directing staff to spell words that refer to Black racial identity or culture with a capital "B". The policy was changed to acknowledge the distinctiveness of Black history and culture, among other reasons. This story was changed on June 8 to reflect the new rule.

Where did the hashtag come from and what does it mean?

The death of another unarmed Black man at the hands of a police officer has put the Black Lives Matter movement into the spotlight.

When George Floyd died in Minneapolis on May 25, community activists used the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag as a way to organize widespread protests.

But what’s the story behind the movement?

The first post

“Black lives matter” was first used as a call to action in July 2013 on Facebook.

A Black woman from the U.S. named Alicia Garza used the phrase in a post she called “a love letter to Black people.”

"I continue to be surprised at how little Black lives matter.” - Alicia Garza, 2013 Facebook post

Garza wrote the letter after the person accused of killing a 17-year-old boy in Florida named Trayvon Martin was found not guilty.

Painted mural of Trayvon Martin.

In 2012, an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed on his way home from the corner store in Sanford, Fla. (Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Paramount Network)

Garza's friend Patrisse Cullors then used those words to create a hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter.

A new organization is born

Following this post, the two women — along with a third activist named Opal Tometi — created the organization Black Lives Matter (BLM).

Co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, Alicia Garza, left, Patrisse Cullors, centre, and Opal Tometi arrive at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards in Los Angeles in 2016. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/The Associated Press)

According to the Black Lives Matters official website, there is now a “member-led global network” of more than 40 chapters.

Instagram from BLM Paris talks about an upcoming rally.

However, many people who are well-known BLM activists are not officially part of any Black Lives Matter organization. 

The hashtag — and the movement behind it  — has taken on a life of its own, but it didn’t go truly viral until a year after it was first created.

Hashtag goes viral

The hashtag gained more public popularity after the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

Protesters push over a police car.

In 2014, protesters in Ferguson, Mo., flipped a police car after a white police officer was cleared in the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager named Michael Brown. (Jim Young/Reuters)

The unarmed teenager was shot by an officer named Darren Wilson.

He was never charged with a crime and people took to the streets to protest.

It was around that time that the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag really took off.

The power in a hashtag

According to researchers, the #BLM hashtag is often used to fight racial inequality and police brutality, to organize protests and to highlight specific incidents of violence against Black people.

Instagram post by elithequeenbee shows image of black man with fist in the air. Caption says to all the protesters: please stay safe, wear a mask, protect your eyes, leave, if possible, children and elders at home, know your rights and always stay on the reasonable side.

Not everyone who uses the hashtag is supportive of Black Lives Matter.

Some people use it to challenge the movement and its supporters on social media.

Others use the hashtag to defend organizations and people who are criticized by the wider BLM movement, such as the police.

BLM in Canada

Today there are Black Lives Matter organizations across Canada, including in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

Why does the movement exist in Canada?

Instagram post from blm_van says protest planned for this Friday.

According to a CBC analysis of statistics from 2000-2017, Black and Indigenous people are more likely to be killed by police officers in Canada than white people.

For example, almost 40 per cent of the people killed by police in Toronto during that time frame were Black people, even though they only make up about eight per cent of the city’s population.

Watch the video to hear a Black historian and a young activist reflect on the growth of the BLM movement:


TOP PHOTO: (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press, Philip Street/CBC)

About the Contributor

Elijah Sandiford
Elijah Sandiford
CBC Kids News Contributor
You might know him as Agent Ocean on PBS’s Odd Squad or Prince Francisco in the Bruno and Boots series “This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall.” Fifteen-year-old Elijah Sandiford also has a huge passion for pop-culture, sports and content creation. After losing his father at a young age, he decided to make the most of life. His message for Canadian kids, “Dream bigger, dream brighter no matter your circumstance. The hard work you put in will take you on an exciting journey.”