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Black Lives Matter co-founder speaks at SSU to crowd of 200

In front of a crowd of about ?200 people gathered in the Sonoma State University Student Center on Wednesday night, Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, issued a rallying cry and urged attendees not to give into fear brought on by what she called President Donald Trump’s “divisive” policies.

Instead, she said, it’s time to mobilize.

Cullors is one of three co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, born in reaction to police-involved shootings of young black men, that campaigns for equality and justice for people of color. She was at SSU as the keynote speaker for the college’s first North Bay Women of Color Conference, a daylong event that offered a variety of workshops and panels centered on the experiences of women of color in the community.

“I deeply believe that although many of us were not prepared for this moment, we’re resilient,” she said, speaking of Trump’s surprise presidential victory. “We have an opportunity to fight back against probably the biggest enemy of our lifetime, to change the course of history. We have an opportunity to save our children’s lives, and their children’s lives. This isn’t just about America. This is about the planet. And so our work right here, right now, is investing in your local context. It is showing up, and it is speaking out.”

The call to action was exactly what Marquisha George, 21, a senior at SSU, came to the conference to hear.

The sociology major showed up early for Cullors’ talk with two other friends from SSU’s Black Student Union.

“I’m interested in politics,” she said. “But I feel like you have to get people active in order to get them involved in the process.”

Though Cullors’ talk and many discussions throughout the day centered on resisting Trump’s agenda, planning for the program actually started last summer, well before his election.

The idea arose as part of a conversation about the absence of women of color on Sonoma State’s campus, said Patricia Ayala Macias, 22, who co-organized the conference.

“I think, especially in higher education, it’s hard to see ourselves reflected because there aren’t a lot of women of color faculty or staff on campus, and so when you speak about finding a role model, it’s hard to see yourself,” she said.

Ayala Macias is a first-generation college student, double-majoring in Chicano and Latino studies and business administration.

It took her seven semesters, she said, to have a woman of color teach a business class.

“I didn’t see myself as a business student,” she said. “I didn’t see myself as graduate school material. When you see yourself reflected in these classrooms, it makes you feel like someone understands me.”

That confidence is something, she said, that came just from being involved in planning the conference.

“It’s really empowered women to see themselves as leaders, and that’s what I want this conference to be - a place for them to network, a place for them to see themselves. A place for them to learn about themselves, and not just talking about it, but doing something about the issues they see as important.”

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com.

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