Opal Tometi: Inclusion for all

Black Lives Matter co-founder visits Mason for DREAM Week



Opal Tometi, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, visited Mason March 30 to speak about Black Lives Matter as a part of the Mason DREAMers’ DREAM Week in Dewberry Hall.

The Mason DREAMers, a university recognized student organization that aims to create a more inclusive environment for undocumented students, created DREAM week to give students the opportunity to learn about, engage and support Mason’s immigrant community according to their Instagram. Among the events of the week was Tometi’s speech.

As soon as Tometi took the stage, she asked the crowd if they remembered where they were when they heard George Zimmerman was being acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin. She went on to say that was the night Black Lives Matter was created, despite many people thinking it started with the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Throughout Tometi’s speech, she spoke of Black Lives Matter and other heated issues the country is currently facing. She went on to state statistics about black people in the United States, citing a study done by UCLA that concluded four things: White people and police see black children as older and less innocent than white children, white people and police feel less empathy for black people in pain, white people see lighter-skinned Latino and black people as more trustworthy than darker-skinned Latino and black people, and white women in college see black kids as all having the same age after nine years old.

Tometi also played a video to provide practical tools for how people can stand up and not be bystanders when incidents of hate transpire in front of them. The six points included how to be more than a bystander, document the incident, support the victim by sticking around, avoid the police, call out the everyday culture of white supremacy and organize and protest for justice.

“My favorite part of the speech was when she started relating back to her life and explained why she got involved in the first place. I could tell from the tone of her voice that she is really passionate about what she does and that was really inspirational to me,” sophomore Stephanie Crespo said.

After her speech, there was a question and answer session with Tometi. Questions from the crowd ranged from intersectionality, which is the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class and gender, to anti-blackness in communities of color.

“I particularly liked the question and answer part towards the end of the event because it showed how the audience was engaged in what the speaker was saying and proves that they too are passionate about the subject,” Crespo said.

Ana Tobar, the internal president of Mason DREAMers, said the group chose to bring Tometi to Mason to send a message to campus that the work Mason DREAMers does is diverse, inclusive and important.

“Tometi is the executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, (BAJI) the first and only immigrant rights organization dedicated to black immigrants and African Americans. Our work is highly intersectional, and we really wanted to emphasize that undocumented students are not only Latino students,” Tobar said.

Tobar emphasized the fact that there are immigrants here at Mason from all around the world and said the DREAMers established the event to highlight that they want to be as inclusive as possible.

“Often times, black immigrants are left out of the discourse, and due to those reasons, we wanted that population to be highlighted during our DREAM Week, as Mason has a relatively large black immigrant population,” Tobar said. “There are more than 33,000 students on this campus, and they have the right to be heard, recognized and supported no matter their immigrant status.”

Tobar said that we are in a time where undocumented students are facing uncertainty and fear. She added that it is important that undocumented students feel supported and that their school acknowledges them and supports them, so Mason DREAMers wants to create an inclusive environment for undocumented students.

“We have worked tremendously hard to create resources, fundraise and educate faculty, staff and students on how they can be allies and advocate for undocumented students on the local and national level,” Tobar said. “In such a momentous time in history, it is critical that immigrant issues are talked about because they affect so much of our population, whether that be our students, faculty or staff.”