To This Black Lives Matter Co-Founder, Activism Begins in the Kitchen

Originally posted by the Washington Post

Years before co-founding Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza sat in a cramped kitchen sipping a sweet gin drink from a red Solo cup, waiting for a pan of turkey legs to finish cooking.

The kitchen belonged to Betty Higgins, a retired bus driver in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood. Higgins — or Ms. Betty as everyone called her — was a fixture of the community, and as a neighborhood organizer at the time, Garza wanted to pick her brain. But when Garza would knock on her door, Higgins would brush her off. Something wasn’t clicking. Then Garza realized: If she wanted to have a real conversation with Higgins, she had to put down her clipboard, go inside and talk while Higgins cooked and took care of her kids.

“I had to learn it’s not about getting through your list of things,” she says. “If you’re going to visit Ms. Betty, you’re going to sit there for a couple hours. At the end, you’re going to eat good food, and she’s going to be, like, ‘This person cares about me.’”

The lesson was about more than that one connection: Garza was also starting to learn that food and cooking can be as crucial to her work as they had always been to her personal life.

Black Lives Matter was born in 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Garza took to Facebook from her Oakland, Calif., home, and penned a now-famous letter. She concluded it by saying, “Black people. I love you. I love us. We matter. Our lives matter, Black lives matter.”

Over the next year, those last three words grew into a national movement. “I stopped being how I’m used to being,” Garza recalls, “which is relatively anonymous.” At her favorite restaurants, she would be approached by strangers, all of them weighing in on how the movement could change, be better, do more. The lack of privacy, the monumental expectations — they have made for a high-intensity life. So, to relax, Garza, 37, does what she has always done. She cooks.

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