Following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2013, Alicia Garza wrote a love letter that she ended with a statement — "Black lives matter."

She says she wrote the letter to all black people in order to say that, despite structural racism, black lives are worthy of dignity and respect.

On Saturday Garza, the executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the cofounder of the Black Lives Matter movement that burgeoned out of her statements three years ago, spoke to a small crowd at First Baptist about how and why the fight for civil rights continues today.

"We are talking about black people because our nation is on fire," Garza said to applause and exclamations of approval from the crowd. "There is an imbalance that has black people on the bottom and white folks on the top."

Today, Garza said, all lives do not matter because if they did, the conversation revolving around black lives in America wouldn't exist.

She gave a list of names including Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, shot to death by police; Sandra Bland, who died in jail after being arrested during a traffic stop, explaining that all those situations are symptomatic of racist systems.

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Javario Eagle
She included Javario Eagle, shot to death by Chattanooga police last year, although the police department said he was armed and pointed a weapon at a police officer who was trying to shield Eagle's child.

"I wrote that letter because there are too many mothers who are losing their children and who are being told it's somehow their fault," she said.

"There are a different set of laws, practices and policies still today for black people than there are for white people."

She supported that claim by pointing to a group of armed, white protesters who are still alive after occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon for 41 days in a standoff over the control and use of federal lands.

But for Garza, the Black Lives Matter movement is rooted in something other than outrage over systemic injustice. She said what she really wants is for this generation and its children to grow up in a world inhabited by those who love one another well.

"None of us are free until all of us are free," Garza said to applause.

Black Lives Matter is now an international organization with 26 chapters and Garza says she and the movement are intent on carrying on the fight for freedom.

She said if people want to live in a world where all lives matter, they must fight for freedom instead of waiting for it to be handed over or trying to vote their way into it. And at the end, she said, the movement is something greater than trying to correct one or two broken systems.

"Black Lives Matter is about much more than fighting police violence — it is about our fundamental right, our human right as black people, to live in dignity."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at or 423-757-6731.