Black Lives Matter: From Hashtag to Movement

Bias, Discrimination & Hate
Race & Racism
Social Justice
Ferguson Garner Seattle Black Lives Matter Protest
Scottlum / CC BY-NC 2.0
Grade Level:
High School
Common Core Standards:
Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
Bias, Discrimination & Hate
Race & Racism
Social Justice

Black Lives Matter is an activist movement which began as a hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenager killed in Florida in July 2013. The movement became more widely known and popularized after two high-profile deaths in 2014 of unarmed African-American men (Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY and Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO) at the hands of police officers who were ultimately not indicted. Since August 2014, ongoing local and national protests and other actions—often sparked by the deaths of other unarmed African Americans—have brought the movement to the public consciousness and conversation. Black Lives Matter, which originated as a hashtag on Twitter and other social media, has since evolved into a “movement.” As of August 2015, more than 1000 Black Lives Matter demonstrations have been held worldwide.

This high school lesson provides an opportunity for students to learn more about Black Lives Matter and the activists involved, explore the controversy about using the term “All lives matter,” and posit their point of view in writing to a person of their choice.

Update on Ferguson

On March 4, 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the findings in two separate investigations related to Ferguson. One report found a pattern of civil rights violations on the part of the Ferguson Police Department. A second report determined that “the evidence examined in its independent, federal investigation into the fatal shooting of Michael Brown does not support federal civil rights charges against Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.” Two weeks later, on March 17, the Department and the city of Ferguson formally announced an agreement “aiming to remedy the unconstitutional law enforcement conduct that the Justice Department found during its civil pattern-or-practice investigation.” The announcement resolved a pending federal lawsuit against Ferguson, and addressed a range of issues including bias-free police and court practices, protecting all individuals’ First Amendment rights, and reorienting Ferguson’s use of force policies.

NOTE TO TEACHER: In August 2016, a grouping of more than 50 organizations associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement formed the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL). This group released a detailed platform, A Vision for Black Lives, Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice that articulates their positions on a wide range of issues. There are other groups associated with BLM who have not signed onto the Platform and are exploring different approaches to achieve their objectives. While ADL feels strongly that as a society, we need to address mass incarceration and a wide range of racial inequities and socio-economic issues facing African-Americans, we do not support the M4BL Platform and forcefully reject the document’s criticism of the United States and Israel as being “complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.” This position is consistent with the views of some in the BLM movement who have expressed anti-Israel sentiments that are not factually based and unrelated to the challenges facing communities of color in the US. For more information or if you want to share that perspective, see Eyes on The Prize: In Pursuit of Racial Justice, Stick to the Facts and Avoid the Fiction.

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