Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, has joined the faculty of Arizona’s Prescott College where she will teach students the ins and outs of activism.
“I’ve introduced my own course around social practice and art, and the impact art and cultural work has on organizing,” said Cullors, who serves as an adjunct professor. “Both those worlds exist in me and often they’re completely separated and not really talked about.”
Cullors, 34, will mold aspiring activists enrolled in the school’s Social Justice and Community Organizing program. According to its website, the “curriculum combines a unique focus on critical race theory, anti-colonial theory, feminist and queer theory, critical political economy, and third world liberation theory.”
Students spend their first semester working in the field, beginning with a month-long orientation in Los Angeles, California, where Cullors has emerged as one of the most prominent organizers in the region. In January, they will travel to the United States-Mexico border for three weeks “to explore the social and environmental impacts and social justice organizing possibilities created by globalization,” the program description says.
“Artists and cultural workers historically and presently play a significant role in shaping movements,” Cullors said in a news release. “Now is the time we unearth that history and utilize it to help us with some of the most important fights of this time.”
For at least six years, Cullors has been creating art to complement her grassroots work. The first meeting of what would become the Black Lives Matter Global Network took place in an L.A. art center. Street protest dances, poetry, and other artistic concepts are often incorporated into her projects and demonstrations.
She first became involved with social justice drives as a 17-year-old high school student. Cullors started volunteering with a local public transportation advocacy group led by Eric Mann — a former Weather Underground radical who would mentor and train her for several years.
L.A. Weekly previously reported:
A distinctly working-class nonprofit, the Bus Riders Union was Cullors’ entry into political organizing. She later started Dignity and Power Now, a coalition that fought brutality by sheriff’s deputies who work inside the county jails.
Cullors grew up in 1990s Pacoima, a low-income northeast San Fernando Valley neighborhood, during the height of the federal war on drugs that disproportionately imprisoned thousands of minorities. Cullors’ father and brother were in and out of prison for most of her adult life.
“That really shaped my understanding of what it meant to be black in this city,” Cullors says. “I had a lot of anger. And I was clear that I wanted to do something about it.”
Before joining the Prescott College faculty, Cullors lectured at L.A.’s Otis College of Art and Design for two semesters. She is also a 2019 candidate for a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree at the University of Southern California.
In addition to her academic pursuits, Cullors currently leads a campaign in Los Angeles County to stop the construction of two new jails and give a civilian oversight panel legal powers over the Sheriff’s Department. Election officials are in the process of verifying signatures collected for her proposed voter referendum to qualify for the March 2020 countywide ballot.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.