Black Lives Matter isn’t a traditional civil rights organization. It doesn’t have a headquarters, 501(c)(3) status, or a chain of command. It operates on the local level rather than nationally. But the movement is producing leaders, most of whom are not preachers or politicians—or even men. Meet three of the women behind Black Lives Matter in Atlanta.
Just over two years ago, Hector won a $50,000 fellowship from a national nonprofit that supports young peace activists for creating the “Think Twice” anti-gun-violence campaign, which U.S. Representative Hank Johnson has praised on the House floor. In December 2014, Hector helped organize a flash-mob-style die-in demonstration at Lenox Square on one of the year’s busiest shopping weekends in an effort to draw attention to police brutality. There were no arrests, and some shoppers cheered and even joined in the group’s chants.
Last spring Hector, who also serves as youth coordinator for the Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, graduated from high school. The Lithonia teenager started at Spelman College last fall as a political science major.
A veteran of Atlanta’s Occupy movement, Mansfield runs the Hello Racism! group and social media feed and has helped lead #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations. Last June, when local preacher Markel Hutchins held a meeting to launch his own Black Lives Matter–like group, Mansfield stormed the podium, bringing with her family members of a man killed by DeKalb police last year. She announced that the very people who’d been most active in protesting violence against African Americans weren’t represented onstage.
“In the civil rights movement,” she says, “there were clearly one or two people identified as leaders. Now there’s not one single leader, but there are people who lead.”
Before her graduation this summer, Jones served as president of the Georgia Gwinnett College Democrats, taking part in a series of “Moral Monday” protests at the Georgia State Capitol. Last year Jones was among two dozen activists arrested during a sit-in at the Capitol to protest Georgia’s “Stand Your Ground” laws.
“I consider it a revolutionary act to intentionally acknowledge and support black lives,” says Jones. “Black people’s needs have never been a priority of any system in America.”
For Jones, the Black Lives Matter movement also means advocating for a stronger social services net for everyone.
This article originally appeared in our February 2016 issue.