"Demand that there is justice for her and protection for every other Breonna Taylor in our society," the Until Freedom founder says.

By Shalayne Pulia
Jun 15, 2020 @ 12:39 pm
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Credit: Courtesy

Tamika Mallory will not rest. The activist made headlines when her powerful speech at a press conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, went viral last week. She has since been praised for encapsulating the shared rage Black people across the world have been feeling for generations, heightened by the recent deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police. In the speech, Mallory addressed concerns about widespread looting has been a central point in much coverage of recent protests, saying, “America has looted Black people. America looted the Native Americans when they first came here, so looting is what you do. We learned it from you.”

This is not Mallory’s first time unabashedly using her voice to stand up for what she believes in. Mallory, a new wave feminist and gun reform advocate, has dedicated her life to calling for people and politicians to do better to protect Black lives. She also helped organize the original Women’s March in 2017, which, with millions in attendance, is considered to be the largest single-day demonstration in U.S. history. She earned a spot on Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential people list for her work that same year.

After leaving the Women’s March organization, Mallory launched her own intersectional social justice organization, Until Freedom. The group, aimed at addressing systemic and racial injustice, put the video above detailing actionable steps people can take to fight for justice for Breonna Taylor earlier this week. The video, now shared by Alicia Keys, Zoe Kravitz, Rhapsody, and other stars, calls for people to contact elected officials in Taylor’s native Kentucky to demand the officers there involved in her death be fired and charged, as well as a ban be placed on no-knock warrants that allow police to enter someone’s home without advance warning. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has since introduced a bill, known as “Breonna’s Law,” aiming to end the warrants. In Louisville, at least, it was signed unanimously by the city counsel on June 12.

Mallory has been traveling the country to continue the momentum of the past couple weeks, which have been filled with a new kind of anger, grief, and power showcased through global protests in support of Black lives. On her 40th birthday, June 8, she called for supporters to donate to Until Freedom’s cause in factors of 4 ($4, $40, or $400). The work, she insists, is far from over. “People need to stay out there. Stay on the streets,” Mallory says. “Continue to call your legislators. Make sure that elected officials know that there must be change not just lip service.”

Read on below for more about Mallory’s thoughts on this moment in time, and where she hopes we go from here.

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Your speech in Minneapolis was such a huge moment for you and for people protesting across the globe. What do you hope people take away from that speech?

I’m hoping that my speech articulated the rage that Black people are feeling. [It’s] rage that people outside of our communities need to hear. Hopefully the truth, while it may be uncomfortable, is resonating with people who may not have understood or who have been trying to ignore this very deep pain that our communities deal with every day.

Why do you think what you said has resonated with so many people?

I didn’t even get a chance to prepare to speak. I just said what was in my heart. I spoke my truth — not so much as a leader but as a Black woman. And I think that’s why it resonated, because it wasn’t coming from a place where all the bases were covered — all the “i”s dotted and the “t”s crossed. It came from a place of truth and a place of rage.

Earlier this week InStyle announced our latest cover girl, Alicia Keys. I saw that same day she shared an Until Freedom video calling for justice for Breonna Taylor — the officers involved in her death have yet to be charged. Where do we need to go from here?

The purpose of that video was really to ensure that Breonna Taylor does not become a story that we vaguely remember. To demand that there is justice for her and protection for every other Breonna Taylor in our society. [She deserves] the same attention we see for George Floyd, the same attention that we’ve seen for Ahmaud Arbery. There needs to be very serious changes to our criminal justice system, especially [regarding] the no-knock warrant. What happened to Breonna Taylor is a case of gross incompetence and negligence. And while, yes, the officers involved need to be held accountable and their supervisors need to be accountable, we also need to make sure that this does not happen to anyone else. The only way that that is possible is if we continue to uplift Breonna Taylor’s name.

Looking ahead, what are your other goals for your organization, Until Freedom?

Until Freedom’s leaders have 20-plus years working on campaigns to end police abuse and to expose and challenge white supremacy. We see ourselves coordinating voices to bringing leaders together to engage and activate local communities so that we can fight for Breonna Taylor. Our power is only as strong as every single person, whether they be a celebrity or an essential worker, coming together to focus on one mission.

Activism is something that you’ve been exposed to from a young age. Both of your parents were civil rights leaders involved in Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN). What do you think sets this moment in history apart from everything else you’ve witnessed and what gives you hope that things will be different?

People all over the world have shown that we’re not going to allow what has been happening to continue. I think we all saw with our eyes — people could not peel away from their televisions from their cell phones and even from the streets over the last few weeks because there’s an energy out there. We’re living in a different time. And that demand has turned into our elected officials actually passing laws to back up the movement because this moment that we’re in demands it.

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Where does the change start? What can we do right now to help?

Watch the [Until Freedom] video and follow the prompts at the end for places that you can call and ways that you can help us to apply pressure. The officer who wrote the no-knock warrant [based on] lies was placed on administrative leave. But that’s not enough. They actually need to be fired. And the only way that’s going to happen is if we apply pressure.

What do you think makes a badass woman, and especially a badass activist?

I think a badass woman is someone that considers her community no matter what status she has reached in life. No matter how far you have traveled, there are still people who are trying to get out of the track. Our job is to continuously reach back and pull them forward.

Who are some badass women you admire?

I look up to Alicia Keys as one for sure. I also look up to Congresswoman Maxine Waters. I think she’s an extremely strong, unbossed woman. I also look up to my mother.

What would you say looking back is the most badass thing you’ve ever done?

Organize five million people from around the world to protest against a fascist government [for the Women’s March in 2017].

What are you most proud of professionally or personally achieving up to this point in your life?

I’m most proud of the fact that I was able to articulate the pain of Black people in a moment when this country desperately needed it. Children in Africa transcribed my speech and said, “She speaks for me.” [That] meant so much to me.

What advice do you have for parents who have been participating in these protests or parents who want to raise their children to do and be better?

That’s a heavy one. Parents who want to help their children do better are going to have to look at deconstructing some of the myths that they have heard or learned themselves. But it depends on who you’re talking about. If you’re just saying anybody, Black, white, doesn’t matter, I think the way we help our children is to expose them to all different types of people, and to the history of our community, of the Black community. And just because you’re a Black person does not mean that you understand the history. But we need to.

How have you been able to talk about this time in history with your own son, Tarique?

My son is 21. Has been exposed to my work for so long. And with all the other great things that I’ve done, this was the first time that when I came home [from Minneapolis], my son looked at me and said, “Mom, you made me really, really proud.” He’s told me he’s proud before, but the way in which he spoke to me this time meant he knew that I didn’t just make a good speech; I actually touched him in a different way. I think he’s seeing the action versus the talk. He knows that he has an obligation, and I think he feels it. I think he feels the weight of it.

What do you hope your legacy will be?

I hope that in my lifetime I was able to move the needle, you know? I feel like Dr. King moved the needle. Malcom X moved the needle. I want people to be able to point to important and impactful moments when I actually shaped even a little bit of progress in this nation.

For more information on Mallory's organization Until Freedom, visit untilfreedom.com