How Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Opal Tometi Keeps Her Stamina Up

"We're going to wherever we can to ensure that our voices and our perspectives are being heard and that we change this once and for all."

Opal Tometi
Photo: O'Shea Tometi

Last week, the world witnessed a small win in our quest for justice when George Floyd's murderer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts with which he was charged: second-degree unintentional murder, and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Many attribute the swift verdict and moment of accountability to the nationwide attention on this case, much to the credit of the Black Lives Matter movement and the marches it sustained throughout the summer of 2020.

Black Lives Matter co-founder and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Opal Tometi is one of the foremost activists in this moment, driving the needle of change, but on this week's episode of InStyle's Ladies First with Laura Brown, she attributes the progress to more than just her own efforts and those of her co-founders Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors.

"It's such a beautiful testament to just the courage and ferocity of the people," she tells Brown. "You can't take credit for this. This is something where people allow themselves to feel. They allow themselves to get in touch with their own sense of humanity and sense of agency and say, 'I can actually do something about this. My voice matters, so let me actually use it.'"

Finally, people are recognizing the deep-rooted problem of the systemic racism that exists in our country. But every day feels like one step forward, two steps back. Last week, as we celebrated the small ounce of accountability taken for the murder of Floyd, we were devastated the next day by news of more police brutality, this time in the form of the death of 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant.

"We're tired of seeing Black people treated with such disdain and disrespect and quite literally being killed with impunity," says Tometi. "This is fundamentally not working, and so we're going out into the streets. We're going to our workplaces, we're going to our elected officials. We're going to wherever we can to ensure that our voices and our perspectives are being heard and that we change this once and for all."

Opal Tometi on Black Lives Matter: Episode 21: April 27, 2021

InStyle Ladies First with Laura Brown

Of course this fight isn't a new one. BLM has been organizing for justice since 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

"We said, 'We've got to find a way to share our message authentically, honestly, because if we don't, we're going to continue to be in this cycle of killing unarmed black people, us being outraged and saddened, but not much changing around it,'" Tometi shares. "Enough's enough."

What started as a hashtag and a Tumblr page turned into a massive global movement that would only continue to pick up momentum over the following years until it all came to a head last May, following the murder of Floyd. Millions of people in thousands of cities started protesting, demanding change and justice reform. Floyd's death, devastating and unfair, launched a worldwide conversation that seemed to open people's eyes who had managed to remain ignorant of these issues for so long.

"I think what was so powerful about that was that people got to see that we were showing up for one another," Tometi tells Brown. "I think there's something about being able to mourn but also at the same time, being able to celebrate the courage of the collective in that same kind of moment. There's something about having that recognition that you're not crazy. This is wrong and there's thousands of us who are gathered here [who] also believe that's wrong.

She continued, "And there's something about just those moments that I feel helped to provide a little bit of solace, like there's a balm for your soul and your spirit. And at the same time, we have the capacity to strategize and we have the capacity to say, let's plot another way, let's putt our way out of this. We've got to strategize and do the work."

At the end of the day, Tometi, a modern-day real life super hero, is still human. And she's surprisingly relatable. When she's not fighting for human rights and racial equity, the writer and activist likes to de-stress with a good Bravo binge (she says any Housewives franchise will do) and like most of us during the pandemic, she has taken up virtual fitness classes — Pilates are her favorite.

"[My abs] are stronger than they were a year and a half ago. My stamina is way up, my ass, my glutes, even my posture's improved," she laughs. As we all continue to take steps forward, we hope she stands a little taller knowing we're at her back — and not just from Pilates.

Listen to the full episode and subscribe on Apple, PlayerFM, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. And tune in weekly to Ladies First with Laura Brown hosted by InStyle's editor in chief Laura Brown, who speaks to guests like Michelle Pfeiffer, Emily Ratajkowski, Cynthia Erivo, Naomi Watts, La La Anthony, Ellen Pompeo, Rep. Katie Porter, and more to discuss current events, politics, some fashion, and, most importantly, the major firsts in their lives.

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