Opal Ayo Tometi is a New York based Nigerian-American writer and the co-founder of the historical movement #BlackLivesMatter. The project was launched in the wake of the 2012 murder of 17-year old Trayvon Martin to combat racism, anti-black racism and to protect and affirm the beauty and dignity of all Black lives.
Opal is credited with creating the online platforms and initiating the social media strategy during the project’s early days. The campaign has grown into a national network of about 40 chapters.
Opal is currently at the helm of the country’s leading Black organization for immigrant rights, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, which was founded in 2006, to educate and advocate immigrant rights and racial justice together with other African immigrant communities.
In a recent chat with BBC Africa, Opal, whose grand-fathers migrated from one country to another, said her parents also migrated from Nigeria to Phoenix, Arizona. Shortly after their relocation, Opal’s parents fell out of their immigration status and were going to be deported but thankfully, they were able to secure their complete documents and soon became US citizens.Her parents now help new arrivals to find their way in America.
However, Opal will not forget in a hurry how hard it was for her family when they were going through their deportation proceedings. As a result, one of her major achievements with BAJI was helping displaced Haitian families win reunification visas.
According to Opal, visiting Nigeria as a 17-year old informs everything about her today. Meeting uncles, aunts and cousins she has not met before and having conversations with them about their ambitions, the frustrations they had in the Nigerian government and their prospects for jobs were eye-opening for Opal.
“My cousins were essentially the mirror of what could have been and what I could be. It stayed with me and it stays with me even now. The reality was that my parents had a unique set of privileges as a result of ‘making it’ in the US and being able to be here in the US, beating their deportation case and me being able to say with them in Phoenix. It allowed for different types of opportunities that I wouldn’t have had in Nigeria and I’m really certain and clear of that”, she said.
It’s been five years since the #BlackLivesMatter, which has grown bigger than its co-founders, was started, has there been any difference in the way black people are treated?
Opal believes that there is more visibility about anti-black racism and just structural racism in the Unites States.
“I believe the movement…have ushered in a type of conversation and politic that says, we’re not going to turn away from these issues of injustice that are happening and plaguing the society. However, it has been really challenging to see substantive strides towards the eradication of the types of extra judicial killings we’ve been seeing en masse”.
Opal,who always encourage people to travel abroad if they have the means and ability, says its also important people visit their heritage. Opal would love to live in Nigeria and work there someday.
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