By Krista Tippett- On Being
“Black Lives Matter co-founder and artist Patrisse Cullors presents a luminous vision of the spiritual core of Black Lives Matter and a resilient world in the making. She joins Dr. Robert Ross, a physician and philanthropist on the cutting edge of learning how trauma can be healed in bodies and communities. A cross-generational reflection on evolving social change.”
“MS. TIPPETT: So where does your mind go if you think about the spiritual underpinnings of your life as they had to do with what you would now call trauma and resilience?
MS. CULLORS: I love this question. We don’t get asked these things a lot in our movement. But, one, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for having me on, and thank you, California Endowment, for inviting me. And for me, I feel like I’m not just bringing myself, but I’m bringing the movement into this conversation. I’m bringing my ancestors into this conversation. And my great-grandmother, Jenny Endsley, who would’ve been 103 just a couple days ago, is a deep reminder for me around why I do this work.
She raised me and my three other siblings while my mom had to work three jobs to barely get food on our table. And she was both Choctaw, Blackfoot, and African American, grew up in Oklahoma. Her father was a medicine man. And she told us lots of stories about the KKK, lots of stories of her father defending their family against the KKK, and her eventual move to Los Angeles.
And she was probably one of the most glamorous women I ever met. She had hundreds of wigs in her closet and lots of sequins, and she was this amazing singer and had such a powerful impact on me and my siblings and my family’s life because she stood up for black life so fiercely throughout her lifetime. And that looked like being a part of the NAACP; it looked like picking up her black grandchildren all the time from after-school programs; it looked like helping my mom navigate a system that was consistently trying to separate her from her children.
And so those are sort of my early years of understanding my own formation here in Los Angeles. And then my grandmother was the first person to put me on stage. I wrote a speech, “If I Were President,” when I was in second grade, during the first Bush administration. And she would always ask me, “What did you do in school today, grandbaby?” And I read the speech to her, and she was like, “Oh, well, I’m going to have you read that speech at the women’s club.”
And I remember getting on stage at 9, reading this speech, “If I Were President,” her giving me this trophy, and it was just this moment where I was like, “Oh, someone believes in me. Someone believes in what I have to offer.” And I think what we forget when we are raising young black children is that the belief in them is absolutely necessary in building their own spiritual foundation and their own fortitude. And I believe if I didn’t have my great grandmother, who deeply believed in me and my siblings, I would not actually be who I am today.