Against the backdrop of COVID-19, another pandemic rose to the fore – racial inequality – that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement across the United States, and then the world.

In the lead-up to 2020, the hashtag #blacklivesmatter began to be used after the unnecessary deaths of black Americans – among them Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown.

Then in March 2020, Breonna Taylor, a black woman, was shot in her Louisville home by US police. And just two months later, George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed by a police officer who knelt on his neck for over nine minutes.

Taking a stand

George Floyd’s death was the trigger point – the catalyst for a wave of action and unity right across the globe. In America, people were outraged and angry and both tributes and demonstrations began to crop up across the country, demanding justice for Floyd and all victims of racial oppression.

Polls at the time suggested that between 15 and 26 million people in the United States participated in demonstrations, with the New York Times stating that ‘it may be the largest movement in U.S. history’.

Other countries followed suit, with anti-racism demonstrations in major cities right across the world, including Japan, Denmark, Brazil, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. During the period after George Floyd’s death, the Black Lives Matter hashtag was used tens of millions of times.

Image credit: Radio New Zealand

Impact and changes

Despite the fact that the civil rights movement started 70 years ago, the events of last year highlighted that the fight for equality is ongoing. But as the Black Lives Matter Movement grew, it raised public awareness around the issues, brought people together, and triggered a wave of positive change.

Since May 2020, 47 states as well as Washington DC have enacted new laws around police policy, like the use of restraint, the issuing of warrants, how officers can intervene, and body camera requirements. In addition, at least 17 states have enacted laws that restrict or ban the use of chokeholds and other neck restraints.

Around the world, sportspeople began taking the knee to protest racism and show solidarity, a gesture started by Colin Kaepernick back in 2016. Premier League teams in the UK and the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat in the US were among the many teams that took the knee before games. Our Football Ferns also took the knee before their opening match at the Tokyo Olympics.

Companies also followed suit, with many making changes within their own organisations, raising awareness, or donating funds to the cause.

Pinterest set – and has achieved – a goal that at least 50% of their managed content creators come from underrepresented groups. Adidas committed to investing $20 million into Black American communities over four years. LEGO pledged to donate $4 million to organizations that support black children and educating all children about racial equality. And IBM announced it would no longer sell general facial recognition technology, citing concerns about racial profiling.

Leaving a legacy

It will take ongoing action and large-scale, systemic changes to truly achieve justice and equality, but the Black Lives Matter movement united people around the world in the cause – it will be up to all of us to follow through.

For Lucy, who attended the Palmerston North Black Lives Matter protest, the movement will be remembered for how it impacted and resonated with people globally.

“Being involved and taking a stand on this issue made me feel empowered and more heard than I ever have before,” she said. “The way the world mobilised around BLM made me feel as though there is a real chance of improving the world we live in socially and politically. The implementation of bills such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 in America are the sort of steps that have the potential to fundamentally change the world for the better.”

Image: Lucy (centre) at the Palmerston North Black Lives Matter protest. Credit: Stuff Limited

Will we be on the right side of climate action?

The Black Lives Matter movement was a pivotal moment in global history – and showed the power of humans to unite on issues that matter. That includes climate change, which is increasingly affecting our people and our environment, both in Aotearoa and globally. Like we have with Black Lives Matter, we can mobilise on climate change and come together collectively to take action.

“I believe people taking a stand on climate change will encourage citizens and governments to actively engage on the issue,” says Lucy. “Sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting, weather patterns are changing, and we are rapidly running out of time.

“However, it's not too late to take a stand and fight for our world. Doing what we can now to help the next generation of people is essential for humans to continue to thrive. We must not let our chance slip away. We need to be on the right side of history on climate change and social justice.”

Cover image: Lucy (centre) at the Palmerston North Black Lives Matter protest. Credit: Stuff Limited