Patrisse Marie Khan Cullors Brignac
Cullors was born in 1984 in Los Angeles, California and grew up in the Pacoima neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. Her mother Cherice Foley is a Jehovah’s Witness. raised Cullors and her siblings as a single parent. Her biological father was Gabriel Brignac, whom she didn’t meet until she was eleven years old. She was raised in the home of Alton Cullors, who used to work at a General Motors plant in Nuys before it was shut down, forcing him to work in low-paying jobs. She has three siblings – two bothers named Paul and Monte, and a sister named Jasmine.
Gabriel was a repeat offender who was jailed many times on drugs-related charges and died in 2009 in a homeless shelter. Despite his legal issues, Cullors described him as having a constant and caring presence in her life. Cullors grew up in a Section 8 apartment in Van Nuys, a poor and largely Mexican-American neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. Her step-father Alton eventually left his family, leaving Cherice to raise her kids on her own. Cullors said that she witnessed her 11 and 13 year-old brothers being needlessly slammed into a wall by police when she was 9 years old. At the age of 12, she was arrested for smoking marijuana.
At this time, she was a student at Millikan Middle School, an affluent mostly-white school for gifted kids in Sherman Oaks. Cullors describes that she felt ashamed going there with her mother in a car, borrowed from their neighbor and Monte’s on-and-off girlfriend Cynthia, since it was in a state of disrepair. She also states that it was the white girls at the school who introduced her to weed. However, when she was arrested, she was attending the Van Nuys Middle School, a school consisting mostly of children of working-class families and non-whites, as part of summer school, due to her poor grades. For her the transition was a shock, as the school had a metal detector and was guarded by police unlike her other school.
At the age of 16, Cullors revealed her queer identity to her family and moved away from Los Angeles.
Early on Cullors identified as an activist; she joined the Bus Riders Union as a teenager. In 2007 at the age of 22, she received the Mario Savio Young Activist Award. Cullors then received a Fulbright Scholarship which allowed her to get a degree in religion and philosophy from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2012. Later that year, Cullors created her first piece of performance art that tackled the issue of the violence of incarceration. This performance helped to create the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence and her non-profit, Dignity and Power Now.
In 2013, Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi created the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement was inspired the February 26, 2012 fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood security guard George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Inspired in part by seeing her own brother brutalized during imprisonment in Los Angeles County jails, Cullors wrote the social media hashtag #BlackLivesMatter to promote the new organization. The BLM movement works to end violence against African Americans as well as poverty and mass incarceration, which contributes to violence. Cullors is especially passionate about fighting for rights for the black queer community.
In 2014, Cullors received the Contribution to Oversight Award from the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) in response to her work encouraging civilian oversight in Los Angeles jails. She is part of the small but growing prison abolition movement. Later in 2014 Cullors completed a fellowship at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In 2015, she was awarded the Social Justice Grant by Google to support her project through the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, California. The project called the Justice Teams for Truth and Reinvestment, allows communities to respond radically to law enforcement violence. In 2016, Cullors married transgender activist Janaya Khan. Cullors currently teaches at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.
Patrisse Cullors has received several honors for her work. Some of these awards include NAACP History Maker, Civil Rights Leader for the 21st Century from the Los Angeles Times, Senior Fellow for Maternal Mortality by Moms Rising, the Defender of the Dream Award from the AFL-CIO Executive Council Committee on Civil and Human Rights, and the Justice Award from National Center for Lesbian Rights. Cullors and the other two founders of Black Lives Matter have received recognition from Fortune and POLITICO in 2016 for being among the 50 greatest leaders and in 2017 they received the Sydney Peace prize in Sydney, Australia. Cullors was also awarded honorary doctorates from Chicago’s South Shore International College and Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. In 2018, Cullors released her book called When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir.
Cullors’ memoir, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir was published in January 2018. It was co-written with the journalist asha bandele and featured a foreword from Angela Davis. The book has 2 parts, All the Bones We Could Find, which narrates her adolescence, and Black Lives Matter, which explains how those experiences led up to her to co-establishing the social justice group. The book deals with the imprisonment and disenfranchisement of black men like her father, incarceration “is how our society responded to his drug use…I think we have a crisis of divesting from poor communities, black communities in particular, and reinvesting into these communities with police, jails, courts, prisons”.
In the 13th chapter A Call, A Response, Cullors outlines the first series of marches she, Garza and Tometi organized in the wake of Zimmerman’s acquittal. The chapter concludes: “We are a generation called to action. “The Times Literary Supplement regarded the book as a “magnificent accomplishment.” It appeared at number 12 on the nonfiction hardcover The New York Times Best Seller list on February 4, 2018.
Her second book is set to be released by St Martin’s Press on the 5th October 2021, titled “An Abolitionists Handbook,” Cullors describes it as a guide for activists on how to take care for each other and resolve internal conflicts while campaigning.
Documentary and television/film
Cullors appeared in the 2016 documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement. In October 2020 she signed her first over ‘overall deal’ with Warner Brothers. Which was described as multi-year and wide-ranging, agreement that will see Cullors develop and produce original programming across all platforms, including broadcast, cable and streaming, aimed at amplifying the work of Black Lives Matter, black storytelling and perspective. Cullors produced a YouTube Originals series entitled Resist, which premiered November 18, 2020.
Cullors identifies as queer. In 2016, she married Janaya Khan, a social activist who co-founded Black Lives Matter Toronto.
In 2021, a controversy arose in some media outlets, following reports that Cullors (or entities associated with her) had purchased several homes during a five-year period. This led to a denial of any wrongdoing and accusations of racism, with Cullors defending her decision to take care of her family and describing the criticism as a right-wing effort to discredit her. On 13, The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation denied it had paid for her purchases of real estate and said they had not paid her any money since 2019, adding that she had only received $120,000 since 2013 for carrying out her work related to the organization.
- 2007Mario Savio Young Activist of the Year.
- AnNAACP History Maker, 2015
- With Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza (as “The Women of #BlackLivesMatter”) listed as one of the nine runners-up forThe Advocate‘s Person of the Year, 2015
- AGlamour Magazine Woman of the Year, 2016
- One ofFortune‘s World’s Greatest Leaders, 2016
- AnHonorary Doctorate from Clarkson University, among several others
- the 2018 recipient of theJosé Muñoz Award from CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center
- In 2015, theLos Angeles Times named her one of “The new civil rights leaders.”
- In June 2020, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first LGBTQPride parade, Queerty named her among the fifty heroes “leading the nation toward equality, acceptance, and dignity for all people”.
- Cullors is included inTime magazine ‘s 100 Most Influential People of 2020.
- Cullors was on the list of the BBCs100 Women announced on 23 November 2020.
- Along with Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza, Cullors was named the 2013 Women of the Year byTime in 2020 as part of their 100 Women of the Year