Opal Ayo Tometi was born in 1984, and raised in Phoenix, Arizona by Nigerian immigrant parents who illegally immigrated to the United States. She is the eldest and only female child of her parent's three children. She received her Bachelor's of Arts degree in history that her Masters of Arts in Communication and Advocacy from the University of Arizona. Clarkson University has also awarded Ms. Tometi an honorary doctorate degree for “her devotion to this nation's shared egalitarian ideals; for encouraging communication as a means to overcome challenges; for building coalitions that value the contributions of workers, immigrants and families; and for her tireless work as an organizer of opportunities for all. "
Opal has worked in a multitude of areas in her life. She has worked closely with survivors of domestic violence and continues to provide community resources concerning this issue. From 2006 to 2008 she worked as a leasing assistant and marketing manager for a concrete installation company called Cowen Commercial. For two years after that she worked as a freelance public relations specialist. In 2009, she worked as a communications outreach intern for Witness, an organization that “exposed human rights violations by anti-immigrant vigilantes working on the Arizona-Mexico border through the use of video and other technology.” In addition to all of these, Tometi is also a writer who is published on multiple platforms including the Huffington post.
What Opal Tometi is most known for however, is her work concerning community organizing and activism. It only makes sense that as the daughter of African immigrants, Tometi's has a personal connection with the cause supported by The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI). Where she serves as its executive director. The organization is described as the country's leading advocate for immigrant rights. It's serves the interests of African-Americans, Afro-Latinx, African, and Caribbean immigrant communities all over the country. As a self-described transnational feminist, Tometi believes that it is important to speak on behalf of black people, specifically black women, that come from all parts of the diaspora. In addition to her work at BAJI she works closely with the Pan African Network in Defense of Migrant Rights, as well as the Black Immigration Network (BIN). She has spoken on behalf of migrants at the United Nations and has worked with the UN's global forum on migration and the Commission on the Status of Women.
Although Tometi has been involved in community organizing for over a decade, perhaps her most famous activist campaign to date is her work concerning Black Lives Matter. In 2013, after the landmark fatal shooting of an unarmed Travon Martin by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, Tometi alongside Alicia Garza, and Patrice Cullors, created Black Lives Matter. The organization aims to end violence and police brutality that overwhelmingly targets Black people in America, as well as expose and combat the implicit bias that taints police forces. Additionally, black lives matter attempts to stop the militarization of police and “protected and affirm the beauty and dignity of all black lives”. Tometi primarily works as Black Lives Matter's social media specialist, using Twitter as her platform of choice.
Although the movement has been criticized for its decentralized structure and lack of clear leadership, it has and undoubtedly hijacked the public conversation and established itself as a national force of change and voice for the black community.
A lot of Tometi's activism stems from her Admiration of people like Bell Hooks, Ella Baker, and Stuart Hall. At Clarkson University‘s 123rd commencement in 2016 she shares the philosophy behind her activism with the graduating class. In an impassioned speech she stresses the importance of using one's privilege for the greater good. She tells the graduates to take pride in their womanhood, in their sexuality, in their race, and in all of their identities. She highlights the importance of their education saying :
“When you have privilege — like what you have with your degree— You have a responsibility. When you have a bit of accomplishment under your belt it is also your duty to do something with it. To be the solution with your new distinction, with your resources, and with your gifts. To leverage your privilege so that all can have access to similar opportunities if they wish.”
It is clear that Tometi practices the philosophy that she preaches. Through each and every one of her identities, she speaks up for the education and advancement of other less able individuals. As a Nigerian privileged enough to be born in America as a citizen, she advocates for immigrants that were not given that same opportunity. As a Woman educated and given the resources to succeed professionally, she advocates for less educated women and seeks to be more knowledgeable about the struggles of their day-to-day lives. And last but not least as a black person but doesn't necessarily face the brute force of racist policing in her daily life as a writer in Brooklyn, she advocates for black men who are the number one victims of police violence in America.
For many activists, their work is generally a thankless job. They are often respected and revered with in their communities and fields but hated by the General public until years after their deaths in the case of Martin Luther King Jr.. With 43% of Americans in support of black lives matter, it is safe to say that most Americans disapprove of the organization. That hasn't stopped Tometi and the other co-creators of Black Lives Matter from continuing to fight for the things that they believe in. Surprisingly, Tometi has been the recipient of a plethora of awards and for her work within the movement and within The black alliance for just immigration (BAJI).
She was dubbed one the “New Civil Rights Leaders” of our generation by the Los Angeles Times in 2013 and then recognized by Essence 2014. She was included in Cosmopolitan ‘s top 100 list of extraordinary women, and has been ranked among the 50 greatest leaders by Politico and Fortune. Additionally, in 2017 Tometi along with Garza and Cullors were awarded the Sidney Peace Prize in Australia. She is also featured and the Smithsonian's National Museum for African-American Museum of History and Culture, in the exhibit concerning social movements in the black community.
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