MLK Committee: Opal Tometti (co-founder BLM) and Macklemore

Speaker / Presenter: 

Moderated by Professor James B. Peterson, Director of Africana Studies
Sunday, January 24, 2016 -
1:00pm to 2:30pm
Baker Hall, Zoellner Arts Center

Activism: A Conversation Between Opal Tometti (co-founder, "Black Lives Matter") and Macklemore (Hip Hop Artist)
Tickets for this event will be free and will be able to be reserved in advance.


Photo: Amanda Smith

Music as a Force for Social Change
Seattle-based Hip Hop duo, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis recently released “Downtown,” the first single from their follow up to ‘The Heist,’ their multiple GRAMMY Award winning, platinum selling debut album. “Downtown,” which features Eric Nally and Hip Hop pioneers Grandmaster Caz, Kool Moe Dee and Melle Mel, has been performed on the VMA’s and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and the video has been viewed nearly 78 million times on YouTube. Last month, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, accompanied by soul singer Leon Bridges performed, “Kevin," a riveting new song tackling the prescription drug epidemic on the American Music Awards.

Macklemore has always used music as a vehicle to tackle social issues, including drug addiction, white privilege and homophobia. For his support of marriage equality and human rights, Macklemore was honored with the ACLU of Washington's Civil Libertarian Award in October of 2014. He has been outspoken about his struggles with addiction, and is a strong advocate for treatment and recovery programs, especially for young people. Macklemore has taken up environmental causes as well, serving as a spokesperson in the campaign to clean up Seattle's Duwamish River. The river is one of the most toxic waste sites in the nation and disproportionately impacts low-income people of color in South Seattle.

He summed up his personal philosophy in a 2012 documentary when he said, "I want to be someone who is respected and not just in terms of my music. I want to be respected in terms of the way that I treat people... Music is my creative outlet in terms of expressing what is important to me; what has importance, what has a value.” During his visit to Lehigh on Sunday, January 24th, Macklemore will join in a discussion with Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi, on activism in the 21st Century. The conversation will be moderated by Professor James Peterson, who previously interviewed Macklemore for his podcast,

The Remix. The duo is hard at work on their follow up release, and will be visiting Lehigh University in the midst of a U.S. Tour.

A Call to Action 
As cofounder of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Opal Tometti was born in the U.S. to Nigerian immigrants, grew up in Phoenix and earned her B.A. in history and an M.A. in communications and advocacy from the University of Arizona. She also served as a volunteer for the American Civil Liberties Union on a project that monitored vigilantes who sought to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the U.S.

She later worked as a public relations specialist and as a communications and outreach intern for Witness, a group that employs video to capture human rights violations. Since 2011, she was a national organizer for Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

In 2013, Tometti collaborated with Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors to co-found Black Lives Matter (BLM), which was created following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the Florida resident who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman invoked the state’s controversial Stand Your Ground Law in his defense, stating that he feared for his safety in his confrontation with the unarmed Martin. Street demonstrations organized by #BLM drew national attention in the wake of the killing of two African American men – Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner of New York City, and grew in the ensuing months.

“Rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country who actively resist our de-humanization, #BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society,” according to the organization’s website.