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Black Lives Matter Movement Awarded Sydney Peace Prize for Activism

by Chandelis R. Duster and Foluké Tuakli /
Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement.Jordan Strauss / Invision/AP file

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The Black Lives Matter movement was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize for its work highlighting America's race issues on Thursday.

In a room full of Sydney, Australia citizens and community leaders, the audience clapped, cheered, and chanted "Black Lives they matter here" as movement leaders Patrisse Cullors, Rodney Diverlus, and Dawn Modkins accepted the award.

"It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains," Cullors, a co-founder of the group said after receiving the award on a live stream. With her fist raised in the air and the crowd repeating after her.

The group was awarded the prize “for building a powerful movement for racial equality, courageously reigniting a global conversation around state violence and racism,” the Sydney Peace Foundation, a body within the University of Sydney, said in a statement.

This is the first time the foundation has given the award to an organization. In the past, the prize has been bestowed on individuals such as South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The social media hashtag with which it shares its name began after neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted in the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2013. It gained traction when a police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, in Ferguson, Missouri the following year, sparking nationwide protests.

The group has been at the forefront of U.S. activism against police brutality, mass incarceration, and racial inequality. The movement is being hailed by Australian activists as a progressive step and is also shining a spotlight on Australia’s own struggles with race relations.

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Opal Tometi, co-founder of the group and executive director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration said the global recognition is significant because "it helps us highlight on the international level the gross injustice that plagues the United States."

"It allows us the opportunity to uplift the struggles of our Black siblings around the globe," she told NBC News in an email. “So many have been fighting the legacy of colonialism and they’ve been waiting for the revival of a mass Black liberation movement in the U.S. to join in. Honestly, the work is necessary and far too many lives have been cut short due to injustice and impunity. Black people in the US have no choice but to fight for racial equity in every sphere of our lives."

Tometi said she has learned from friends who live in Australia that issues of incarceration and violence are pervasive in Aboriginal communities.

“Sadly these realities also reflect the lives of Black immigrants and refugees who live in Australia," she said. She added that she supports organizations like RISE, that help refugees and asylum seekers get accustomed to new life in Australia.

Tometi wants to learn from other movements and create more opportunities for international solidarity and justice for black people worldwide.

"No matter the context, no matter one's nationality or citizenship status we must continue to affirm that all Black lives matter. And we must continue to work to ensure each one is protected and affirmed.”

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