Heralded as a feminist freedom-fighter in the U.S. and now a global icon, Ayọ (Formerly Known As, Opal) Tometi is one of the most influential human rights leaders of our time. As one of the three women co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, her name is etched in American history. For years, the award-winning advocate, strategist and writer has used her voice to ensure that race, immigration, and gender justice remain at the forefront of global conversations.
Ayọ’s story of heart, passion, and justice starts in her childhood. The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Ayọ experienced first hand the challenges that her tight knit Black immigrant community faced while growing up in Arizona. She witnessed the heartbreaking human rights crisis at the US-Mexico border and as a result became an outspoken community organizer. Young Ayọ launched initiatives to tackle homelessness in Phoenix. In school she led student advocacy and council groups, showcased her Blackness on a competitive step team, and argued passionately on a debate team. As she got older, and as her eyes were opened to the realities of the human condition, Ayọ’s voice grew stronger and louder.
Before BLM, Ayọ spent eight years as Executive Director at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), an organization that helps black immigrant communities mobilize and advocate for social and economic justice. Assuming her role as the first woman director at age 27, Ayọ worked on the reunification of families in the wake of the Haitian earthquake in 2010, and boldly challenged unjust deportations. She went on to speak on behalf of immigrants to the United Nations, at congressional briefings, at the Atlantic Ideas Summit, Harvard and Yale Universities, on the TED stage, and over 100 more stages around the globe.
In the wake of the devastating acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, Ayọ initiated the Black Lives Matter online infrastructure in 2013, ensuring that millions of people could participate in a movement for inclusive democracy. Now, 7 years later, with the momentum BLM has gained in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, with a COVID-19 Pandemic, and as people all over the world reconcile their social consciousness with the reality of our present suffering, Ayọ has set her movement sights on an even bigger struggle: unifying the global Black community.
This is why she saw the need for a platform like Diaspora Rising. The digital digest focuses on pertinent issues of blackness around the world. Ahead of the first edition, Ayọ launched an inspiring video, shot in Ghana by filmmaker Wael Gzoly, that solidified her new call-to-action. She stands confidently in front of Ghanaian monuments and landmarks reminding us that our ancestors also fought these freedom battles, and won.
Ayọ is a trusted advisor and board member to many organizations and initiatives and often travels internationally to support human rights initiatives. And while her career has been impressive, so too are her accolades, including being named one of TIME 100’s Most influential Women of The Century. She is currently featured in the Smithsonian’s National Museum for African History and Culture (NMAAHC) for her contributions. Along with her fellow BLM Co-founders, Ayọ was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize, and an Honorary PhD. Over the years she has graced the cover of several magazines, and has been named to “Most Influential People” lists by Forbes, Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan magazines. Her most recent award was the 2020 Freedom of the Flame Award from civil rights icons, awarded during the 55th anniversary of the Selma Bridge Crossing.
Ayọ represents a level of courage and leadership that most of us only read about in Black history books. Faith and family are her pillars of strength through the heartache of witnessing and fighting for justice, but she also draws from her African heritage, her identity as a Nigerian woman, and a wealth of education and experience in the field of human rights. Ayọ holds a Masters of Arts degree in Communication Studies and uses her skills as a social entrepreneur in the private and public sector to advance social justice.
When she’s not traveling the world or strategizing for social justice you can catch her dancing, riding a bike or adding to her African art collection. And while she’s accomplished a lot to date, the truth is, Ayọ has only just begun.