Where Does ‘Say Their Names’ (#SayTheirNames) Come From?

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Amidst this current climate of injustice and calls for action, you’ve likely come across the phrase ‘Say Their Names.’ Whether you saw #SayTheirNames on social media or within the heart of a protest, what exactly does this phrase mean, and where does it come from?

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In a world full of so much political unrest and change, it’s important to stay educated about these terms as the surface. If you want to be a part of the movement and conversation, these phrases are the backbone for action. 

Though they might sound simple, words themselves have power. How we speak about injustice and social change affects the world around us. In this guide, we’ll explore the phrase ‘Say Their Names’ to uncover why it’s become the center of so much attention. 

What Does ‘Say Their Names’ Mean? 

‘Say their name’ doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s closely tied to ‘say his name’ and ‘say her name,’ and these phrases all have similar meanings in the fight for power. The campaign around ‘Say Their Names’ comes from the African American Policy Forum, which raises awareness about police brutality. 

This is more than just a hashtag. Like rest in power, this is a way to honor the lives and legacies of those who lost their lives at the hand of police violence or brutality. This helps ensure the stories of these victims are integrated into the demands for change and justice. 

While ‘Say Their Names’ could be used for anyone who faces injustice from the police, it’s specifically created for members of the Black community. Black people are disproportionately affected by police violence, and too many have lost their lives too soon. 

By encouraging people all over the world to say and use the names of the deceased, their stories live on. Oftentimes in the fight for justice, the focus is on the cause and the progress made. ‘Say their name’ encourages people to remember all of those who died on this journey for change. These names sparked a movement, and they deserve to be honored and remembered. 

ยป MORE: They might be gone, but they'll never be forgotten. Explore the next steps with this post-loss checklist.

 

How Did ‘Say Their Names’ Come to Be?

Led by the African American Policy Forum, ‘Say Their Names’ stemmed from the ‘say her name’ movement. This movement launched in December of 2014, along with support from the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies (CISPS) as a way to support the stories of Black women and girls who faced police violence. 

Though Black stories of police violence and brutality are too often excluded from the media, this is especially true for Black women and girls. Their names are rarely spoken. The African American Policy Forum feels this is not enough to honor their legacies and their deaths. 

The first in-person vigil in memory of Black women and girls was held in May of 2015 in New York City. People joined from across the country to draw attention to these important stories. Families spoke, activists offered support, and people joined from all walks of life. 

Since 2014, this movement has only become essential to today’s fight for social justice and equality. ‘Say her name’ combined with ‘Say Their Names’ reminds the general public, activists, and victim families to keep the names of these individuals alive. It’s a cry of outrage and a call for action. Instead of simply fighting for justice, we must collectively fight for justice in honor of the victims taken too soon. 

Where Can You Find ‘Say Their Names’ or #SayTheirNames?

While #SayTheirNames started on social media, it’s become much more today. A hashtag is a great way to generate more awareness, but this isn’t the end of the road. Here are other places you can find ‘Say Their Names’ or #SayTheirNames in action. 

Social media

Of course, the first place you’ll see this call for action is on social media. Social platforms like Twitter and Instagram are largely organized by hashtags. The social justice hashtags #SayTheirNames, #SayHerName, and #SayHisName is a way to tell the stories of those who lost their lives at the hands of injustice. 

These hashtags can be found on their own, but they’re usually with other important calls for change. They might include a graphic, photos of the victims, or information for how to support the cause. It’s important for these posts to gain attention and spread awareness. Though small, these are the actions that bring whole movements together. 

Protests

Recently, there has been a focus on using the ‘Say Their Names’ movement in protests. These protests are against police brutality and violence, particularly in the Black community. Protestors carry signs urging others to say the names of the victims. Some signs read more like a roster list, including all of the victim’s names as a form of respect for their lost lives. 

In these protests, call and response styles are also used to raise the voices of the activists. One person shouts ‘Say Their Names!’ and the crowd returns with the names of the victims. This is a powerful way to keep these names alive, honoring those who departed from this world too soon. 

Vigils

Vigils are a way for family, friends, and local communities to come together to express their grief and sorrow after a loss. In the case of police violence, these vigils are an important form of activism in themselves, particularly in the ‘Say Their Name’ movement. 

Across the world, it’s common to light a candle for someone who passed. This allows time for quiet reflection, and it’s a symbol of their light staying strong in the world. For the ‘Say Their Names’ movement, it’s a chance to bring the movement closer together and honor individual memories. 

Art

There are numerous art installations that feature the ‘Say Their Names’ campaign. You’ll spot these throughout your community, often in unexpected places. They’re common in street art, often writing the names of the victims along bridges, streets, and walls. 

Some have even taken to using this message in more traditional art pieces as well. For example, the Social Justice Sewing Academy highlights some of the ways quilting has been used to share the ‘Say Their Names’ movement. This is one of the many creative ways to honor someone and their legacy. 

When to Use #SayTheirName

It’s not always clear when it’s appropriate to evoke the ‘Say Their Name’ movement and campaign. All are welcome to join in this fight for equality and justice. It’s important for people from all backgrounds and walks of life to honor the memories of those who lost their lives to police violence. 

You should use #SayTheirName if you’re speaking or posting about a Black victim of police violence or brutality. It’s also valuable when used as part of the greater movement to spread awareness about systematic racism.

As with most things, consider the greater message within the conversation. These are powerful terms that should only be used when paired with words and phrases in honor of victims. By giving a voice to those who faced injustice, we lift up their memories and create real impact from their legacies. 

No More Silence: ‘Say Their Name’ Campaign

It’s time to break the silence around police violence and systematic racism. The ‘Say Their Name’ movement is a chance to raise awareness about the realities of these issues while honoring the memories of these victims. It’s not always easy to find a voice on such a huge challenge, but this ensures these victims are always remembered in the fight for change. 

Now that you understand the meaning and origin behind ‘Say Their Name,’ you’re ready to join the movement. This is about more than just remembrance, though that’s the foundation of the movement. It’s about fighting for a greater tomorrow to finally get justice for the lives lost along the way. 


Sources

  1. “#SayHerName Campaign.” The African American Policy Forum. AAPF.org
  2. Trail, Sara. “Say Their Names.” Social Justice Sewing Academy. 2017. SJSacademy.com.

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