This essay originally appeared in ESSENCE’s special #BlackLivesMatter issue on January 5th, 2015.

After the acquittal of George Zimmerman in July 2013, my close friend Alicia Garza and I were on Facebook together and she wrote the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and I made it a hashtag. Not long after that, my colleague Opal Tometi realized the power of the hashtag and set up the entire social media infrastructure and presence for #BlackLivesMatter on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.

But the hashtag itself arose out of a place of grief and sorrow, and as a declaration for all Black lives, all Black people. We weren’t seeking sympathy or approval from White people. We were wanting us to look at each other as a whole community and say, “We Matter.” And it wasn’t only the killings. It was also the constant harassment and terror. It was the levels of unemployment and homelessness, and that of all the people on the planet, we are incarcerated at the highest rate. We said, there is a war on Black bodies and enough is enough! We are here to declare our humanity. Because although we were brought here only to work in service of others, and although we were never meant to survive, the fact is that we did. #BlackLivesMatter is about Black Pride and Black Power and standing up against a world that tries to annihilate us.