Florida A&M University has seen many important figures walk its campus. From Will Packer to Althea Gibson, the names of these impactful people still ring in the ears of the students who attend the university. Now, there is a new name making the students of FAMU talk: Marie Rattigan.
Rattigan is no stranger to activism. As a child, she heard stories from her mother who was beaten by police officers and her father who was racially profiled by officers after he traveled to the U.S. to represent Jamaica as a tennis player. She has also had her own terrible encounter with police where she was arrested and held in the back of a cop car for a long period of time. The police even lied to her mother, saying she was being held in a juvenile detention center even though there is no such thing in the Miramar police station. Although the charges were dropped and her record was expunged, the effect of the encounter stuck with her.
Rattigan recalled this experience when her then 13-year-old self knew she wanted to be a community organizer who brings awareness to these kinds of issues.
“A few years later Trayvon Martin died which was a catalyst to me being an organizer,” Rattigan said. “Trayvon Martin could have been my brother and that’s why I stand so firm and so vocal about issues that are happening because I have seven brothers.”
These violent encounters with police have gotten global publicity in recent years. Cases like the death of George Floyd and Brenna Taylor, and the wrongful arrest of the Central Park 5 have made people start the conversation of how to hold police officers who abuse their power accountable.
In a study done by the USA TODAY Network, a reported 85,000 law enforcement officers have been investigated for misconduct over the past decade. They also found that less than 10% of officers get investigated, however 2,500 officers have been investigated on 10 or more charges.
It is because of numbers like these that Rattigan became more invested in community outreach and organizing. She completed internships with state Senator Perry Thurston and Congressman Al Lawson. She was able to learn about policies and legislation, and she then had an understanding of how much those things have an effect on the issue of police brutality and the overall mistreatment of Black people in America.
Now as a 2018 graduate of FAMU with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, she is working with an organization called Dream Defenders whose purpose is organizing the youth to build power in our communities. She is the lead organizer and her job is to build political power and reimagine what safety looks like for Black and Brown people in Tallahassee.
Daija O’Harrow is a FAMU student and the membership leader for Dream Defenders on campus. She met Rattigan last year, and she believes Rattigan is a natural born leader and an influential figure in the community.
“She has always been so passionate and head strong about her work,” O’Harrow said. “Her personality is what drives the organization to make a revolutionary change.”
With the Black Lives Matter protests becoming more frequent, Rattigan’s job has gotten significantly busier as Dream Defenders continues to speak out in Tallahassee.
“You have to know with organizing comes constant outreach and being able to adapt to different things that are going on,” Rattigan said. “COVID-19 was something no one expected so you just have to find other strategies to get your message across.”
Black Lives Matter is a movement started for the purpose of raising awareness of the racism Black people in America face today. Whether it is through health care, education, or the criminal justice system, America has proven that Black people are still seen as less than others. This movement seeks to not only get people to recognize that, but also find a way to change it.
The New York Times reported that in the month following George Floyd’s death in late May, about 15 million to 26 million people participated in protests in the United States. In such a short amount of time, the BLM proved to be one of the largest movements in U.S. history. For Rattigan, attending these protests produced feelings of not only amazement, but sadness as well. She marched in Washington, D.C. with the families of countless victims of police brutality, and witnessed a mother holding up a picture of her son’s autopsy photo in order to get people to see the harsh reality of what police officers in this country have done.
Even though the protests force you to see the bitter truth of what police brutality really looks like, Rattigan believes the protests are an effective avenue for change. She believes the end game should be divesting from the police and reinvesting into the communities, as well as improving education, health care, and housing for Black and Brown communities. The goal for Rattigan is to build power with people in the community and reimagine a world without police, prisons, and poverty, just to name a few.
Rattigan has done a lot in a short amount of time. With all the work she has done and people she has had the chance to connect with, she is most proud of her ability to inspire other young people to join the movement for change.
“I’m just trying to inspire until I aspire,” Rattigan said. “I probably won’t see the change right now or when God takes the last breath in me but inspiring someone to speak up for change after me is what I’m most proud of.”
Rattigan’s plans are to continue on the path she is on now. She believes being an activist and speaking out about the issues that plague Black communities is her calling, and she cannot imagine doing anything else. She also plans to continue working on her clothing line she just launched called BLK POWER INC, which she created to not only be a fashion piece, but a lifestyle for Black people. Rattigan hopes people can continue to find strength from her story and that she can continue to be someone her ancestors would be proud of.