Youth activists urge peers to be bold

As he took the podium during the Roy Wilkins Youth Leadership Luncheon at the NAACP’s 110th national convention, civil rights activist Shaun King reminded his audience of young leaders and grassroots organizers, “You are the future, but you are the right now.”

King, co-founder of the Real Justice PAC, moderated a panel comprised of what he called some of the nation’s best young leaders who are tackling issues such as police brutality, mass incarceration and voter suppression. The panel featured Michigan state representative Jewell Jones (D-Mich.) and activists Jessica Pierce and Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez.

The panelists told the audience, which was largely comprised of members of the NAACP Youth and College Division, to read more books on social and political activism, create their own pathways to leadership, and to take time for self-care while working on pertinent issues impacting African Americans and Latinos.

The Los Angeles-based Pierce, who calls herself a “resistance rebel turned movement sustainer,” said young people have to fearlessly shake up the system and move into the work from the top echelons of power.

“We have to create something different. We have to be willing to do something bold,” Pierce said. “I don’t want no allies. I want co-conspirators. I want accomplices.”

Pierce reminded the audience that President Trump didn’t win the popular vote, but it will take work to vote him out of office. She reminded the young candidates and voters that the “same old tricks and schemes” will be used to keep people from voting and to keep them from the polls. People have to adopt a no-holds-barred attitude about organizing to help desired candidates win, she said.

“What do we have to do right now? We have to do everything and anything we can to get this work done,” she said. “If you don’t want to do the work, figure out your lane and stay in your lane.”

Instead of writing meaningful diatribes and essays on social media, said Pierce “get off Facebook and go have real conversations... in person.”

The real reason conservative politicians are working so hard to create laws and policies that seem to be against people of color, Ramirez said, is that they are afraid of the nation becoming brown, mostly African American and Latinx.

It is critical, Ramirez said, to tirelessly fight back. She is leading efforts in her native Texas with innovative organizers who are creatively working to engage young people. One way they’re doing that is attending some of the state’s annual quinceañeras, the Mexican coming-of-age celebration for girls turning 15 years old, with a goal to register 300,000 voters.

“There is nothing we can’t organize against,” said King, who relaunched Frederick Douglass’ nineteenth century newspaper The North Star earlier this year.

King added many young people have contacted him on Twitter and other social media platforms to ask what they should do about police brutality and violence in their cities. He said he is reminding them to take care of themselves first.

“We have to respond to injustice,” he said. “But everything can’t be about that. Some of your stuff has to be about personal health, mental health and personal care.”

Diamond Moorehead, 20, of Rochester, N.Y., said she’s a huge King fan. She also found Pierce’s message particularly encouraging.

“She brought up really great points about not conforming to the system and [trying] to create our own,” Moorehead said. “My grandparents and the older generation’s only options were to fit into seats that already were there, but we don’t have to conform. We can branch out and create our own seats.”

Detroiter Lisa Collins said she was inspired to boost her political thinking.

“A lot of panelists were young people, and I’m a little bit out of touch with some of their thinking,” said Collins, a 53-year-old Ferris State University student. “I’m enlightened because they are more politically active and aware. Maybe they were forced to be that way because of the current administration. But what’s important to them is important to me.”

Kimberly Hayes Taylor is a Detroit-based freelance writer.

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