© 2019 by Meddling Kids Movement 

Racial Equality

"We know life isn't equal for everyone." - Naomi Wadler 

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NABILA HERSI

@nabila.114

MKM team member, Shayna Rutman, spoke with Nabila Hersi, a 17-year-old racial justice activist from Portland, OR. They talked about Black Lives Matter  Portland, police officers, and intersectional legislation. 

 

Shayna: I would like to get to know more about your work with student activism in regards to racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement. What got you so engaged? 

 

Nabila: I've always been privileged to speak my mind ever since I was a young kid back in elementary school. I started to realize that I was different from most of the kids in my class, race and religious-wise, and I didn't always feel included in the different discussions. It wasn't until middle school that I became more politically involved by voicing my opinions on different issues that are present at school and my community. I then started getting involved with the Black Lives Matter Portland chapter which allowed me to be affiliated with different organizations and meet a lot of amazing people. I am currently the Co-President of the Black Student Union at my school and am highly involved with the ACLU to become a stronger advocate. When it comes to Black Lives Matter, it was seeing the news of young unarmed black men targeted and getting killed in the streets by police officers whom we are to trust. The rise of bigotry, hatred and white supremacy made me want to take a stand against the institutionalized racism that exists all around us. I knew I would be racially profiled, but it was time to speak up for my community and the people whom I love and make me the person that I am today. 

 

Shayna: How did you implement change when taking a stand on racial justice?

 

Nabila: I started to raise more awareness by creating a PSA on derogatory terms that are used against Black/African-American people. I help people acknowledge what the dos and don’ts are when it comes to cultural appropriation. I have also been working with BLM Portland on how to strengthen our black community when faced with white-supremacists. Currently, I am working on diversifying the GVP movement within Oregon to ensure equality is present in the movement and legislators. I think it’s so important to raise awareness on these issues and be an ally rather than a bystander. Always acknowledge your privilege. 

 

Shayna: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to recognizing racial equality?

 

Nabila: They need to act! Legislators need to address the real issues that are facing our communities and the country and create intersectional legislation that combats hated. We need to change society’s perception on black men and women and be willing to learn.

 

Shayna: Why do you think it’s important to unite with other young people when it comes to effecting change?

 

Nabila: We are the generation that will lead the future, it's so important for youth activists to get together when implementing change. Our voices and experiences matter.

 

Shayna: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

 

Nabila: I am currently working on a series that will highlight many diverse perspectives while also educating people about Black culture. I am hoping to work on creating more intersectional legislation that won’t hurt low-income and marginalized communities. 

 

Shayna: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Nabila: If you feel outraged or see something speak up and take a stand, your voice is so powerful, especially if you are a person of color. Don't give up if there isn't any concrete change- it will take a while, but the fight is worth it. Also, be kind to one another because you don't know what someone else might be going through.

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CATHARINE LI

@catharineli_

I spoke with Catharine Li, a 14-year-old racial justice activist from Austin, TX. Catharine is also MKM’s Director of Student Rights! We talked about a brighter future for the world, being Asian-American, and Triple A.

 

Isabel: Why do you believe that putting underrepresented communities at the forefront of youth activism is so important?

 

Catharine: Marginalized and underrepresented groups exist everywhere, and those who have already been pushed to the periphery of your community have no ability to voice their grievances, which have, for years, been unaddressed. We are at the forefront of all of the world’s pressing issues. To put it simply, we are revolutionary changemakers. We are relentless and independent individuals who believe in the power of our voice. We are people who don’t let age define the quality and importance of our work. We are people who embrace our cultural upbringing, background, sexuality, race, gender, and all other elements that make us the brave, passionate, goal-oriented, engaged, motivated, confident, and leaders of a growing movement and coalition of the most incredible young people out there. To envision a brighter future for the world, we must work towards it. We have a long way to go, but we have to recognize the work we’ve done so far. I am fortunate enough to have a position in Meddling Kids Movement, an organization filled with the most inspiring, passionate, and powerful individuals. As a young Asian-American, I have struggled, and continually struggle to understand and find my voice. By seeking out these incredibly courageous voices, those who are willing to share such meaningful and personal stories, it is my hope that we can continue to work towards fostering a more inclusive and educated community.

 

Isabel: How does being a young woman of color, especially in a southern state, affect your perspective on current political issues?

 

Catharine: As a young woman of color, finding my voice and role in a community that is so often rooted in intolerance is difficult. Navigating race and gender, and specifically access and equity in the political scene is deeply personal. I find that my passion about certain issues are driven by my values and therefore identity as a young Asian-American, and that is something I am learning to understand as powerful. 

 

Isabel: What would you like to see happen in your community or around the world to elevate the youth-led civil rights movement?

 

Catharine: I want to envision and see solidarity within all ethnic communities. In a time where it seems like people are tearing each other down over trivial things, there has never been a time more important than now, to band together, step up, and recognize that truly, we have the power to create change. Education serves as the foundation for change. Be intolerant of tolerance, and seek to inform. 

 

Isabel: Yep! What made you passionate about political/youth activism specifically regarding racial equality?

 

Catharine: In an effort to understand my own cultural identity, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the state of access and equity within my own community. These ideas transcended beyond just the local scene, and eventually, I began to see the intersections on a national, and eventually global scale. There are so many incredibly passionate and amazing youth out there, waiting to be heard, and possibly still struggling to understand and accept their own cultural backgrounds. Through activism, I hope to envision a future where all people can be unapologetically themselves. 

 

Isabel:  Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about or plans for the future?

 

Catharine: I am currently working with an organization called Triple A (@socialeduadvocates on Instagram) to create a virtual webinar summit for aspiring youth activists to learn and get an opportunity to familiarize themselves with this amazing community of people, talk and interact with change-makers from all around the world, and hopefully join in on this growing movement. 

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Catharine: Do not underestimate the value of your own community. Seek out the people who are rocking the status quo and specifically those who do not have voices. Be willing to talk to people, the perspectives and ideas others bring will greatly shape the way you see yourself, and your values. Have faith in your fight, in whatever you are battling. It is so difficult to see day to day change, but these conversations in your communities will eventually begin to shift, and you’ll know change comes. Finally, never compromise your mental health, you come first. You are young, passionate, and powerful. 

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DIAMOND KIFLE

@diamondkifle

I spoke with Diamond Kifle, a 16-year-old racial justice activist from Columbia, MD. We talked about Afro Puff Chronicles, history, and police officers.

 

Isabel: I want to discuss your racial equality activism. What motivates you to keep fighting for justice when it comes to young people or women of color?

 

Diamond: The lack of racial equality obviously stems from the racist roots of our country. The way these ideologies have been perpetuated through generations of families, laws, and practices is absolutely absurd. What motivates me to keep fighting is the fact that I can. I have the ability to make our country just a little more progressive. I have the ability to decrease the opportunity gap. I have the ability to lobby on behalf of those that can’t. When you were born and raised in a country that was never on your side, you have this burning passion to change that and that’s what I plan to do along with all the amazing people at MKM.

 

Isabel: Tell me about the blog you write for. What is it all about and how has writing impacted your perspective on activism?

 

Diamond: I write for the Afro Puff Chronicles (APF), an online blog geared towards women of color. It’s all about motivation, self esteem, empowerment, and knowing there are people out there that relate to you. Whether it’s lobbying, organizing a march, or simply making an instagram post, activism comes in a multitude of forms. Writing and helping recruit people for the APF has shown me that activism is so much more than just politics, it’s about bringing people together in the face of a common struggle. The readers and writers for APF all come from very different walks of life, but find similarities in the blog and connect through that. I’m so grateful to be contributing. 

 

Isabel: You are a member of the MKM education team which is really cool. Why do you believe education is so important when it comes to racial equality?

 

Diamond: Like many social justice issues, racial equality can only be understood if you know the history. The parallels between slavery and mass incarceration or our current immigration conflict and the exclusion acts of the late 1800s are all so pertinent to racial activism, especially youth activism since it’s so difficult to be taken seriously as a minor.

 

Isabel: What would you like to see happen on a local or national level to support the youth-led civil rights movement of today?

 

Diamond: On the local level I would definitely love to see changes in the police force. A good beginning is always changing the way they are trained. The concept of shooting to kill has always baffled me. In addition, officers should be held accountable for their actions rather than be held at such a high pedestal. Waking up to hear that another completely innocent Black man has been shot for doing nothing but being Black takes a toll on all people of color. The fear it instills in you as you question if your brother is next, or if your cousin is next. As if this pain wasn’t already enough, knowing that the officer in most cases isn’t convicted and returns to his life, just shows how twisted our justice system is.

 

Isabel: Yep. Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about or plans for the future?

 

Diamond: Within the MKM Education Team, we are currently working on releasing videos on a multitude of topics including the prison industrial complex, the war on drugs, and gun violence. 

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Diamond: Organize! Organize! Organize! It’s the most important thing to do, especially as youth activists. There truly is power in numbers and creating a group with a plethora of perspectives gives your movement even more strength and allows it to reach a larger audience. 

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KAWIKA SMITH

@kawika_smith

Our Western Regional Director, Shayna Rutman, spoke with Kawika Smith, a 17-year-old racial justice activist from Los Angeles, CA. They talked about community-based organizations, the white savior complex, and hair discrimination.

 

Shayna: What specifically got you involved in youth and student activism?

 

Kawika: My work in youth activism extends prior to my high school experience, but my high school years have drawn me to be more in-depth with my activism. I had initiated the change of discriminatory policies at my private school. I also increased my work with community-based organizations like Community Coalition where I assisted to decriminalize public schools when students were racially profiled and searched by police. I had experienced homelessness, domestic violence, rape, amongst other things and as a youth of color, I had a problem with adequate and equitable resources which were limited in colored youth areas. I made it my duty to show up in spaces and demand equity and justice. 

 

Shayna: I would like to get to know more about your work with student activism in regards to racial justice. What got you so engaged? Can you identify a specific catalyst?

 

Kawika: As mentioned earlier, being young, gifted, and black isn't easy; especially since the further I go into academia, the more white the spaces become. When I am trying to exist I have to be in a constant survival mode. So, I chose to take a stand against my school who fell victim to the long history of forcing people of color to adhere to capitalistic and eurocentric standards of beauty and professionalism. While I was tackling my school's discriminatory policy that prohibited black students from having Afro's over an inch, I was also calling upon others (especially youth) to stand up and use their voice to demand action and strategize to implement effective policies.

 

Shayna: What has it been like speaking in different environments to raise awareness for racial justice? 

 

Kawika: It has been a mixture of positive and negative. At times the spaces that I am in prove to be beneficial, whereas others prove to be otherwise. I find it concerning that those who are from different socio-economic status and those that are white, don't realize their privilege. I have interrupted spaces where the task was to create and reimagine equality, but it served more as a perpetuation of the white savior complex. I had to uplift those excluded voices and demand a restructuring of how movements should go about and hold them accountable to allocate more resources to community-based organizations that are led by the people who are directly impacted.

 

Shayna: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better when it comes to racial justice?

 

Kawika: Understand that policies must be equitable and cognizant of the fact that fighting for equality is doing the bare minimum and those days are long gone. They must begin to work on undoing the criminalization of folks who are historically negatively impacted because of their race and place the community members affected at the center. Also, to redirect resources into the community to heal and better the community rather than not hear the community and create ineffective policies that put the issue before those who are affected.

 

Shayna: Why do you think it’s important to unite with other young people when it comes to effecting change, specifically with racial justice?

 

Kawika: At the end of the day, we are all that we have. We are the ones who will have to uphold or do away with the policies that are being drafted. If we want to see a world where racial justice is addressed, we must ensure today's world to become the catapult for tomorrow's progress and not tomorrow's problems. In doing so, youth from all walks of life must find the common ground from which their unified voice comes from, and reshape our communities. All youth are impacted so all should unite, whether they're a rich kid in the suburbs or a kid with little resources struggling to survive.

 

Shayna: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

 

Kawika: I am focused on banning hair discrimination in workplaces and schools as well as educational justice: Student Equity Needs Index (SENI) 2.0 with the Equity Justice Alliance for LA's Kids. This coalition of organizations, alongside community residents are ensuring the proper and full implementation of funding to high needs schools to ensure resources are going to those that need the most.

 

Shayna: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Kawika: Ensure that self-care remains your priority. Remain steadfast and do not give up when you hear no. Be prepared to offer solutions/alternatives. Also, network and reach out for mentorship. Lastly, know that you are supported and loved, even when you are the only one standing up to speak truth to power. 

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MICHAEL FILMORE

@BLCKBOYSFLY

Our Western Regional Director, Shayna Rutman, spoke with Michael Filmore, a 17-year-old racial justice activist from Denver, CO. They talked about growing up in poverty, inner-city gun violence, and the Denver Public Health Gun Violence Report.

 

Shayna: What specifically got you involved in youth and student activism?

 

Michael: I’m from the trenches, I grew up most of my life in poverty. I was poor and in the streets most of my life. When I was a kid, my mother worked a 9 to 5 job, I never had a father, and my brother spent most of his time in prison so I spent my days in the streets. Most of the other Black and brown kids in the neighborhood and I suffered from the harsh realities of our environment. We became products of our toxic environment, learning from the criminals and drug dealers on the corners. We were viewed as criminals; nobody- from the police to the white next-door neighbors- cared about us; we were just typical Black and brown kids that were eventually going to become another statistic. We felt that nobody ever understood us since we grew up in a disconnected world. By the time I was 10, I saw my first dead body. I picked up my first gun at an even younger age. My activism came from the voices that were never listened to. The voice of somebody that has experienced the harsh reality of being a Black kid in America. My activism kicked off after growing up homeless in Denver. Watching my mother not being able to eat to me not eating taught me sacrifice and how to stand up for others. I started doing a lot of my activism work at school. I became a voice and leadership executive in Denver public schools. I lost somebody I considered my brother to gun violence. He was shot and killed on September 7th, 2018, which motivated me to gun violence prevention. I want to change an entire system for Khobi Eiland because he and my nieces and nephews mean so much to me.

 

Shayna: What has it been like meeting with different committees to raise awareness for racial justice? 

 

Michael: Most of my work is centered around gun violence and I’ve noticed that most of the conversation about gun violence ignores urban and inner-city gun violence. I attend conversations and meetings where the topic has to be forced on the table, which has been frustrating because black people are dying every single day. Its draining having to force the focus of discussion even when a lot of these people consider themselves gun violence prevention activists, but aren’t advocating for the wide spectrum of gun violence.

 

Shayna: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better when it comes to racial justice and gun violence prevention?

 

Michael: There’s a lot they need to do, but we need to put the right people in the right positions. We also need to look at gun violence holistically because it's not just school shootings or mass shootings. It shouldn’t have to take an epidemic of white schools to get shot up for us to talk about gun violence. We need to look after the communities that are suffering every day as well because many children aren’t even making it to school because of shootings. Those survivors and those who have been directly exposed to gun violence need to be heard. We need to create an understanding between the system and community that is disconnected through systemic racism.

 

Shayna: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

 

Michael: Denver Public Health Gun Violence Report! Check it out on Denver Post. Also, I will be attending the Presidential Forum on October 2nd. If you would like to know more about the projects and organizations I’m apart of, feel free to contact me. You can follow me on twitter @BLCKBOYSFLY.

 

Shayna: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Michael: Your voice matters. It’s important to embrace your self-worth and your story. You’re capable of anything and you have the ability to change the world.

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KATHERINE  OSPINA

@alishashaikk

I spoke with Katherine Ospina, a 17-year-old racial equality activist from Houston, TX. We chatted about our generation, classroom conversations, and an internship.

 

Isabel: How has your activism for racial equality shaped how you look at current political issues?

 

Katherine: I’ve realized how intersectional these issues are with each other. Through doing this work, I have seen how issues that you wouldn’t think would affect Black or brown communities do. It’s made me more aware of the world around me and showed me the importance of elected officials. 

 

Isabel: Why do you think that young people in particular should be on the frontlines fighting against racial injustice?

 

Katherine: We are looked at as the generation that doesn’t care about anything. These problems affect us and our friends so we don’t have to wait to start solving them. We can do it now. 

 

Isabel: Totally. What do you think our lawmakers could do to better support youth-led civil rights movements?

 

Katherine: I wish there was more media coverage of young people fighting for change in their communities. I think politicians could see that and ask us for our advice instead of brushing us off. If our lawmakers did that, young people would be more motivated to vote and make change happen.

 

Isabel: Great segway. What is something you would like to see change in your community regarding equality and justice?

 

Katherine: I think my community is very complacent. Even like having these conversations in the classrooms and our teachers discussing issues that are occuring 10 minutes away from us, would be so important. That would help students realize the impact they have and the changes they can make. If we could ingrain these conversations into our society and not make them taboo, that could lead a lot of people to community organizing.

 

Isabel: Are there any activism projects that you are currently working on or plans for the future that you would like to talk about?

 

Katherine: I founded this internship called Impact where we have 10 kids find something in their community that they don’t like and we make a comprehensive plan to change it or get really close to changing it. They learn about activism, working with elected officials, and how organizing works. 

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Katherine: Just do it. I started activism by literally just being mad at racial injustice and reaching out to different organizations asking how I could help. If you go out and try to find opportunities, you will see they are so much closer than you think. Just because you don’t have a college degree doesn’t mean you don’t have a brain and the ability to work. 

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ALISHA SHAIK

@alishashaikk

I had a great conversation with Alisha Shaik, an 18 year-old racial equality activist from Livermore, CA. We talked about Muslim youth, the Bay Area, and Brownish.

 

Isabel: When did racial equality activism become something that was important for you to pursue?

 

Alisha: I am Indian and I am Muslim, so growing up with that identity kind of put me in the work in the first place. Growing up as a person of color, you begin to think that certain things are normal and when you learn that they are not normal, that’s when you start to evaluate. As I was growing up, I just remember thinking that the things happening to me were not right and they were not things I should be going through.

 

Isabel: What do you think that our society is getting wrong or could do better when it comes to how we treat Muslim youth in this country?

 

Alisha: After 9/11 there was a lot of discrimination against Muslims and it is still happening today. With Muslim youth specifically, when we apply to jobs or schools, the discrimination can really affect us. For example, my dad was trying to get a bunch of jobs and he couldn’t get them. He decided to experiment and changed his name from Ali to Alex when applying. He found out that by just changing his first name, he got a better response. It’s unfortunate that Muslim youth are discouraged from a lot of opportunities because they are seen as “the scary one” or “that Muslim girl you shouldn’t talk to.”

 

Isabel: For sure. How would you like to see your community improve regarding equality and justice for youth of color?

 

Alisha: I live in California which is known to be very progressive, but there is a lot of discrimination that people don’t know about. I also live in Silicon Valley and the disparities between the wealthy socioeconomically privileged people and the people without that privilege are very prevalent. What we see in the Bay Area is that often the people who don’t have that privilege are people of color. We really need to empower POC through community funding, so they can have that strong future ahead of them.

 

Isabel: I know you also work with Women’s March YouthEmpower, one of our partners. What are your hopes for that group and why do you think it’s so empowering as a young woman of color?

 

Alisha: I see that group as a really powerful force and a platform that brings people together. As a woman of color, it gives me so many resources that I never thought I would have in the first place. They have given me a voice. Every time I have an idea or something that I really want to do, I know that I can go to them. It’s an amazing group.

 

Isabel: Are there any activism projects or plans for the future that you would like to talk about?

 

Alisha: I’m actually working on a podcast right now called Brownish that will really focus on racial equity and equality. We will be discussing the issues that people don’t really talk about, but that shape the everyday lives of communities of color. I just want to give a voice to the many youth of color that will be helping with this.

 

Isabel: That is really cool! What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Alisha: Just start. I started by talking to my family about my experiences as a first generation American. If you start speaking, there will be people to listen. If you keep sharing your story, it will resonate with others. If you stay quiet, you are letting systems of oppression stay established. You can’t break them without sharing your story.

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DULANDA SAINTCYR

@dulanda

I spoke with Dulanda Saintcyr, a 17 year-old racial equality activist from Stafford, VA. We talked about being Haitian-American, the Stafford NAACP Youth Council, and white activists.

 

Isabel: How does being a young woman of color and a Haitian-American shape your perspective within political conversations?

 

Dulanda: I have never been so aware of my identity as a woman of color/Haitian-American until this point in my life. The work I do is fueled by my identity. I am an activist because I believe my life depends on it. I first knew I wanted to make change after Trayvon Martin's death. His tragedy touched me in an indescribable way. When I began to see more Black lives taken every time I turned on the news, things became personal. Now when I engage in political conversations, especially on topics affecting the Black community, I try to include my perspective.

 

Isabel: You do some work with the Stafford NAACP Youth Council. What has that experience meant to you and why do you believe the work is so important?

 

Dulanda: Being President of Stafford NAACP Youth Council for the past two years has allowed me to have access to opportunities that I do not take for granted. The fight to achieve racial justice is grueling, but the effort is worth it. Progress cannot be achieved without resilience, dedication, and motivation. I appreciate all the organization has done for me, and I am proud to be a Freedom Fighter until the day I die.

 

Isabel: Very cool. Tell me a little bit about your work with the Mobilizing Youth Project. What is that group all about and what are your responsibilities within it?

 

Dulanda: Mobilizing Youth Project is a youth-of-color founded organization in the Stafford-Fredericksburg area dedicated to encouraging more youth involvement in the activism sphere. We present opportunities for our members, such as canvassing, phone banking, and letter writing to representatives. We also allow them to introduce projects to the general membership body that they are passionate about. Within MYP, I am one of the co-founders as well as the Communications Director. I believe MYP is an inclusive, inviting space for those wanting a platform to amplify their voice.

 

Isabel: What are your hopes for the future of racial equality and youth activism in the United States and around the world?

 

Dulanda: I hope to live in a world where I will not have to live my life in fear because of the color of my skin. Where I will not have to question whether a space is intended for "people like me". For youth activism, I hope to see more people who look like me infiltrating these spaces, and receiving the praise white activists regularly enjoy.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you would like to talk about or plans for the future?

 

Dulanda: A current "project" that I am working on relating to my activism is viewing my voice as significant. I am an introvert by nature and often find myself being silent on issues that I actually have strong feelings toward. I no longer want to feel like what I bring to the table carries no weight. I deserve to be heard just as much as any other activist. Overcoming this will definitely take time, but is something I am willing to work on.

 

Isabel: That’s awesome. What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Dulanda: I grew up hearing people tell me I would not be able to amount to anything and hat I can not do the things I say I want to do. I am glad I did not let the negativity get to me. There is no better feeling than the one you get when you reflect on how much you have grown as a person, and become filled with gratitude that you decided to take initiative. Do not let the naysayers steer you from your ambitions. Invest in your abilities.

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EMAN GABRI

@emangabri.x

I spoke with Eman Gabri, a 15 year-old racial equality activist from Owatonna, MN. We talked about derogatory terms, the Black community coming together, and equality.

 

Isabel: How did you get involved with racial equality activism and what has the experience been like so far?

 

Eman: I got involved when I started speaking up for people of color to have equal and accessible health access. I got called a “wannabe activist” mainly from people who didn’t want to see equality happen, but it was nice seeing how many other people cared about this issue.

 

Isabel: As a young woman who fights for the Black Lives Matter movement, what have you learned about yourself and your community?

 

Eman: I have learned that I should embrace my culture and my uniqueness. I have also learned that a lot of people feel the same way I do. Black people get derogatory terms used against us all the time and we know it is not fair. When we come together as a community to solve these problems, we can get the best results.

 

Isabel: How do you feel that we could better empower young women of color in our society to tell their stories?

 

Eman: I think one way would be to show them that they are not alone. There are people who face these things on a daily basis and we as kids need to stick up for what’s right.

 

Isabel: That is a great segway. What is your message to other youth activists as color who may not be getting enough recognition for their work?

 

Eman: It’s just about remembering that we are all equal and no one is less human because of their skin color. We all came from one place. Just equality, you know?

 

Isabel: Totally. Are there any current activism projects or plans for the future you would like to talk about?

 

Eman: There was an incident that happened at Owatonna High School recently where people were using derogatory terms about other students. A club at my school that I am a part of, Diversity and Inclusion Group, is trying to make the issue a lot more known, so we can face that problem.

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Eman: Keep doing what you’re doing because you’re being heard. Also, don’t give up. That’s really cliche, but it’s the truth.

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MAYA DUMMETT

@mndummett

I talked to Maya Dummett, a 15 year-old racial equality activist from Morristown, NJ. We spoke about the 2016 election, mental health in the Black community, and Hamilton.

 

Isabel: What was your initial introduction to racial equality activism and how has your activism evolved over time?

 

Maya: My introduction to racial equality activism was through the 2016 presidential election and I was in sixth grade. We covered the candidates during social studies class which led me to watch the debates and follow the coverage on my own time. I started hearing commentators talk about the connection between race and politics, then I had a realization that I am still trying to understand today. I can’t even pinpoint it exactly. I just remember listening to the coverage and feeling like less. That’s when I knew I needed to get involved. My ideas have evolved so much since then. I now understand that racism is more than someone dressed in KKK garbs. Racism is something that goes beyond black and white too. It’s deeply ingrained into our culture and it’s systematic, I didn’t realize that before.

 

Isabel: As a young woman of color, how are you impacted by the current political climate on a daily basis?

 

Maya: It’s hard. I’ve noticed a lot of people using the current political climate and the behavior of the president to excuse their ignorance and openly display hate. As I mentioned before, I was in sixth grade during the 2016 election. My understanding of racism was extremely surface-level. I had no idea just how deep it ran. Now I know and I am growing up in a political climate where politicians of various statuses are trying to excuse blackface, encourage stereotypes, etc. It’s like everything I know is being pushed aside and maybe I never knew anything to begin with. I grew up hearing stories of racism being well and alive in America but now those stories are slowly gaining life. It’s difficult.

 

Isabel: Yeah. You also work with some mental health initiatives which is really interesting. How does the justice that you fight for intersect with mental health awareness?

 

Maya: Like other communities, there is a taboo associated with mental health in the Black community. In my personal experience, mental illness is often degraded to having an attitude, being ungrateful, being stuck-up, etc. Basically, everything other than what it truly is. It’s like that beyond the Black community as well. When I heard that Silencing the Stigma was launching, I felt really compelled to join because of my personal experiences. In general, there needs to be more of a discussion about mental health. We all struggle and it’s worth talking about.

 

Isabel: You are not only an activist, but also a very talented writer. What made you want to use your platform like that and what has been your most meaningful writing experience?

 

Maya: Writing has always come pretty easily to me. I also have the tendency to speak very quickly and that can make communication difficult. Especially when I get passionate about politics and I start rambling about statistics. I found that with writing, I can fully articulate my ideas and I feel like that makes me a better activist. My most meaningful writing experience would have to be when I wrote a messy narrative and total word vomit. It was a letter to my teacher detailing my experiences as a young Black woman in America and while it was totally unplanned, it was really powerful and I am proud.

 

Isabel: That’s really cool! Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out or plans for the future?

 

Maya: I’m working on quite a bit! One’s a secret for now but it involves production, social justice, and lots of amazing youth. I launched a collaborative blog called “Amplifying Our Voices,” which is dedicated to understanding the diversity of POC. I’m also apart of Silencing the Stigma where I’m focused on the research and politics regarding the stigmatization of mental health. And lastly, I am putting out weekly pieces in “Lune Magazine” and “Defiant Magazine”.

 

Isabel: What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Maya: Just get out there. I know it seems so daunting because everyone seems to know everything and have it totally together, but I’m here to tell you that I have no clue what I’m doing. I’m just doing it because it feels right and this is what I believe in. Fight the good fight. Change is coming, so be a part of it! Don’t let it pass you by. You have power, use it. History has its eyes on you. Yes, I quoted Hamilton. I’m that theatre kid.

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ZAYNAB ELKOLALY

@presidentzaynab

I spoke with Zaynab Elkolaly, a 17 year-old racial equality activist from Ann Arbor, MI. She’s also the Partnerships Coordinator for Meddling Kids Movement! We talked about racial injustice, old white men, and prioritizing women of color.

 

Isabel: You work within a lot of political issues, but I want to talk about your work with racial equality in particular. What motivates you to fight for other youth of color and why do you think it’s so important?

 

Zaynab: It is only logical that the people experiencing racial injustice should be the ones on the frontlines fighting it. I will not allow white people to use that as a way to satiate their guilt or prove to their friends that they are “woke” and speak over others. There is a difference between being an ally and being a distraction

 

Isabel: What do you think our lawmakers are getting wrong when it comes to racial justice in America and around the world?

 

Zaynab: It’s not even just lawmakers in general, but it is who the lawmakers are. Our lawmakers are old white men. Naturally if they are not socially aware, they will only look at the world through on old white lens. It only makes sense that the policies they create are outdated and discriminatory. We need to get more women specifically women of color in Congress to represent the issues that women of color face.

 

Isabel: Totally. I know you also work with a lot of non-profit organizations fighting for global equality and justice. Can you talk a little bit about those and how being a young person affects your perspective?

 

Zaynab: Well, I live in Ann Arbor which is a pretty white liberal town. I was seeing white people using activism only for their resumes which infuriated me and it wasn’t what I wanted. So, I was like “if you aren’t going to listen to me and prioritize the voices of women of color then I will start my own organization where we prioritize the voices of women of color.” It’s that simple. When I don’t see something that I would like to see, I do it myself.

 

Isabel: You are also the Partnerships Coordinator for Meddling Kids. Yay! Why do you think it’s important for young people to work together on creating change?

 

Zaynab: Creating change is already hard, but being a young person doing it just makes it more difficult. You need a support system because you can’t do it alone.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on or plans for the future?

 

Zaynab: Yes. I want to push the University of Michigan to commit to carbon neutrality. I am also broadening my organization, Cups of Love. We are trying to partner with Planned Parenthood to get menstrual cups for homeless women and do workshops about reproductive health for domestic abuse victims.

 

Isabel: What is your advice to other young people trying to speak out and change the world?

 

Zaynab: Do not be afraid. I have friends who ask me how I know so many people and have all these connections and I always tell them “you have infinite connections, but you just need to learn how to look for them.” All you have to do is ask.  

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BRIA SMITH

@briaasmithh

I had an amazing conversation with Bria Smith, an 18 year-old racial equality activist from Milwaukee, WI. We discussed community activism, the young women of Black Lives Matter, and never being “too young.”

 

Isabel: How do you fight for racial equality within your community and why do you believe that community activism can lead to national effects?

 

Bria: If you have a community that needs diversity, it is not just our job to promote that, but to understand the intersectionality of different cultures and agendas. Milwaukee is a melting pot, but it is very segregated. As Youth Council President, I am trying to create different agendas and committees for my board to strengthen community activism. If we live in a country where people recognize their power and use it to implement policy change in their community, that will plant a contagious seed of growth. I live in an area where I hear gunshots as I fall asleep and constantly see people getting arrested. Experiencing that could diminish my growth, but if I attend workshops, rallies, and protests within my community, that’s the atmosphere I’m going to partake in.

 

Isabel: Definitely. You are a part of the Black Lives Matter movement which has a lot of young women on the frontlines for it. Why do you think teenage girls are so powerful in this fight?

 

Bria: What is so beautiful about young women in activism is that we are the curation of the environment we are a part of. We are understanding and molding things into something much greater than ourselves. Young women in the BLM Movement are growing up understanding their worth and realizing that the color of their skin does not determine their capacity for success. I was 9 years old when the BLM Movement erupted and it made me think “my life matters.” No one had ever told me that Black lives matter and now I am an 18 year old woman who is still saying that.

 

Isabel: I have heard a lot of female politicians speak about gender equality while also ignoring marginalized people. What are white women and specifically white legislators getting wrong when it comes to racial equality?

 

Bria: If you are a white woman who talks about the inequities of women’s rights, you have to understand that you have different problems than a woman of color has. If you are advocating for women to take up space, but not addressing all types of women, then you are failing all of us.

 

Isabel: Totally. I saw that you went on the Road to Change tour with the March For Our Lives activists last summer. How do you think being a BLM activist affects your fight for gun safety?

 

Bria: I joined the tour and spoke about inner-city gun violence and how it affects youth of color on a daily basis because since this was such a revolutionary movement, I wanted to bring the perspective of my community. When you talk about gun violence, you have to realize that it is a spectrum and mass shootings represent about 2% of all gun violence in America. You also have inner-city gun violence and I wanted to diversify the movement to make it as inclusive as possible.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on or plans for the future?

 

Bria: On the Youth Council, we are creating a lot of different projects and trying to organize our ideas. I’m also working on my blog and an event to bring young girls of color into a safe space where we discuss our experiences with injustice.

 

Isabel: That is so important. I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for other young people who wanna speak out and change the world?

 

Bria: To any young person, I just want to say that age does not determine your credibility. People will come up to me and say “but you’re only 18” and I will just say “yes, but I was 13 when one of my friends was shot and 6 when I heard my first gunshot.” If I have experienced these things from a young age, then I am not too young to talk about them. I want other youth activists to understand that they are not too young to speak about anything. If they see an injustice, they have every single right to talk about it

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ISRA HIRSI

@israhirsi

I spoke with Isra Hirsi, a 15 year-old racial equality activist from Minneapolis, MN. We talked about young people of color, growing up in today’s landscape, and not making excuses.

 

Isabel: What does it mean for you to be a young woman of color growing up in today’s political atmosphere?

 

Isra: It means that I have to be stronger than I ever thought I would have to be. I am constantly proving myself and making sure that I am recognized as well as my identity. I know that the things I am doing now are going to make another young black muslim woman's life easier in the long run. Being a young woman of color in today's political landscape is being a mentor, a fighter, and a voice for the voiceless.

 

Isabel: In a lot of cases, whenever the major issues like gender equality or gun violence are discussed, people of color get excluded. How can we better elevate everybody’s voices and perspectives?

 

Isra: I think there are many ways to elevate people of color's voices when it comes to issues like gender equality, gun violence prevention, etc. For example, when a group notices that they are being either white washed or white dominated, those white folks should take a step back and reevaluate the work they are doing. Social media is  great way to get more people involved especially POC. These white dominated groups make excuses like they don't have the time or they can't find people of color that are interested, but this is just a simple lie. Once you reach out to people then you are making an effort and your activism becomes inclusive.

 

Isabel: As someone who will shape the future for generations to come, what would you like to see happen when it comes to racial equality in this country?

 

Isra: I would like to see so many things! I want to be able to feel comfortable in my skin and for my younger siblings to be proud of their culture. I want young people of color to be able to authentically be themselves. Also having more people of color representing communities of color and keeping that representative democracy going.

 

Isabel: What do you think lawmakers can learn from the activism and power of young people?

 

Isra: Lawmakers can learn a lot from young people. Especially with the urgency of some of these issues and what effects they can have on our generation. They can learn how to listen, understand, and then take a real stand for what they believe in.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on right now?

 

Isra: Currently I am apart of March For Our Lives Minnesota and we are just establishing our state board. I am also working toward a statewide climate bill with a group called MN Can’t Wait and that’s probably the biggest thing for me right now.

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Side note: This interview was done before the US Youth Climate Strikes were announced, but Isra is also helping spearhead that movement which will take place March 15th.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Isra: Don’t stand down, don’t ever give up, and know you are always worthy. Just because you are young doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to advocate for what you believe in. You are strong and you can do it!

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EMMA TANG

@intersectional.abc

I had a conversation with Emma Tang, a 17 year-old racial equality activist from Park City, UT. We talked about the Asian American race, online activism, and never compromising your morals.

 

Isabel: How does being an Asian-American young person shape your perspective on the current topic of race in the United States?

 

Emma: Asian Americans are probably the most overlooked race in the country. We aren’t dark enough to fit in with people’s idea of a person of color and we aren’t white enough to benefit from the privilege of being caucasian, so we’re stuck in this awkward middle gray area. That being said, as an East Asian, I experience racism but also have this privilege of being somewhat pale. I’m working to find a balance between the two.

 

Isabel: How do you feel like society can better support young people of color in our culture?

 

Emma: I think that ignorance is the biggest problem, and from it-stereotypes. Most people, in my opinion, don’t act racist on purpose, or they don’t realize the things they say are hurtful. It stems from a lack of knowledge. By educating the public and our non-Asian communities, we can cut down on people’s beliefs in these harmful stereotypes and move closer to equality.

 

Isabel: You have a really big online activism presence with your Instagram account. Why do you think it’s important to use social media as a tool for change?

 

Emma: Social media is something that almost everyone uses, especially teenagers. I think it’s the most effective and efficient way to educate since I can reach hundreds of thousands of people. I use posts that are relatable to try and bring people closer.

 

Isabel: Since starting your Instagram account, what has been the biggest thing you’ve learned about social media activism and what do you think adults should know about that particular outlet?

 

Emma: The most important thing I’ve learned is to pick your battles, most notably in the form of arguments. Arguing with every single person who disagrees with you is mentally exhausting. Adults usually use Facebook, where name calling and arguments are just as abundant. They should learn that online debates aren’t very effective and usually end in one or both parties growing upset and personally attacking the other.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out?

 

Emma: I’m currently asking for people who need support to send me a direct message about why they need it and a photo so I can post it on Instagram for them to receive some support.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Emma: My advice is to never compromise your morals for anyone, friends and family included. Don’t give in to outside pressure and don’t change yourself for others. My mom taught me this, and it’s something that I’ve used in several situations-both in real life and online. If you know something’s wrong, speak up about it!

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SAMUEL GETACHEW

@samuelgd

I talked to Samuel Getachew, a 16 year-old racial equality activist from Oakland, CA. We discussed kids being the future, immigration, and using art to achieve equality.

 

Isabel: I know that there are a lot of young people involved with the Black Lives Matter Movement. Why do you think it’s important for kids to speak out about injustices around them?

 

Samuel: I think it's particularly important for young people to be civically engaged and to speak out about injustices around them because we have to inherit this world, but there is this monolithic message constantly being blasted at us that it isn't our job to be concerned about it. That kind of passivity isn't an option, especially with the way the world is going right now, so we have a responsibility to act if we want a sustainable and equitable future for ourselves.

 

Isabel: As a young person, how do you feel like racial equality is intersectional with other issues like gun reform or immigration?

 

Samuel: When it comes to gun violence, I think we've known for a long time that the majority of the pain and damage caused by guns is not in school shootings or mass shootings in general; it's in black and brown communities that have dealt with these deaths without a spotlight or a news headline for a long, long time. The way we look at immigration has always been racialized as well - we use “immigrant” more as a slur for black and brown people from other countries than we do as a term for someone who migrates. We don't see white immigrants in the same way that we view immigration most of the time: through a lens of xenophobia and racism. We view white immigrants as potential Americans, while simultaneously viewing non-white immigrants as threats. I think that the intersectionality between these issues has always existed, but we as young people are especially unafraid of addressing it.

 

Isabel: Last year, you attended the Eighteen x 18 Summit. What did that experience teach you about youth activism and voter outreach?

 

Samuel: I learned a lot about the most effective ways to engage young people and how we  are often inaccessible through traditional forms of communication. I reevaluated a lot of what I thought about privilege and social justice as a general topic of discussion, and learned about what it takes to activate communities.

 

Isabel: I noticed that you write some amazing poetry as a form of activism. Do you believe that we can achieve equality or justice through art?

 

Samuel: I believe that art is an extremely effective form of activism. One of my favorite quotes is, "the role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible." I don't believe that any one form of activism can be the sole avenue to achieve equality, but I believe that art is as effective a form as any to help get us closer to that reality.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out?

 

Samuel: Not currently. I just finished a couple and am in the in-between stages of figuring out next steps.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Samuel: Find the one thing you're best at, and become as good as you can be at it. Then use that skill to further whatever cause you're most passionate about. For me, that skill happened to be poetry - for some, it's event organizing, or visual art, or teaching, or leading marches, or nonprofit work, or really anything. A strong work ethic and a little creativity can go a long way.