A new manifestation of the civil rights movement has been taking the world by storm. Alicia Garza, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter and Rashad Robinson of ColorofChange have fed the fire for youth to take up the battle for black civil rights. Prominent Chicago activists Damon Williams (director of the Let Us Breathe Collective) and Jeremy Johnson (a poet and coach active in the Chicago Movement for Black Lives) are direct examples of this passing of the torch.
The Black Lives Movement is powerful and pivotal, bolstered by a network of young leaders, savvy use of technology, and a focus on system-wide change. Rather than the typical dynamic of leadership being in the hands of individual white men, the leaders in this movement are a vast and diverse group, welcoming women, various ethnicities, and various sexual identifications. These people want to change the notion of what it means to lead by including voices that have long gone unheard and unrecognized. Johnson believes that racist systems such as our current criminal justice system ensure that the youth movement around police crimes will only grow, rather than die down as many expect.
As a student at Chicago’s Columbia College, Johnson was repeatedly stopped by police while skateboarding. Yet, when he was accosted by police on his own front porch as he attempted to enter his home, he knew it was time for him to get involved. Though he participated in social justice demonstrations prior to this incident, he lauds Black Lives Matter for showing him that one person can truly makes a difference in the fight for justice.
Both Johnson and Williams believe that social media has helped to keep this movement in a state of sustained urgency. Technology has changed the way that news is delivered, making it possible for instances of police brutality and racism to be posted on the internet moments after they’ve occurred. This makes it more difficult for city officials to turn a blind eye to crime because the violent actions are seen by a large audience in an indisputably public domain. More importantly, social media allowed the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter to garner international attention, particularly in response to Trayvon Martin’s murder and the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Subsequent protests, particularly those involving confrontations between police and protestors – keep the enormity of these acts in the light and impossible to ignore.
According to Johnson, the movement and social mobility of youth is only just beginning the visible and vocal advocating for civil rights. It is imperative for young people like Johnson to keep fighting this fight, because its outcome will have an effect on the entire world. Racism and racist acts aren’t merely a problem for the victims, but for everyone. The good work of the Movement for Black Lives is a valuable start, but there is still so much work to be done.