Oakland, CA — Over the past few weeks, thousands of activists — carrying homemade signs and wearing masks — have taken to the streets for Black Lives Matter protests against racial injustice and the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Behind these protests are young organizers with the skill to pull off massive events in just days. And many of those organizers are teens. The young activists are grabbing their bullhorns and leading thousands into chants of "I can't breathe" and "No justice, no peace." These high school and college students have organized marches in multiple states including Indiana, California, Georgia and Maryland.
To gather thousands of protesters in such a short period of time, young organizers promoted the rallies on their social media platforms. Many created infographics or digital fliers that went viral within their networks.
YR Media spoke with four young organizers across the country about their protests, their new initiatives and Gen Z’s role in the future of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Rachael Adeoti, 18, Potomac, Maryland
Rachael Adeoti helped organize a march through Bethesda, Md., a predominantly-white D.C. suburb, with over 1,000 participants. After the rally, she and other organizers created Advocates for Black Youth, a website dedicated to educating people about BLM and creating a safe space for Black students online.
“Our event was more of a rally [rather than a protest]. Because the white community in Bethesda is very disconnected from what the Black experience is like. And there is a lot of ignorance. We wanted to get the few Black kids that are in the area to speak up about their experiences — so people really get more of a sense of what's going on, to kind of infiltrate the Bethesda bubble.
“A lot of the reason that people came out was because George Floyd was a real eye-opener to them. Obviously, for someone like me, this is my reality. It wasn't surprising. But for a lot of people, they're like, ‘Wow, this is actually happening.’
“A lot of people think racism is just someone saying the N-word or a Black person getting killed. But it's a lot of the little things that add up to paint the big picture. Change needs to come from within.”
Tiana Day, 17, San Ramon, California
It took just 18 hours for Tiana Day to organize a Black Lives Matter march that attracted thousands and ultimately stopped traffic on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. In the days after the event, she started the non-profit Youth Advocates for Change dedicated to amplifying the voices of young activists.
“It was just such a beautiful event. I didn't know how big the event was until it reached social media the day after. It didn't hit me until I saw that huge aerial picture of the bridge with all the people that this was something bigger. This was something way greater. This was something that was huge. And this was something that was going to change my life.
“Most teenagers, they think they're just ordinary. And I've always had this feeling in me just stirring up that I wanted to make a difference. But I never knew how to start...
“I just want to show other people that, like, no matter where you come from, there can always be a rainbow at the end of this storm. You can go through so much, and you can see so many issues. But at the end of the day, it's up to you to decide what you do with that.”
Tyshara Loynes, 21, Indianapolis, Indiana
Alongside fellow co-founders of Black Women in Charge, Tyshara Loynes organized a sit-in at the Indiana State House in Indianapolis that attracted over 10,000 people.
“Being a college student, being a black woman, oftentimes throughout this movement, black women aren't heard. Black women aren't seen. Black women aren’t advocated for. That's something that I personally am very much tired of. Black women deserve the same type of respect and the same type of justice and the same type of fair treatment as anyone else.
“When we're thinking about these big movements, we hear about Trayvon Martin, and we hear about Alton Sterling and Philando Castille. We don't hear about the Na'Kia Crawfords. We don't hear about the Breonna Taylors. We don't hear about the Sandra Blands. We don't even hear about the women organizers who have been so powerful and strong and are pushing forward and keeping momentum. So that is something that we decided to take into our own hands.”
Jayden Hasberry, 18, Johns Creek, Georgia
After starting We Are America, an activist group that promotes unity, with two other friends, Jayden Hasberry helped organize a march in his Atlanta suburb with over 600 people in attendance.
“We’re going to be running the world one day, you know. There's gonna be a time where we're going to be parents, and we're going to be grandparents, and we're going to be presidents and people in the government building.
“We have to start educating ourselves now because it cannot get to the point where other generations are still fighting for the same things that we are. Just like how I'm still fighting for the same things that my grandfather and my great grandfather were fighting for. It doesn’t make any sense. [But] I’m so excited about change.”