Long before Parkland students decided they’d “had enough” and descended on Washington, D.C. to “March For Our Lives,” young people of color flooded the streets, protesting an even more pervasive school violence problem — Jim Crow. The headlines back then, however, bore a marked difference to today’s media coverage:
Youth activism did not begin at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but the overwhelming support for youth activists did. And the current sympathy sits in sharp contrast to historic hostility toward the mobilization efforts of Black and Brown teens. Women and youth of color have spent decades protesting gun violence and fighting for gun reform. Native communities have organized resistance against state-sanctioned violence for centuries. More recently, in 2013, teen activists took over the state capitol to protest Florida’s “stand your ground” law that allowed Trayvon Martin’s killer to go free. That march, along with the protests in Ferguson, catalyzed the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Yet the positive media attention given to Parkland’s student activists differs vastly from the often negative response to BLM.
Activists of color get nowhere near the same level of support, resources, or recognition as the predominantly white student leaders of the #NeverAgain movement. We’re more likely to be criminalized than to receive celebrity donations. Our pleas to “stop killing us” are ignored or invite further police brutality. When we protest gun violence, the national media barely covers us. All too often, we are silenced preemptively; just days before the mass shooting in Parkland, school officials shut down Black student organizers as they attempted to speak out against a student-penned letter titled “All Lives Matter.”
There’s nothing covert or incidental about this double standard. It exists because it’s supposed to. In a white supremacist system that feeds off the subjugation of people of color, white lives will always matter more than Black ones.
Youth of color activism lacks Parkland-levels of support or visibility because being “safe” in our schools and communities is less about gun control and more about targeting institutional racism. Our safety does not mean increasing “zero tolerance” policies or armed police officers in schools. Those very policies put our youth in greater peril, as one of the main perpetrators of gun violence against Black, Brown, and Native bodies is the police. For us, gun reform and school safety is inextricably linked to racial justice and confronting state-sponsored violence against people of color.
Gun violence disproportionately impacts our communities and has claimed more Native and youth of color lives than white ones for years, long before the deaths of white children brought the issue into mainstream media’s (white) spotlight. Accordingly, the conversation and local movement-building behind gun reform must be intersectional and center youth of color. And yet, student protests following the Parkland shooting have made it glaringly obvious that race is being largely ignored in the debate over gun control. Meanwhile, Black, Brown, and Native children continue to face a Parkland crisis every day, more so at the hands of police brutality than accidental gun death or school shootings.
When will you march for us, too?
ACTIONS AND DONATIONS
“I wasn’t born a leader; I was agitated into choosing leadership by growing up on the South Side of Chicago. I didn’t wake up at 18 understanding what white supremacy, patriarchy, anti-blackness, and capitalism meant. Self-study, comrades, elders, and people I met in the streets taught me how to understand the world and gave me the room to imagine a radically different future.”
Black, Brown, and Native children have been gunned down for centuries while white America looked away. State-sanctioned violence is just another facet of the institutionalized oppression and disenfranchisement we experience daily. The current “March for our lives” movement, while giving a platform to some POC voices, was not created by or for us. For communities of color, the systemic, ever-present racism of state sanctioned violence batters us daily and limits our future options. We need restorative, community-driven solutions. And we need them now.
1. Learn from youth of color activists and build solidarity.
- Download Black Youth Project’s (BYP) Justice for Trayvon Toolkit, which addresses state sanctioned violence via a suggested reading list. Take additional action steps from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and explore BYP’s shareables and resources.
- Check out your nearest BYP local chapter and sign up to get involved in local organizing. Follow BYP on Twitter for live updates and to amplify Black millennial voices.
- Join Million Hoodies’ We Keep Us Safe Network, a rapid-response network for moments of crisis that aims to empower and re-imagine safety in our communities. Check out your nearest local chapter, sign up to get involved, become a member for trainings and mobilizations, contact them to amplify an action, and follow Million Hoodies on Facebook and Twitter for updates.
- Download and share the Dream Defenders’ curriculum toolkit for grades 6–11. The toolkit helps future activists and leaders grasp the structural impact on our communities and provides youth with a political analysis of historical social justice movements.
- Support youth of color activists by signing and sharing the petition Black & Brown Youth Demand Racial Justice in School Safety Debate
2. Help create safe communities that protect youth of color from state sanctioned violence. Use these resources as templates to model local actions.
- Justice Teams for Truth and Reinvestment toolkit from the Justice Teams Network.
- Agenda to Keep us Safe from BYP’s long-term campaign to end the criminalization of Black youth.
- This toolkit for organizers from Incite!: Law Enforcement Violence Against Women Of Color & Trans People Of Color: A Critical Intersection Of Gender Violence & State Violence.
- The First Responders Training Guide from The Anti Police Terror Project, an Oakland-based and Black-led coalition.
- Campaign Strategies from Safety Beyond Policing, a New York-based coalition.
- Marshall Project’s curated compilation of readings on Police Abolition.
3. Protect students of color from zero tolerance policies, racially disproportionate disciplinary actions, and increased police presence.
- Use this step-by-step guide to the Department of Education’s latest data on racial disparities and school disciplinary practices and policies.
- Demand divestment from school police officers and other “school-to-prison pipeline” practices listed in the #NoCopsNoGuns: Student Walkout Toolkit from the Advancement Project.
- Sign this Color of Change petition to keep guns out of the hands of teachers. Use the following link to send a tweet to state officials (Tell Your Governor: #NoCopsNoGuns).
- Follow these strategies to protect youth of color from the state-sanctioned violence policies in our schools: Read the full report on Law and Order in School and Society: How Discipline and Policing Policies Harm Students of Color, and What We Can Do About It here.
- Parents: use this checklist to determine the role of police in schools and to help advocate for your children and end zero tolerance policies.
4. Youth activists of color: Remember self-care is integral and fundamental to your activism.
- Check out “I Live For,” a multimedia project that seeks to de-stigmatize mental disorders in youth of color. With a variety of activities (films, events, and social media) they engage youth of color by providing a safe space for dialogue and support. Access their general mental health resources here.
- Read BYP’s “To Be Young, Black and Well: A Self-Care Syllabus for a Healthy 2016” (still relevant in 2018).
- Follow BYP’s 3 Tips For Dealing With Mental Health Issues Exacerbated By Anti-blackness On College Campuses.
- Bookmark our collection of resources for people of color to help foster mental health and practice restorative healing.
5. Financially Support Local, Youth-Led Organizations and Initiatives
“We came from all across the entire country to be here for this specific moment, because I want my people to feel empowered. And I want them to go back out into the field and to know, when they get back into the local organizing: That’s where it matters.” — Tiffany Dena Loftin
In the wake of BLM and Trayvon Martin’s killing, several campaigns and initiatives formed by youth organizers are leading the fight against anti-black racism, the criminalization of people of color, gun violence, and other forms of state sanctioned violence. Lives depend on your financial support of these organizations:
- Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) is a member-based organization of Black youth activists who work to end systems of anti-Blackness (such as the prison industrial complex) and advocate for our most vulnerable and marginalized communities, including women, girls, femmes, and LGBTQ folks. BYP100 facilitates youth leadership development, grassroots political action organizing, advocacy, and education. Donate and sponsor BYP100 projects here. Follow BYP100 on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
- Dream Defenders, based in Florida, organizes to actively dismantle systems of white supremacy, capitalist hegemony, and hetero-patriarchy. They have local chapters that address issues such as police violence against people of color and gun violence, including actively lobbying against the “Stand Your Ground” legislation in Florida. Support Dream Defenders with a one-time or sustaining donation. Follow Dream Defenders on Facebook and Twitter.
- Native Americans are killed by police at a higher rate than any other marginalized community, yet many deaths have gone unrecorded for centuries. Follow Native Lives Matter as they work to bring awareness and justice to victims of police brutality, as well as the hundreds of missing indigenous women in North America. Another organization, the International Indigenous Youth Council (IIYC), was formed by womxn and two-spirit peoples during Standing Rock in light of police brutality against Native youth during the Dakota Access Pipeline uprising. You can donate to their programs as well.
- FIERCE is an NYC-based organization led by LGBTQ youth of color. FIERCE fights police harassment and increases access to safe public spaces by facilitating grassroots youth-led campaigns, leadership development programs, and cultural expression through arts and media. Support FIERCE by making a direct donation, or learn about other ways to support the organization here. Follow FIERCE on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.