Every year, Black History Month commemorates the past contributions of African American change-makers in the realms of art, entertainment, history, science, and politics, among others. But the next pages of history are starting to be written, and it’s members of the next generation whom kids will be reading about in the years to come. While it’s important to honor those who came before, young Black activists in 2020 are paving their own path to make their mark on the world.
In addition to celebrating Black history, February is a month to acknowledge the trailblazers who continue to work against the oppressive systems that still exist today. Young Black activists are fighting to become leaders on the issues that matter to them by revolutionizing their communities and pushing for a more equitable society. That’s why Elite Daily talked to five leaders acting on issues including voter registration, educational equity, and gun violence about what they’re doing and how these issues uniquely impact the Black community.
The systemic racism and racial inequalities in society play a huge role in driving these young Black activists to take action through activism. They may be young, but these unapologetic change-makers are stepping into new realms of organizing, grassroots advocacy, and storytelling. Here’s what they had to say.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Daud Mumin, 18
Daud is a voter registration activist and an Eighteen x 18 delegate (an initiative started by actress Yara Shahidi to mobilize young people to vote) from Salt Lake City, Utah.
The disparities around voter registration and poll accessibility in marginalized communities — especially communities of color — drove me to take action. I’m working with Eighteen x 18 to tackle some of the disparities Black voters and other voters of color face that prevent them from casting their ballot. Systemic forces of oppression, such as voter disenfranchisement, are prevalent in many low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Several states close polling places after normal business hours, and these polling places are often far from local neighborhoods. [A 2016 report titled Democracy Diverted: Polling Place Closures and the Right to Vote by The Leadership Conference Education Fund found that seven counties in Georgia have only one polling site to serve hundreds of square miles.] This, unfortunately, happens in many communities where polling places are inaccessible to those without a car or other mode of transportation.
Even where I live, there are problems accessing polling locations. To foster voting in my own community, I used a $1,000 grant to bus members of the Rose Park community in Salt Lake City, Utah, to a polling location about 20 minutes away. Most of these community members wouldn’t have been able to vote otherwise.
I’m also building conversations around voting in populations that are least likely to vote, like immigrant communities. I’m the son of two Somali immigrants who are now American citizens. My mother, who was never politically active in her effort to simply “survive” in America, realized the importance of civic engagement as I mobilized community members to vote. Through voter education and registration, I’m empowering immigrant voters to make their voices heard in the democratic country they now call home. Let’s work together to build a powerful class of voters.
You can register to vote here.
Chanice Lee, 17
Chanice is a women’s rights activist; former teen adviser with GirlUp, a campaign of the U.N. Foundation dedicated to advancing gender equality globally; and author of the best-selling book Young Revolutionary: A Teen’s Guide to Activism. She is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
As a young Black woman, I make it known that my Blackness and womanhood are inseparable. Intersectional feminism means recognizing there are women all over the world who don’t have a choice to put their womanhood before any other identity. It’s recognizing how race, gender, and class all intersect and make the experiences of women all over the world very different. In my eyes, an integral part of an intersectional feminist movement is to have women acknowledge the amount of privilege they have based on their identities, and pass the mic to females of different backgrounds, such as women of color and women in the LGBTQ community.
My activism journey started in 2017, when I became a Girl Up teen adviser to bring my vision of empowering women of color to life. During my tenure, I fundraised close to $1,000 to provide bicycles for teen girls in Malawi so that they wouldn’t have to walk long distances to school. I felt empowered using my privilege to uplift the Malawi schoolgirls who didn’t have access to transportation — a simple thing many people take for granted. My activism has evolved into multiple initiatives, but my time with Girl Up taught me that change in my community can always start with me.
Audre Lorde once said, “There’s no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” If it’s a form of oppression, I’m working to destroy and dismantle it. If it’s harming the most marginalized people and communities, then I’m educating myself on how to eliminate that harm. Amplifying Black voices and keeping communities of color at the center of the movement is a major driving force in my activism.
You can learn more about Girl Up here.
Joshua Dantzler, 20
Joshua is an educational equity activist and a social media coordinator for Student Voice, a nonprofit organization that empowers students to take action on issues that impact them. He is from Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Growing up in South Carolina, I have seen how African American students haven’t been given the same advantages in America as other students. It’s even apparent in our educational spaces and places. One thing that is truly noticeable in my state is school funding. School districts don’t consider large wealth disparities or students from rural communities who might be the neediest. Things like not having free lunch, or soliciting IOUs from students who can’t afford food, affect students’ overall ability to thrive. This disproportionately impacts students of color, perpetuating a lack of care toward students of a particular racial background. This repeated systemic inequity will further marginalize youth.
I got involved with Student Voice while working to mobilize young folks in advocacy initiatives for the 2016 election. A major goal that drives my involvement is the importance of students not just having a seat at the table but rather a seat that is valued and a voice that is listened to. I advocate for students, especially students of color, by equipping them with resources, programming, and skills to support them as partners in education decision-making. I am inspired by these students every day — especially resilient African American students — to optimize student potential and magnify their voices for change.
You can learn more about Student Voice here.
Kaylah Brathwaite, 18
Kaylah Brathwaite is a climate activist and the director of operations for This Is Zero Hour, a youth-run climate advocacy group. She is from Charlotte, North Carolina.
I grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands, specifically on the island of Saint Croix, before I moved to Charlotte about five years ago. My family was one of the thousands of families displaced by the climate crisis. Oil refineries have been the biggest contributors to the economy of my community but have also devastated the environment. This capitalist system of oppression disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income communities, as they are on the frontline of this crisis. While marginalized communities are most affected by climate change, they are often forced to rely on paychecks from industries that threaten their living.
As an organizer with This Is Zero Hour, I’m using creative storytelling — including articles and social media campaigns — to spotlight the impact of the climate emergency on frontline societies. It’s time the climate movement becomes an intersectional one, and that those who experience the worst of climate change have their voices heard.
People ask me all the time, “What can I do to take action on the climate?” I would say in your effort to spread awareness and advocate for climate policies, acknowledge your privilege. Advocate for a just transition that ensures workers who are disproportionately impacted by the crisis don’t lose their sources of income after a switch is made to clean energy. By advocating for equitable solutions, voices of color are uplifted — especially in Black communities.
You can learn more about This Is Zero Hour here.
Destini Philpot, 19
Destini is a gun violence prevention activist who testified before Congress on Sept. 18, 2019 to advocate for better gun policies. They are also a co-founder of Good Kids Mad City Baltimore and leader of a Students Demand Action (a student-led gun violence prevention advocacy group) chapter in Baltimore, Maryland.
I am a survivor. I have lost more friends to gun violence in my 19 years of life than most people will in their entire lifetime. This issue is important to me because my existence is at stake. I love my city and I love the people of my city, but for generations, Baltimore has been plagued with gun violence. [In 2019, Baltimore had 309 reported shooting homicides, and more than half the victims were people of color.] In urban communities, Black and brown people face this gun violence daily — so often, in fact, that they have no choice but to become numb to it. This is one of the biggest challenges of gun violence that I have seen: the way it destroys people’s hope and emotions.
As a leader of Good Kids Mad City Baltimore and Students Demand Action Baltimore, I use my voice to acknowledge the urban gun violence that goes on in my community and strategize solutions on how to solve it. Baltimore kids aren’t bad street kids. It all stems from systemic oppression and institutionalized racism.
With all the [gun violence prevention] organizations that I work in, I do it because my fellow youth of color and I don’t have the luxury of remaining silent. I am inspired by the strength of my people, who have been fighting this battle even before I was born. I am inspired by my city. But more than anything else, I am inspired by the friends that I have lost, to ensure I don’t lose another.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story stated an incorrect age for Daud Mumin. It has since been updated.