Young Black Activists are the Past, Present, and Future of the Fight for Civil Rights and Black Lives

June 18, 2020 | Texas

By Maggie Stern, Youth Civic Education and Engagement Coordinator, and Andrew Martinez, Youth Civic Education and Engagement Intern.


The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked a massive uprising from people across the world who unanimously recognized that Floyd’s death was a tragic and too familiar story. Just as familiar has been the leadership of young Black activists who have organized weeks of protests, marches, sit-ins, and city-wide takeovers, changing the global conversation about policing and systemic racism.

Young activists have led movements catalyzing societal change throughout history. Most schools in the U.S. contain a unit on the protests and riots that kickstarted the Revolutionary War. Some may cover youth organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that fought for civil rights in the 1960s. But have you heard of these events?

The right to protest is enshrined in the 1st Amendment as fundamentally American, and we cannot talk about activism and organizing without the legacy of Black people and other people of color who have long fought for change on the issues that affect them the most. CDF-Texas remains committed to the movement to end systemic racial injustice and we recognize and celebrate the work of Black youth who are on the front lines of organizing.

The Black Lives Matter movement is the largest social movement of this generation. Started by Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi following the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, the movement quickly grew to encompass the work of groups such as the Dream Defenders, Black Youth Project 100, and Assata’s Daughters – all led by young Black and brown activists. When Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, students joined the Black Lives Matter Freedom Ride to Missouri, calling on the tradition of the original Freedom Riders in the 1960s. Since then, the movement has changed both the conversation and policies around racism in the U.S.. Today, the collective Black Lives Matter movement is now seen favorably by a majority of Americans – a dramatic shift from 2015 that has moved even more rapidly in the past two weeks.

The list of accomplishments for young organizers grows by the day. In Washington, D.C., two college-aged women started Freedom Fighters DC as a small chat among friends. Jacqueline LaBayne and Kerrigan Williams have since staged sit-ins attended by over 3,000 people. Black youth in Lincoln, Nebraska created the Black Leaders Movement to coordinate protests and have met with city leaders to demand policy changes. Meanwhile, Black youth who co-founded Warriors in the Garden of NYC have used social media to organize events, register voters, and educate followers about their demands.

While Black youth are responding to this moment, they are also planning ways to continue serving past the current wave of protests and media attention. At a protest led by high schoolers in Berkeley, organizer Ultraviolet Schneider-Dwyer said: “This isn’t a movement yet. It’s a moment. But we’re going to make it a movement.” The group continues to live up to these words as they partner with Black-owned businesses and plan for a community mural at their school.

Young leaders are also running mutual aid groups that raise resources from community members and distribute it directly to those who need it. Mutual Aid Austin, run by marginalized students at UT-Austin, is just one example of a group that has been successfully raising tens of thousands of dollars weekly to redistribute back for COVID relief, bail funds, medical aid, and more.

We encourage you to find and support young Black activists doing this work in your community.

Young people in 2020 are organizing in the name of justice for oppressed people everywhere, and they will continue to do everything they can to demand justice for George Floyd. Riah Milton. Mike Ramos. Dominique Fells. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Trayvon Martin. All the victims of police brutality and systemic racism. In the tradition of Black activists such as Angela Davis – who herself began her work at a young age as a Girl Scout protesting segregation – young leaders are “no longer accepting the things [they] cannot change. [They are] changing the things [they] cannot accept.”

Young Black activists in their own words:

“We’re all just very passionate in our purpose and we were just walking in the steps that guide us with the freedom fighters that came before us.” – Kerrigan Williams, co-founder of Freedom Fighters DC,

“We know that in the ‘60s and ‘70s there were more sit-ins and boycotting and we’ve been coming up with ways to supersede that and get the attention of companies in a digital way.” – Derek Ingram, communications director for the Warriors in the Garden,

“Our overall goal is to disassemble systemic racism in the lower-income and African American communities…We’re protesting but we also have to nourish the community while we’re doing it.” – Olivia Johnson, co-founder of Warriors in the Garden,

“We are our own solution to our problems.” – KaDeja Sangoyele, co-organizer of the Black Leaders Movement,

“Today’s protestors are tomorrow’s leaders…I know that the fight for justice, for equality, the fight for change, it did not start with us, but I’m confident that it will end with us.” – Omar Reshid, co-organizer of protests in Maryland,