As a mentor of Black student activists and leaders, what advice do you have for young people protesting in the streets right now?
It’s important to be involved.
Often young people look to elders to tell them how things are supposed to be or why things are that way. It’s okay to question. It’s okay to push on structural things that have been there for a long time. It’s important to protest! It’s important to do it safely.
It’s also important to know why you’re protesting. There are many people who know why they’re protesting and some who don’t. It’s important to learn more about the issues. There’s now a very wide and diverse group of people who are protesting and aren’t really familiar with organizing movements.
There are actually people who have been working in the community for a very long time on different issues and are the ones who have been mobilizing and demonstrating how you do a protest. So you don’t want their message to be diminished by doing things that are against what Black voices want to happen.
The other thing is that when the protesting ends, the work still continues!
The protesting is basically pushing on a message. You’re disrupting the way society is experiencing their community and people don’t like that. Protesting is important because it actually forces people to stop, pay attention, and do something because they don’t want that disruption. But it has to be connected to the way you can make larger change instead of just appeasing the moment—things like changing the color of band-aids and taking Aunt Jemima off the bottle. Like, that’s nice! Thank you, but that’s not actually what we were asking for! That should never have been an argument and should have already been done. That’s why it’s so important that the protests do continue, but at some point have to be connected to an organization and what they’re trying to do.
The last thing I always tell my students—because they rarely want to work with another organization that has a different method or strategy—is that it’s important to work in unity even if you don’t all agree 100%. That unified voice can end up impacting things on a larger scale. So I always tell my students involved in organizations to find out what another is doing and if they can amplify and learn from each other.
Tracy is focused and relentless in the pursuit of justice for her family and uses a number of tactics to reach her goal. A lot of people are frustrated with themselves because they can’t be “on the front lines” of protests.
What are other ways, besides protesting, that people help their communities?
I definitely don’t think protesting is the only way to do it! It’s all about legislation and policy. That’s really the goal of the protesting. We want long-term change. You can do something locally or nationally. Black Lives Matter is a hashtag, a movement, and an organization. Those are all three separate things that can be tied together, but as an organization they have changes they are calling for. If those resonate with people, check to see how you can support them, whether that’s money, signing a petition, or calling your local representatives.
There are also other organizations who have been heavily involved in this work like the National Action Network, the NAACP—they have their “We Are Done Dying” campaign, and there are criminal reform organizations like the Marshall Project.
Another easy way is supporting bailout funds.
Protestors are being arrested and some states have harsh sentencing, especially for Black and brown people. Once you have something on your record—I talk about this in my book—it puts you in even more danger in the future. Something as simple as being pulled over can bring up your arrest record and you can be brought in on other charges. There are lots of different ways to help.
Protesting is important, but it’s not everything.