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People Empowered: Thandiwe

“My main focus would be for Black youth, especially in schools. I was criminalised a lot as a student in high school and I just don’t want other Black youth to feel that way. On a larger scale, I care about Black people and so whether I’m speaking out against police violence, incarceration, what’s happening at the border, and also how a lot of Asian immigrants are not being advocated for right now, these are the things I focus on.” “I come from a very long history of activists: my mum’s grandfather was part of the resistance against Hitler; my grandfather travels with activism all over the world; my grandma helped feed breakfasts with the Black Panthers and was a union organiser, and my mum is a union organiser and Black Lives Matter Los Angeles co-founder. Not doing something was never an option for me because that’s who we are! I think it’s really special and I’m really proud of that.” “The Black Lives Matter Schools Campaign was really a collaborative effort between the Youth Vanguard, Students Not Suspects Coalition and Students Deserve. The one thing I really appreciated the most was that there were no adults trying to speak over us or minimise our requests. They just asked: “What do you think a good school would look like?”; “What do you want from your teachers?”; “What resources need to be going to which place?”. And so, that was when we got our demands written out and eventually started working with folks even in Canada who had successfully done this. It was a really great campaign and it got adopted by the National Education Association - so it must have been good! I was shocked because it was not something that we had really planned to make national; we didn’t think we had the power to go that far. To see that happening and to have the National Education Association adopt our work felt really validating and really affirmed our power as young people.” “I don’t want to sound like a pessimist and I don’t want to sound like I’m not appreciative of what came out of that moment, but it’s been really interesting to see how organising activism has evolved since that time. There are so many names that I know, just from working in Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles, and thousands more across the nation. To go through this moment where especially corporations, brands and TV Networks attached themselves to one specific name, in order to kind of draw attention away from a larger, structural system, it felt horrible to watch our families essentially not get what they should be getting. They were supposed to come out of this moment feeling seen and feeling as if now the country was aware of this systemic problem. This is the system that killed not just George Floyd but many other loved ones as well, and they should have been feeling like they were supported. Instead, lots of people took this as a way to draw attention away from these larger systems and structures to just this one isolated incident, which it’s not, it’s not an isolated incident. It’s been frustrating, but then again I think it has also made people more open to learning about these structures. I feel good and bad but the work is clearly not over.” “I feel most empowered after hearing from my elders. It was most beautiful this past summer, with all the protests happening, to see the elders out. We have a lot of people who were once organising with the Black Panthers and people, like my grandma, whose proudest moment was when she got to work with Martin Luther King! These are our giants that we have around us and… I feel honoured every time one of my elders tells me that they’re proud of me because I know that I’m carrying on what they started and what they were carrying on from their elders. It really makes me feel like I’m doing something right. Our eldest member - his name is Mr Kay - is a 90-year-old Vietnamese man who always comes to our actions and he’s always like, “You know, I’ve been doing this since the 40s! I’ve walked with Cesar Chauvez, I was in the Million Man March and now I’m here with you.” To hear that is just - wow! He’s living history and now he’s here with us, and that means we’re doing something right.”

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