On the power of young people to demand justice and drive change

If it weren’t for the actions of a 17-year-old Black girl, Darnella Frazier, a high school student at the time, the world still might not know what happened to George Floyd. Think about the fact that a child, on her way to the store, would turn back around after seeing the police accosting George Floyd and make the decision to document what she was witnessing for the world. For her to hold that camera steady all that time, as she’s watching the life be choked out of a man, is incredible to think about. As I watched the video, tears just started to stream down my face because I knew that I had witnessed a lynching.

Some people have been awakened and have expressed a desire for change. But I haven’t seen that desire be transformed into a willingness to get uncomfortable. Most people want some form of justice without having to do anything. Without having it impact their own lives. So of course you’re going to get a superficial version of justice if people aren’t willing to put some skin in the game.

When we have young folks who are relentless in the pursuit of justice and know and demand their rights and challenge adults to get uncomfortable—that is how we will move to a better world.”

Our movement in the Twin Cities is intergenerational. You have teens out there on the front lines, but you also have people who are middle aged and elderly on any given day. Which is how the village should be. It’s how school should be too, in terms of the village coming around our young people and making sure that they’re supported, cared for, and have a strong sense of purpose and direction.

One of the things that gives me hope is the power and energy of our young people. They know they have the power to affect change, and they don’t have to accept the crumbs that society tries to give them. They don’t have to accept injustice. And they’re willing to put their bodies, their lives, on the line.

We saw that on April 11 after Daunte Wright was killed by the Brooklyn Center Police. Our young folks, they didn’t just sit at home. They knew it could have been them. For some, Daunte Wright was their friend. So they showed up.

When we got there, there were police in riot gear. They had turned out the lights of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, putting young folks in danger, using flash bang grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets. But in the midst of all of that—being attacked by the state for standing against injustice—those young people continued to stand. That gives me hope: knowing they didn’t give up, knowing they didn’t run, knowing they weren’t intimidated. Knowing all they really had was their voices and their desire for change and for justice. When we have young folks who are relentless in the pursuit of justice, and know and demand their rights and challenge adults to get uncomfortable—that is how we will move to a better world.