From the March on Washington to today, the young Black leaders fighting for change

From the Civil Rights movement to today’s movement for Black lives, young Black organizers and activists have been at the forefront of every fight for social change. On the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, the late John Lewis’ words echo in our minds, “I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.” The Black-led organizations in the Alliance for Youth Action network are answering that call. They are creating a world where all people are seen in their full humanity and treated as such. 

Here are some of those organizations at work.

Chicago Votes

Chicago Votes is a powerhouse of progressive policy. In 2019, they wrote and passed landmark legislation expanding access to the ballot box for incarcerated citizens. SB 2090, their Voting in Jails bill, ensures voters who are eligible to vote and incarcerated have access to vote. This made Cook County Jail the first jail in the country to become an official polling location. This past March, over 1,500 people being held pretrial detention voted, around 600 of which relied on same-day voter registration. 

Chicago Votes also wrote and passed HB 2541, their Civics in Prison bill. This legislation  allows non-partisan civic organizations to train incarcerated citizens to provide peer-taught civics education to re-entering citizens. Chicao Votes truly is blazing a trail for brand new, innovative policies that fill the gaps in our democracy and ensure that our voting system works for all.

Chicago Votes is a non-partisan, non-profit organization building a more inclusive democracy by putting power in the hands of young Chicagoans. They are engaging and developing a new generation of leaders by opening the doors of government and politics to young people from all corners of the city.

Detroit Action

Following the murder George Floyd, Detroit Action sought ways to uproot systemic racism and oppression in their own community while also finding ways to divest from policing. Detroit Action’s housing team, with coalition partners, introduced the Detroit Bill of Rights—one of the first changes to the city’s charter in eight years. The Detroit Bill of Rights includes eight core values: the right to water and sanitation, the right to environmental health, the right to safety, to right to live free from discrimination, the right to recreation, the right to access and mobility, the right to housing, and the right to “the fulfillment of basic needs” like food and utilities. As part of this initiative, Detroit Action is specifically calling for affordable housing, solutions on rental assistance, and more for their most vulnerable residents.

Detroit Action is a grassroots member-led, community-based organization fighting for political power, racial, and economic justice for working-class Detroiters.

Leaders Igniting Transformation

Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT), have been at the forefront of the fight to dismantle the School-to-Prison Pipeline in their community. Since 2018, LIT has fought to remove the presence of police, and their contracts, away from the Black and Brown students inside of Milwaukee Public Schools. In the past they’ve won victories around no new TSA style metal detectors, blocking policy that would have mandated police being involved for suspected criminal activity, and lowering the amount of School Officers in and around schools.

After years of organizing, they won their fight on June 18th when the Milwaukee Public School Board unanimously passed a resolution to end all contracts between the Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee Public Schools. Their organizing efforts culminated in a 700-person rally and over 1,000 testimonies that eventually put pressure on Milwaukee Public Schools to begin the pathway to building safe schools where the voices and experiences of young people are centered. 

Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) is a youth of color-led independent nonprofit. Founded in 2017, LIT engages in values-based issue and electoral organizing, direct action, advocacy for public policy, and leadership development. LIT organizes young people to build independent political power for social, racial and economic justice.

Minnesota Youth Collective

In the midst of the Uprising in the Twin Cities, Minnesota Youth Collective opted to open their office doors as a supply site. They accepted donations from generous community members and distributed them to those in need. From front-line protestors to those who had been displaced, Minnesota Youth Collective was able to support members of their community by serving as a resource hub. Young people showed up to donate, to sort donations, and to take donations to where they were needed. Organizers posted on social media and shared critical information for protesters and supporters of the Uprising. They mobilized and came together for each other and their community. Minnesota Youth Collective believes no one can be free until we are all free, and that abolition is the only way forward.

Minnesota Youth Collective empowers the next generation of leaders to take their rightful seat at the decision-making table, elect people who reflect their values and shape legislation to better the lives of Minnesotans.

Mississippi Votes

Due to voter suppression, antiquated voting laws, lack of voter education, and lack of investment in vulnerable communities, Mississippi presents many barriers to voters. That’s why Mississippi Votes launched #Up2Us—a voter registration, voter protection, and get-out-the-vote campaign focused on mobilizing young people. Their mantra: The fight for democracy is truly #Up2Us. 

Since the inception of #Up2Us, Mississippi Votes has registered 15,000 new voters and for several years in a row has been among the top field organizations in the country on National Voter Registration Day. In 2019, they turned out under-represended voters in 18 counties and impacted five key races. They are continuing this work today with the goal of engaging over 200,000 young voters state-wide through canvassing door-to-door, text banking, phone banking, and more. See their work in action here.

Mississippi Votes is an organization of intergenerational synergy centering and led by young people invested in the progression of Mississippi. They do this through  programming and outreach strategies that empower young people, encourages civic engagement, and educates communities on voting rights through place-based grassroots organizing.

Civil rights giants like John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. have passed on the torch to this generation’s young Black leaders. They are building youth political power and making a change in their communities 365 days/year. This year, more than ever, it is crucial to amplify the voices of Black youth organizers and the issues that impact Black youth to not only get out the Black youth vote, but to push candidates on the issues that matter to them, and fight voter disinformation and voter suppression to ensure voter access to the ballot box.