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Youth Organizer Spotlights

The Youth Organizer Spotlights is a digital storytelling project that focuses on the individual narratives of youth organizers who drive the collective local organizing power in the Alliance Network. This series is ongoing and will be featured on our social channels, in our email program, and through regular updates to this blog post.

Black Futures Month 2022: Celebrating Black Alliance Organizers

Learn how Black youth organizers in the Alliance network are transforming their communities and building brighter futures for us all.

Kiah Sandler

she/her/hers | Development Associate at Chicago Votes | Chicago, IL

How does your organizing work help build a thriving Black Future?

Chicago Votes is a predominantly Black team, we are Black-led, I work on an all Black development team which is really unique and exciting in the nonprofit space. Our goal as an organization is always to increase accessibility to democracy and always to empower the voices of the systemically silenced. In America, that is always the Black community. 

Share a story from a Black elder in your community that is Black history to you

When I think about Black History, in relation to my family, I think about traditions. I think about the things my family does that have been passed down to me. I am half Trinidadian and half Venezuelan. I am a first-generation American and the only American of my siblings, so for my family when I think about traditions it’s things that have been done for generations well before this migration to America. 

There’s these things called hallaca that we eat at Christmas time. Sometimes they’re called pastels. My favorite job when making those was using this press that my uncle created where you press the cornmeal from a ball to a flat surface and then you put it on a banana leaf and pass it down the line to those who have the jobs to fill it, wrap it, and boil it. It was just one of those things that no one really explained to us, but as we got older we realized it was something really special to our family and to us keeping a bit of culture in a new place. 

What story do you want to tell young people in the future about how you made Black history?

I struggle a little bit to think of myself as Black history at this point in my life. I want to empower young people to always understand that living in their truth and existing in happiness is creating Black history. Anything that perpetuates Black joy is a testament to our resiliency. Prioritizing joy and living a life that you can be proud of. I will say that giving back to the Black community, the community that first gave to me and invested in me, has shown me how rewarding community is. I think investing in community, investing in happiness is always the right choice.

I want young people to know they have that power to create Black history within them. They don’t have to be a civil rights leader, you can just be a good person and that’s good enough.

Jessica Saint-Fleur

she/her/they | Lead Organizer and Member Engagement Manager at Engage Miami | Miami, FL

How does your organizing work help build a thriving Black Future?

Being a youth organizer in my position isn’t solely about getting young people registered to vote, but it’s also about empowering young people and getting them to see the power they hold within themselves as well as a community. I think for young Black people like myself, it’s really empowering to see how much power you do really hold and how much power we can actually take back, how we can keep elected officials accountable, how we can go to town hall meetings and make our voices heard.

Share a story from a Black elder in your community that is Black history to you

My grandfather is actually Black History to me because he was able to immigrate from Haiti to Miami by himself. Eventually, after working as a Taxi driver, he was able to get papers for my immediate family members, making me the first American in the family. It’s really exciting to uplift his stories, and also the immigrant stories that make Black history especially here in south Florida. 

What story do you want to tell young people in the future about how you made Black history?

I feel like I made Black history around 2019. After college I came back to Miami, Florida really wanting to do something for my community especially around all of the injustices I was seeing. Some of the articles I read said that Little Haiti, the area that I’m from, is the number one gentrified area in the entire United States. So after getting involved with different partner organizations in the area, we delved deeper into what was the cause of gentrification, how could we get more community members involved and how we could get their voices heard. After many months of organizing and advocacy actions, we were able to get a town hall with a large community developer and the community to think through the process of this development and have their voices heard.

I think it was really empowering for my community to get together for something we’d never come together on before. It really got me excited for the future of south Florida and what we can do when we really come together.

Taylor Turnage

she/her | Youth Civic Engagement Coordinator Colleges & Universities at Mississippi Votes | Jackson, MS

How does your organizing work help build a thriving Black Future?

My role works and helps build Black futures because we work to better civic engagement among youth and work with voter education, voter registration and making sure our youth, especially our Black youth in Mississippi, are informed on the political decisions they are making. And if we do have people who want to pursue politics as a career, we are always there to help and inform them on things they should and want to know to help them improve their chances to become those political leaders in the future. 

Share a story from a Black elder in your community that is Black history to you

An elder in my community that I would like to talk about is a man by the name of Akill. This story I want to tell is one Akill told us before our protest which aided in the courage that it took to go through with the full process of having the event. He told us that many decades ago he and his peers took on some of the same battles that we were taking on, and it even happened along the same route of the protest that we took. They had an encounter and a standoff with the KKK members of that time right in front of the capitol building here in the capitol city of Jackson Mississippi. He told us the fear that they had while standing there at that time of unrest and racism.

To know that we are still having the same issues in 2020, and now 2022, and to know that he’s still alive and well and still pushing and fighting for what he believes in gave me the courage to say ‘hey, who am I to let a little fear stop being what he is to me to someone else in the future?’ And hopefully with that encounter and that protest I was able to inspire one mind to stand up for what they believe in and not only stand up for themselves, but stand up for their community.

What story do you want to tell young people in the future about how you made Black history?

I want to tell young people that I influenced Black History in my area with the protest I did in 2020 with a few other young people here in Jackson, MS. It was during the time of the riots and the civil unrest due to the mistreatment of Black people across America in the middle of the pandemic. A few of us got together to do what we thought would be a small protest, and it actually turned out to be a historical event not only for the city of Jackson, but the state as a whole with it being the largest public gathering since Freedom Summer in 1964. We had over 5,000 participants.

The thing that makes that day memorable for me is the courage that it took to get up there in front of over 5,000 of my peers because we knew we had pushback from a lot of other organizations that are still alive and well here in Mississippi. I cannot even begin to speak on the fear that I had during that time, but I believe that fear helped push that courage for me to go up in front of all of those people and fight for something I believed in and fight for something that was right.

Jasmine Baker

she/her/hers | Northwestern Campus Organizer at Leaders Igniting Transformation | Eau Claire, WI

How does your organizing work help build a thriving Black Future?

A lot of the core of my work is specifically working with Black and Brown students on a college or higher education level. I find a lot of my focus is trying to find that passion within students, and bringing that both on an individual and collective level, to make change on their campuses and in their communities. How that’s embedded into ensuring a Black future, is knowing that the future generations know what they are capable of. A lot of what it is, is empowering students to know what their power is, what changes they can make both on campus and in their communities, and what they can do beyond just going to school and focusing on their academics. They’re also focusing on their future and how they can make a future that’s better for Black and Brown youth in general.

Share a story from a Black elder in your community that is Black history to you

The first person that comes to mind when I think of a Black elder, which I don’t know if she wants to be called a Black elder but I obviously see her in a very high regard, is my middle school social studies teacher. She is very much the teacher you will hear about before you get to her class, and a lot of people found her very intimidating. She has so much power with the way she teaches her students and it still sits with me today. A lot of her teachings were rooted in Black history and acknowledging where we come from and how that history paved the way for Black youth and Black leaders in general. She very much is a firecracker for change.

I don’t know if she’s still teaching, but a lot of what she’s taught me is knowing your worth, and knowing that as Black youth, young adults, or elders, every step everywhere we go, and every word we speak, is wroth something. It’s all a part of history and it’s all a part of building the foundation for the next generation. She’s one of the Black elders/leaders I still look up to. I still use her wisdom and her knowledge to this day.

What story do you want to tell young people in the future about how you made Black history?

I think a lot of the time and young people don’t know about organizing and that it’s an actual job, an actual career path, and it may seem small but you can make very large collective change. I started off in college and I didn’t know I was doing organizing work until I graduated and someone put a name to it. A lot of what my friends and I were doing was focusing on bettering the environment for students of color, and obviously there’s still so much more that needs to be done for students of color, but our campus didn’t have a Dean of Diversity so we organized a sit-in and created a list of demands for a Dean of Diversity. We were able to make that a reality! That is just one step in paving the way, but now those students have a reliable source to go to on campus and ask for resources rather than having students do all of the work. Planting that seed on my campus is how I would say I am a part of Black History.

I just hope the future generation knows that a lot of the work you’re doing at first may not seem like there’s anything really happening but every day as the world keeps turning things are happening. Every word you say, every conference room you step in, every meeting you’re having, every rally you’re planning means something. This is something big and you’re not letting that passion die with you. You are building a spark for future generations beyond yourself.