Oprah Winfrey made headlines recently when she suggested the current "Black Lives Matter" movement is lacking in leadership. While she supports those protesting police brutality, she also worries they lack clear demands. To those who share Ms. Winfrey's concerns, I'd like to introduce you to Black Youth Project 100, a Chicago-based national activist organization that is changing the world one meeting at a time.
Rather than center on the charismatic male leadership associated with the civil-rights movement, BYP 100 is forging its own kind of activism. Formed in 2013 in the aftermath of George Zimmerman's acquittal for the death of Trayvon Martin, BYP 100 is an organization of Black 18-35 year olds committed to community-based leadership. They approach activism through a "radically inclusive" queer and feminist lens. In other words, they lift up voices of Black women and Black LGBT youth while making issues specific to those communities a priority. BYP 100's work includes everything from voting drives to educational workshops to policy agendas to protests. Attend an event organized by BYP 100 and you'll likely hear chants of "Trans lives matter!" and the names of female civil-rights activists like Ella Baker and Diane Nash proudly celebrated.
Along with two co-chairs and a coordinating council, National Director Charlene Carruthers oversees BYP 100 chapters in Washington, D.C., New York City, Oakland, New Orleans, and Chicago. Each chapter has its own structure of co-chairs, leadership committees, and members who attend meetings every two weeks. Remarkably, Carruthers in the only full-time staff member of the expansive national organization. Everyone else either works for a small stipend or as a volunteer, sometimes devoting 20 or more unpaid hours each week. Janaé Bonsu and Larry Dean, full-time students and the respective co-chair and secretary of the Chicago chapter, know that reality all too well.
Yet despite being underfunded, BYP 100 is committed to fighting for justice in all kinds of ways. In the wake of Darren Wilson's non-indictment for the murder of Mike Brown, Bonsu, Dean, and the rest of Chicago's BYP 100 chapter organized a 28-hour sit-in outside of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office. Everything about the event was strategic; even the time period represented the statistic that a Black person is killed every 28 hours by police or vigilante justice. The more than 200 attendees raised their voices in chants, held teach-ins about police brutality, and participated in symbolic die-ins. Protestors eventually decided to leave peacefully rather than be arrested when the building closed. Like everything BYP 100 does, the decision was reached democratically.
Since its founding, BYP 100 has combined art and activism in events all over the city. This holiday season the group organized "Black Holidaze," a seven-day Kwanzaa celebration that included open mic nights, flashmobs, writing workshops, and protests to demand reparations for the survivors of police torture under the reign of Jon Burge. BYP 100 also recently participated in "Reclaim MLK Day," a massive march co-led by more than 25 activists groups who hoped to reclaim Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy while showing solidarity with incarcerated youth in Chicago.
But in addition to protesting, BYP 100 is also doing "less flashy" long-term work like public policy advocacy. Bonsu recently co-authored The Agenda To Keep Us Safe, which lays out clear steps for ending the criminalization of Black youth, including demilitarizing the police, establishing more community review boards, requiring officers to wear body cameras, and decriminalizing marijuana, which is disproportionately responsible for the arrests of Black youth. The Agenda, which is available online, effortlessly challenges the idea that the "Black Lives Matter" movement is lacking in concrete goals.
One of BYP 100's proudest achievements is creating inclusive Black communities for its members. Even when members disagree or argue, they do so like a family, always returning to a place of love at the end. Dean, a West Coast transplant, credits BYP 100 with introducing him to a powerful community of unapologetically Black youth here in Chicago. According to Carruthers, her favorite part of her job is "breaking bread" with young activists from around the country.
BYP 100 is always looking for support from the larger Chicago community, particularly from the white LGBT community who so often struggle with similar issues of marginalization. In addition to attending events and showing solidarity online, that support comes from doing the "less tangible" work of fighting racism in ones own community.
To learn more or to make a donation of money, space, or services, visit the group's website www.byp100.org . You can also follow them on Twitter @BYP_100 .