Faith-based ‘violence interrupters’ stop gang shootings with promise of redemption

Faith-based ‘violence interrupters’ stop gang shootings with promise of redemption

A demonstrator heads to an anti-violence protest in Chicago, which has struggled with gun violence for decades, July 7, 2018. Jim Young/AFP via Getty Images)

The July 4 weekend was one of the deadliest in recent U.S. history, with 160 people, including several small children, killed by gun violence in Chicago, New York, Atlanta and beyond.

And the body count keeps rising. Columbus, Ohio, where I teach and study violence prevention, had 13 homicides in the first 26 days of July, according to police data – 46% higher than July 2019. Many shooting victims are from the same Black neighborhoods in cities that have borne the burden of American gun violence for decades.

Urban gun violence is an entrenched but not intractable problem, evidence shows. Since the 1990s community anti-violence initiatives – many of them run out of churches – have reduced crime locally, at least temporarily, by “interrupting” potential violence before it happens.

Man speaks on megaphone in front of crowd


New York City public advocate Jumaane Williams with anti-violence activists in Brooklyn, July 14, 2020. Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Preventable violence

One such program is Cure Violence, previously called Chicago CeaseFire. Founded in 1999 with Illinois state funding, CeaseFire employed community members with street credibility – that is, status in their community – to identify those at highest risk of being shot or being a shooter, then intervene in feuds that might otherwise end with fatal gunfire.

Working with churches, schools and community groups like the Boys and Girls Club, CeaseFire also helped gang members and at-risk youth move beyond street life by finishing their studies, finding a job or enrolling in drug and alcohol treatment.

A National Institute of Justice evaluation found that between 1991 and 2006, CeaseFire helped shootings decline 16% to 28% in four of the seven Chicago neighborhoods studied.

Variations of the CeaseFire program run by law enforcement, public health experts and hospitals have also substantially reduced gun violence in Cincinnati, New York, Boston and beyond. However, many of these successful initiatives, including Chicago CeaseFire, were ultimately scaled back or terminated due to a lack of sustained funding.

Restorative justice

That’s what happened to CeaseFire Columbus, an Ohio program modeled after Chicago’s program but with a religious orientation.

Young musicians walking

Teen drummers lead a march to Columbus’s Family Missionary Baptist Church. Deanna Wilkinson

CeaseFire Columbus was run by Ministries for Movement, an anti-violence community organization founded in the deadly summer of 2009. After 20-year-old Dominique Searcy became Columbus’ 52nd murder victim that year, Dominique’s uncle, Cecil Ahad, teamed up with local youth and the former gang leader Dartangnan Hill for a “homicidal pain” march through their community of South Side Columbus.

A local pastor, Frederick LaMarr, offered his Family Missionary Baptist Church to host the group’s anti-violence work, giving rise to Ministries for Movement. In 2010, having studied Columbus’ crime data, I invited the group to implement a local CeaseFire program.

CeaseFire Columbus adopted many of Chicago’s violence interruption tactics, but the guiding philosophy of Pastor LaMarr and Brother Ahad was to meet everyone with compassion and openness, whether they were a grieving mother or a gang member.

To convince high-risk young people to stop killing each other, they used positive motivation – not threats of jail time, as some CeaseFire programs do. Evidence shows young people trapped in a cycle of violence are often willing to drop their guns for the chance of a better life: a high school degree, say, or a job offer in a field of interest.

LaMarr and Ahad also encouraged perpetrators of violence to take responsibility for their actions. Sometimes, that meant turning themselves in to authorities. Other times, it meant making amends through community service.

Ministries for Movement has helped several hundred young Columbus residents escape gangs. My evaluation for The Ohio State University found that between 2011 to 2014, CeaseFire Columbus helped to reduce shootings by 76% in our 40-block target area. For one 27-month period, no one was murdered.

Group photo of people holding anti-violence signs

CeaseFire Columbus in 2012. Courtesy of the Ohio State University

The first homicide after those two years of peace was heartbreaking. The victim, 24-year-old Rondell Brinkley, had been turning his life around with the help of Ministries for Movement. Days before his murder, Brinkley had inspired attendees at a community event with his personal story of change.

Gardening for change

Violence interruption works, but it takes intensive and sustained effort. That can be difficult with a volunteer staff.

CeaseFire Columbus achieved its best results after getting US$125,000 in grants to expand its street outreach, community mobilizing, public health messaging and conflict mediation. Funding came from The Ohio State University, the Ohio attorney general’s office and the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.

Ministries for Movement is still active in South Side Columbus: It leads a healing march on the first Sunday of each month, among other activities. But CeaseFire became a casualty of lost funding and city politics. With gun violence quieter in our area but spiking in other parts of Columbus, Ministries for Movement is now sharing its approach with community members and faith leaders in those areas.

It is also trying something new to stop the violence: gardening.

Boy waters plants

An Urban Gardening Entrepreneurs Motivating Sustainability participant. Deanna Wilkinson

In 2015, with Department of Agriculture funding, I worked with Ohio State to launch the Urban Gardening Entrepreneurs Motivating Sustainability program and planted a garden at Pastor LaMarr’s church, replacing the overgrown rusty fence line of an abandoned neighboring house.

Urban Gardening Entrepreneurs Motivating Sustainability helps young people build skills, strengthen social connections and improve health in their communities by growing and selling fresh food. Many of the program’s 300 participants have witnessed gun violence and deaths. Many say they find gardening therapeutic.

Surveys I’ve conducted find that Urban Gardening Entrepreneurs Motivating Sustainability improves participants’ eating habits, problem-solving and leadership skills, persistence and workforce readiness.

“Personally, it has taught me a lot of things: How to eat healthier, how to grow produce,” said Nasir Groce, who is now 13 years old, back in 2017. “It’s taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to.”The Conversation

Deanna Wilkinson, Associate Professor. Department of Human Sciences, The Ohio State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As a Black high school teacher — and a mother of sons — this is my urgent message

As a Black high school teacher — and a mother of sons — this is my urgent message

This article originally appeared on Chalkbeat Indiana


George Floyd’s senseless death has set my soul on fire.

I like to think that I am an objective, rational person. I never hitch rides on bandwagons, and I always want to know both sides of an issue before forming an opinion, and then I usually only share it with close friends and family.

But the death of George Floyd was so disgusting and incomprehensible to me that I feel compelled to use my voice, since his has been extinguished. His senseless death has set my soul on fire.

Courtesy Photo Nikia D. Garland

I am a Black educator, and I know that brutality against Black people by the police and the world at large is nothing new. In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which made the federal government accountable for locating, returning, and trying slaves that had successfully escaped. We may have been “free” since 1865, but we are still being hunted by bigots who feel obligated to return us to our “rightful” state of bondage or death.

It does not matter the perceived offense. Whether we are walking through a neighborhood where we live, selling cigarettes, watching birds, jogging, sleeping, playing with a toy gun, partying, getting a traffic ticket, lawfully carrying a weapon, shopping, reading, decorating for a party, relaxing at home, asking for help after being in a car accident, holding a cell phone, playing loud music, going to church, riding in a car, or breathing, our existence spurs the hate-mongers into action. It’s troubling and just plain sad.

There has never been a time in my life that I have not been aware of the color of my skin. During my freshman year at Broad Ripple High School, I was waiting outside — ironically, under the flag — for my stepfather to pick me up after ballet rehearsal. A car sped down the avenue, and a man screamed, “Go home, n—!” I graduated high school exactly 24 years ago, and I still recall that incident vividly.

Even today, as someone with several degrees, I am never quite certain if I am viewed as credible by white counterparts. I recently declined a position at a primarily white and affluent school to avoid dealing with racist attitudes. I understood that I would be challenged more than my white colleagues on pedagogical style and content knowledge, and I did not wish to fight that battle daily.

I have to fight as a parent, too. I have two sons, ages 21 and 10, and I have explicitly taught them how to interact with law enforcement. My older son knows to always remain calm, keep quiet unless addressed, and to be compliant. The objective for him is to leave any encounter with the police alive.

When my older son initially received his driver’s license, he did not come to a complete halt at a stop sign and received a hefty ticket. When I reviewed the ticket, I noticed it had him listed as white. I couldn’t help but wonder if that mistake had spared him harm. This is why we discuss high-profile murders and systemic racism: so that they both may understand the severity of what they are facing as Black men in America.

Each death highlights the urgency of my message. That doesn’t mean I teach that all police officers are dangerous. One of our neighbors, a white male police officer, is friendly and kind. But my sons cannot count on such treatment in America.

My daily response to this violence is to tie social justice into every facet of my high school English curriculum. My students have read about the murder of Emmett Till, responding in disbelief when I displayed the photograph of his grotesque corpse for a stream-of-consciousness writing session. We have read the story of Amadou Diallo, watched William Bonilla perform his poem “41 Shots,” and listened to the Springsteen song “American Skin.” We have read articles and watched “Fruitvale Station” to process the life and untimely demise of Oscar Grant. We used the New York Times’ 1619 Project as a prelude to reading “Kindred.” We have also combed through Brent Staples’ profound personal essay, “Just Walk On By,” which outlines his brushes with racism and how he has chosen to cope.

As an educator, I simply cannot ignore my civic duty to address current events relevant to my students. My Black students have to be taught how to “read” the world in order to navigate its mainly hostile terrain. They need to know who they are historically and culturally. And my students have truly appreciated my willingness to set aside “traditional” topics and tackle ones that matter to them and their futures.

Not having an opportunity for a face-to-face discussion with my students now, because of the coronavirus, is painful. No matter how school takes place in the fall, whether it be in the traditional setting, online, or a hybrid, this will be a first priority.

As we move forward, it would be wise to remember the words of the Holocaust and writer Elie Wiesel, who said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.”

Sometimes we ignore what is taking place in our society no matter how vile and overt it is merely because it is uncomfortable to take action, and we “have no skin in the game.” My two precious Black sons, my Black family members and friends, and all the Black students that I teach are my skin in the game. And there is no denying that our skin, Black skin, is simply the most dangerous skin in the game.

But we all have skin in the game as Americans, and this is a fight that Black people cannot win alone. We need all our white allies to stand alongside us. White friends and colleagues, I challenge you to speak up. Use any platform you have, whether it be posting on social media, writing letters to the editor, contacting your members of Congress, participating in peaceful protests, organizing protests, informing yourself on the issues at hand, creating petitions, or talking with your children.

Enough is enough. It’s time to refuse to be silent in the face of injustice.

Nikia D. Garland is an English teacher and an adjunct professor who resides in Indianapolis.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Popular YouTube channel documents what it is like to be black in Japan

Popular YouTube channel documents what it is like to be black in Japan

Video Courtesy of The Black Experience Japan

In the video above, Fukuoka residents Ruth, from Kenya, and Grace, from Tanzania, talk about how they arrived in Japan, what it is like to work at a traditional Japanese-style pub or izakaya, mastering the Japanese language at a high level, and how Japan shows “there’s life beyond a white-supremacy narrative.”


This article originally appeared on Global Voices

Popular YouTube channel and website The Black Experience Japan features interviews with dozens of black residents of Japan.

Launched in 2017 by Laranzo “Ranzo” Dacres, a Jamaican living in Japan, The Black Experience Japan interviews people from a wide variety of backgrounds, from a man who “found exactly what he needed in Japan” to Tsietsi Monare, a meteorologist and weather anchor for NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster.

The website and YouTube channel got its start in 2017 following the launch of Ranzo’s documentary “The Truth About Being Black in Japan“, in which he answers common questions he gets asked as he goes about daily life in Japan.

From that start, The Black Experience Japan continues on with a singular mission:

We still have a burning desire to share a plethora of experiences (and all things black in Japan) in an effort to paint a more accurate picture of life in Japan for the black individual.

The Black Experience Japan website also includes live podcast broadcastsforums where members can share travel advice or generally discuss life in Japan, and a link to a mobile app with a directory of Black-owned businesses across Asia.


Video Courtesy of The Black Experience Japan

Reggie, aka the Sauce Man, has been living in Okinawa Japan since 1991 and has spent 28 years creating a legacy that is bottled and sold as the number one hot sauce in Japan.
Can kindness heal a world divided by pandemic, protests and politics?

Can kindness heal a world divided by pandemic, protests and politics?

Video Courtesy of SSM Anaheim


When asked what she would write about if she could write about anything, Ashlee Eiland’s answer was immediate.

Kindness.

It was 2018, and the pastor said the divisiveness and contention in public conversations was weighing heavily on her. Eiland, the formation and preaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church near Grand Rapids, Michigan, said she felt a “holy discontent” to offer an alternative.

She wanted to help people talk across their differences and, at the same time, still be able to recognize each other’s worth as human beings created in God’s image and likeness.

“I wanted to recapture that because I feel like, especially two years ago, some of that was being lost. I was sensing that would take us down a really hard trajectory if things continued in that direction,” she said.

But kindness isn’t all holding doors and letting people merge in front of you in traffic. The goal of kindness is restoration and transformation, Eiland said.

“I think sometimes what kindness means, if we’re doing it well, is that we are righteously angry,” she said.

“We are lamenting, we are grieving and sometimes holding that grief and anger and lament with someone,” she explained. “I’m specifically thinking of people of color in this country and Black people, who, for generations, have endured an injustice. That should not be met with a pithy call to just be nice to one another, meet each other in the middle of this and this will all be OK.”

Eiland’s book “Human(Kind): How Reclaiming Human Worth and Embracing Radical Kindness Will Bring Us Back Together” was published in April of an election year, in the midst of a polarizing pandemic and not long before protests over the death of George Floyd would reveal even more divisions in the United States. Kindness can reach across those divides, she said.

In a series of short essays, the pastor and author shares her experiences as a Black woman in predominantly white Christian spaces. She writes of encountering both racism and belonging, of confronting her fears and offering kindness even in the face of radical opposition.

Eiland talked to Religion News Service about what it means to be kind, why it’s important to be able to speak to others across divides and how churches can play a role in that.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What does kindness look like in the midst of a pandemic, when fear and distrust are running high and people are unable to be in physical proximity to one another?

It is interesting talking about up-close kindness now that we are encouraged to not be so close anymore.

Before we get to this idea of outward kindness, have we truly sat with being receivers of God’s kindness toward us? Are we regularly coming back to self-kindness? One quick exercise would be over the next 24 hours just to actively note our own voice and how we speak to ourselves. And if that doesn’t reflect a level of transformation and reconciliation with ourselves, as God has offered it to us, then how are we ever going to extend that to the world around us?

I think there is a level of heart work involved before we look outward. I’m thinking of Paul’s words to the Ephesians, where he actually cautions the people of God away from hardheartedness. He says, “But be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God through Christ has forgiven you.” There’s something about maintaining a tender heart first, before we can look outward to the work of forgiving, to the work of reconciliation, to the work of truth-telling.

In the book, you share the pain you felt on election night in 2016 and your fear about “what this presidency and the rhetoric that accompanied it would mean for the poor, minorities and marginalized.” Afterward, you reached out to a Republican friend to understand why she had voted for President Trump. Why do you think it is important to try to understand and have conversations across differences?

I’m thinking of the greatest commandment — to love God and to love our neighbor — and maintaining distance in an unhealthy way. There are so many good reasons to maintain distance for the sake of healthy relationship in the way of boundaries, but I’m talking about choosing to stay distanced from one another just for the sake of maintaining our own narratives. It has great potential to create a hotbed for bitterness, resentment and hate. And if our hearts are hotbeds for bitterness, resentment and hate based on the narratives that we are persistently pursuing, then we can’t love God and love our neighbor.

I didn’t really have a desire to debate her because I knew where she stood. I really wanted to know why for the sake of seeing her humanity up close. Her being my friend is a key part of this, too. This wasn’t a random person I’d just met. This was someone I’d already done relationship with, had history with, who I’d seen lead teenagers out of addiction and into relationship with Christ — I mean, a stunning legacy. I wanted to act against the potential for bitterness, anger, resentment to grow my heart by being close to her and asking God to show me how he saw her.

Because we had a relationship, the beautiful thing was she was able to hear my heart when I was able to hear hers, and our relationship to this day is wonderfully intact, and not just intact, it’s thriving. To me, the end goal of my relationship with her isn’t to hold her close in order to change her mind or to prove I’m right. I’m pursuing unity, and unity requires truth telling, it requires the pursuit of justice and reconciliation, it requires peacemaking.

You also write about the importance of speaking out and taking action. How do you balance that?

Wisdom and discernment are key here. Spout out an issue, someone’s going to have an opinion about it. We all have opinions on everything, but for me personally, that doesn’t mean my voice needs to be heard in every single instance for a couple of reasons.

You talk about racism. There are times where I feel strong in my spirit to lead and to point others in the direction of how to be a better reconciler and how to do the work of antiracism in a way that honors Christ, how to speak up and to be strong and courageous, to use one’s voice in a way that doesn’t allow the people of God to suffer. And there are times when I feel like that’s not my work to do for that moment. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about it. And it doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. But there are some times, for example, when you talk about racism and bigotry, where I feel more wrapped up in the community of God, when my white brothers and sisters speak up.

There’s discernment here. I don’t want to speak for the sake of just being heard. I want to speak for the sake of transformation. And that means I have to be attentive to the role my voice plays, whether in that moment I need to make room for someone else’s voice.

Social media is important, speaking outwardly is important and maybe a yard sign is important. I’m not minimizing those things, but am I doing the hard work within the relationships in the spheres of influence that have already been given to me? For some, the Thanksgiving table and the Christmas dinner table this year are going to be the battlegrounds because you’re talking across the table from someone who might hold a different opinion from you, and that might be the place that requires the most courage.

You also share a story about confronting your fear of police by inviting police over for coffee. What does that experience have to say to readers now in a moment of reckoning over systemic racism and police brutality following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others?

Again, I am careful not to be prescriptive. In that moment, that felt like a good next step for me. I felt like I had the energy and the desire to really step into an engagement like that with our local police department at the time. If I’m honest, there would have been other days that would have happened and I would not have had the energy or the desire because so much of what is happening is repeated trauma. So I’d say you have to be really discerning on whether that type of proximity is a good next step.

Fear was leading me, and I didn’t want fear to lead me. I know what happens when fear leads. When fear leads, the oppressed is in danger of becoming the oppressor. When fear leads, I am paralyzed (from) carrying out the mission that God’s called and placed on my life. For so many different reasons, I was sensing fear in that moment was not leading me to the flourishing and wholeness Christ desired for me.

I felt like the next step was to humanize individuals who are part of a larger system. It was also acknowledgement that not every single individual who’s operating within the system is interested in brutalizing citizens. There are good law enforcement agents who have protected and served really well. And so I wanted to counterbalance what I was seeing in the media and seeing around my neighborhood with my own eyes. To be open to it, exploring what would it be like to share with our local law enforcement how this feels for us and to be mutually curious, almost going against my natural instinct. It wasn’t like this Hallmark moment. I think what it did is it interrupted the fear that was festering in my own heart, and it gave face to a system. I was able to engage with individuals, not with a system.

In the afterword to the book, you mention the burden of being a Black woman in a “predominantly culturally white church.” We’re in a moment when many churches are saying they want to listen, learn and do better. What’s something you would share with churches about what it means to be culturally white and how wearying that can be?

Cultural whiteness says to every other culture represented within one’s congregation or staff that ours is the norm, that cultural whiteness is the norm. There might be room made for the existence of difference, but we might be hesitant to let that difference lead us in different spaces.

One is I think for church leaders to say, “How can we get a better perspective and move away from our own blind spots by listening to Black, Indigenous, people of color within our church and staff on their perspective of what whiteness is like in our church context?” If there’s a white staff or leadership team defining the culture, it’s like being a fish swimming in the water and not even knowing you’re wet. There has to be a different perspective to help inform what its impact is for others who are entering into that environment.

So a lot of listening and then examining spaces where there’s not just representation, but leadership. You can say, “Yeah, we’re a diverse church. We have 20% Latinx people. We have 10% African American.” You can say that and think you’re diverse, but unless there is someone who’s sitting at the table, not just offering ideas, but you’re actively asking to lead you, then cultural whiteness will remain dominant. And so there has to be a real reckoning — are you willing to give up some of your own space or for someone else to lead and shape and form culture?

And it won’t be just in one space, like Black History Month or an MLK celebration. Cultural whiteness, because it can be so deeply embedded in so many different church spaces, there has to be commitment to this over time repeatedly. It might seem like you’re talking about it too much or it’s coming up too much, but if it’s not revisited regularly, and if you’re not loving people well by inviting them to the conversation to help actively shape spaces, giving them leadership and authority in some senses, then we won’t see change over the long haul.

Specifically, this shows up on platforms, in the ways of worship and preaching and teaching, all the way to children’s ministry, what Bible characters look like, who’s teaching the story. Cultural whiteness impacts not just staff teams and the racial makeup of a congregation, but systems of how ministry is done. How ministry is done is directly tied to how people are formed and their view of God and life with God and each other. There has to be a willingness to be shaped and formed in any other way.

Tributes Pour in on Social Media, Honoring the Life of Rep. John Lewis

Tributes Pour in on Social Media, Honoring the Life of Rep. John Lewis

Video Courtesy of ABC News


Civil Rights icon and ordained Baptist minister Rep. John Lewis, 80, died on Friday, July 17. A force behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the continued efforts to restore voting rights, former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), bloodied in the Selma March, and a key figure in nonviolent demonstrations, he encouraged others to get into “good trouble.” Tributes continue to pour in on social media, honoring a man many considered the “the conscience of the U.S. Congress.”

 

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Atlanta is the city too busy to hate. #goodtrouble

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There are many leaders of today’s protest movement – just like the civil rights movement

There are many leaders of today’s protest movement – just like the civil rights movement

Video Courtesy of Politico


The recent wave of protests against police brutality and systemic racism has inspired numerous comparisons with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Commentators frequently depict the charismatic leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in sharp contrast with the decentralized and seemingly leaderless nature of the current movement.

Despite the efforts of activists and historians to correct this “leaderless” image, the notion persists. Such comparisons reflect the cultural memory – not the actual history – of the struggle for Black equality.

American Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., flanked by Rev. Ralph Abernathy (center left) and Nobel Prize-winning political scientist and diplomat Ralph Bunche (center right) during the third Selma to Montgomery, Alabama march for voting rights, March 21, 1965. PhotoQuest/Getty Images

Heroic struggle led by charismatic men

Through collective remembering and forgetting, societies build narratives of the past to create a shared identity – what scholars refer to as cultural memory.

The civil rights movement is remembered as a heroic struggle against injustice led by charismatic men. That is not the whole story.

King’s soaring rhetoric and Malcolm’s unflinching social critiques have supplanted recollection of the significant work performed by legions of local leaders, whose grassroots organizational style more closely resembled the efforts of Black Lives Matter activists and other contemporary social justice groups to build movements full of leaders.

The iconic images of 1950s and 1960s Black protesters marching, kneeling and being arrested while dressed in their “Sunday best” illustrated the respectability politics of the day

These efforts, designed to cultivate white sympathy for civil rights activists, relied on conformity with patriarchal gender roles that elevated men to positions of visible leadership, confined women to the background and banished LGBTQ individuals to the closet.

Yet the movement could not have happened without the extraordinary leadership of Black women like veteran organizer Ella Baker. Baker’s model of grassroots activism and empowerment for young and marginalized people became the driving force of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, known as SNCC, and other nonviolent protest organizations, past and present.

Flyer announcing a Youth Leadership Meeting, that was to be held at Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 15-17, 1960, and bearing the names of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ella J. Baker, the president and executive director, respectively, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, April 1960. New York Public Library/From the New York Public Library/Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).

The decentralized structure of the current movement builds on this history of grassroots activism while working to avoid replicating the entrenched sexism and homophobia of an earlier era.

Amplifying voices

SNCC transformed lives by recognizing talent and empowering marginalized people. As Joe Martin, one of the organizers of a student walkout in McComb, Mississippi, recalled, “If you had a good idea it was accepted regardless of what your social status was.”

Ella Baker, NAACP Hatfield representative, Sept. 18, 1941. Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

Endesha Ida Mae Holland, a teenage prostitute, found purpose as a SNCC field secretary, organizing and leading marches in Greenwood, Mississippi. Facing down Police Chief Curtis Lary “made me feel so proud,” she recalled, and “people start looking up into my face, into my eyes” with respect. Holland went on to become an award-winning playwright and distinguished university professor.

Black Lives Matter co-founders Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors also encourage strategies that place marginalized voices at the center.

Elevating “Black trans people, Black queer people, Black immigrants, Black incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated people, Black millennials, Black women, low income Black people, and Black people with disabilities” to leadership roles, they wrote, “allows for leadership to emerge from our intersecting identities, rather than to be organized around one notion of Blackness.”

Black women and teens have played a critical role in organizing, leading and maintaining the momentum of recent protests.

Kimberly Jones captured the nation’s attention with an impassioned takedown of institutional racism and debates over appropriate forms of protest. After repeatedly breaking the social contract to keep wealth and opportunity out of reach for black communities, Jones concludes, white Americans “are lucky that what black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.”

Women have organized family-friendly demonstrations, including the “Black Mamas March” in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a “Black Kids Matter” protest in Hartford, Connecticut.

Six young women, aged 14 to 16, organized a peaceful protest attracting more than 10,000 people in Nashville, Tennessee, while 17-year-old Tiana Day led a march on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Full of leaders

Seventeen-year-old Tiana Day leads a march on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, June 6, 2020, to protest the death of George Floyd. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

The adaptive “low ego/high impact” leadership model, in which leaders serve as coaches helping groups build their own solutions, has become popular among current social justice organizations, but it is not new.

Baker encouraged civil rights organizations to “develop individuals” and provide “an opportunity for them to grow.” She praised SNCC for “working with indigenous people, not working for them.”

“You don’t have to worry about where your leaders are,” former SNCC organizer Robert Moses reflected. “If you go out and work with your people, then the leadership will emerge.”

Campaigns are exhausting and external recognition as a “leader” can take a heavy toll. Spreading leadership around helps to protect any one person from becoming a target for retaliation while advancing a stream of talent to rise as individual energy wanes.

Returning from a citizenship training program in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1963, Fannie Lou Hamer was arrested and severely beaten, leaving her with permanent injuries. Holland’s mother died when their house in Greenwood, Mississippi, was bombed in 1965 in retaliation for her activism.

Civil rights worker Anne Moody recounted how the physical and psychological toll of constant harassment by white supremacists in 1963 forced her to leave a voter registration drive in Canton, Mississippi, saying “I was on the verge of a breakdown” and “would have died from lack of sleep and nervousness” had she stayed “another week.”

In a 2017 interview, Erica Garner, who became a tireless campaigner against police brutality after her father, Eric Garner, died from a New York police officer’s chokehold in 2014, echoed Moody’s comments.

“I’m struggling right now with the stress and everything. … The system beats you down to where you can’t win,” she said. Just three weeks after that interview, Erica Garner died of a heart attack at the age of 27.

Comparisons to the romanticized cultural memory of charismatic leadership in the Civil Rights Movement devalues the hard work of today’s activists – as well as those who worked hard outside of the limelight in the earlier movement. Social change – then and now – derives from a critical mass of local work throughout the nation. Those who cannot find leaders in this movement are not looking hard enough.