“Not guilty, not guilty, not guilty...” The air went out of the room. The news of the grand jury decision wasn’t supposed to come out until days later, yet there we were, watching the acquittal of George Zimmerman on a projector screen.
Throughout the previous day and a half, I had met other young, Black people from across the country who were organizing leaders, policy advocates, artists. We were brought together by the Black Youth Project, a research initiative and website lifting up the experiences and voices of Black youth under the leadership of Dr. Cathy Cohen.
I was 19 years old, a student organizer, budding prison abolitionist, and poet — and one of the youngest people there. Trayvon Martin had been killed over a year prior, and though I should not have been, I was shocked by the news coverage up until that point. Why was this being treated as if we weren’t sure that it was wrong?
Not guilty? We had to do something. And we weren’t going to wait.
We texted everyone we knew. A few hundred people met us in downtown Chicago that night. I spoke to a large crowd on a bullhorn for the first time that night — after some coaxing from a few more seasoned leaders. Over the course of a few hours, I went from feeling a sense of despair to feeling that there a power to change things that we were about to grasp. We were organizing together, and we knew it wasn’t the end. We reconvened at the end of the summer at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington in D.C. We wrote our mission, vision and values, and built deeper bonds. Thus, BYP100 was born.
I went back to school in New York City that fall, continuing to be developed and trained by other leaders in BYP100. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I was able to work with a brilliant group of other young organizers to found our New York City chapter, whose first action was a disruption at the Museum of Natural History on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X.
The antsy young person I was then, eager to question (both the systems and people around me), has grown a lot due to BYP100. Powerful organizers supported my growth into a leader with the skills to build grassroots campaigns, execute complicated direct actions, strategically use social media, and train and invest in the leadership of others.
Together, we have helped shape and grow BYP100 to be the organization it is today — and the organization it continues to mature into. Our actions have evolved to form sustained, long-term campaigns, like our Detroit chapter’s Green Light Black Futures campaign to end hypersurveillance and our D.C. chapter’s fight to decriminalize sex work.
We have a small but mighty staff team that dedicates their full-time capacity to Black Queer Feminist organizing. Furthermore, we have dozens and dozens of new leaders across the country who are stepping into their power and driving forward visions that build on our foundation and go far past what we could have seen in that room in 2013.