The NAACP has long served as a training ground for young organizers and activists, shaping them into the leaders of the civil rights movement. From historic events such as the Silent Protest Parade against lynching in 1917, to today’s fight to cancel student debt, we have provided young people with the necessary skills and knowledge to champion democracy. In the midst of a global pandemic and racial reckoning, Black Americans, specifically young Black Americans, were able to find safety, community, and hope for the future in a place that has long served as a trusted voice for Black communities.
The year 2020 will forever shape how we see and understand race relations in this country. As our nation as a whole grappled with a public health reality that was entirely unfamiliar to everyone, all Americans were also forced to reckon with the harsh reality of white supremacy that is all too familiar to the Black community.
Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. These are just a few of the precious lives that were taken at the hands of white supremacy, and a system that has been broken for centuries. In the first eight months of 2020, 164 Black people lost their lives at the hands of police. The fact of the matter is, the violence that Black America experienced in 2020 was not much different than the violence we’ve experienced for more than a century. This time, however, as COVID-19 put all our lives on pause, the rest of the nation had a front-row seat to the injustice that is our lived experience. Some people stood up and spoke out in support of us. Some doubled down on their inherently racist, regressive beliefs. Some went as far as to commit hate crimes themselves.
That summer, in my hometown of San Bernardino, California, multiple symbols and sayings of white power were spray-painted onto the street entering my block. This incident shook the neighborhood, my family, and me. Questions of how safe our community is, who is truly there to protect us, and what we could do about it were on my mind. This action in a Black and brown neighborhood was the manifestation of the racial divide in America. And the sad reality is that my experience is not unique.
The threat that Black families face extends far beyond police violence, and begs the question: Who will survive in America? The answer is: We will. The NAACP has been in this fight for 114 years, and we’re not backing down; 2020 was not just a moment for young Black people, it was the catalyst to a movement.
Young people around the nation took to the streets to uplift our struggles and demand change through peaceful protest. But what happens after the protests? As the national director for the Youth & College Division of the NAACP, my job is to ensure that young people have viable options to build Black political power. In catalytic moments such as this, I must ensure our young people understand that our fight does not end at the protest. Our fight continues at the polls, in the halls of Congress, into the Oval Office, and on the steps of the Supreme Court.
In the past three years, our network of 27,000 young members has stepped forward to shape our nation’s future. Today’s youth are unapologetic in their activism, their identity, and their expectations of those in power. From the reimagining of public safety at Minnesota universities, to sit-ins at the Tennessee state capitol and leaders in Florida demanding that their history and culture be incorporated into the classroom, our young leaders are reenergizing the NAACP with fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and unwavering dedication to social justice. By embracing new spaces, engaging with pressing issues, and championing transformative ideas, the next generation of the NAACP is propelling our fight forward.
The year 2023 marks another turning point in our nation’s history and commemorates many pivotal moments for Black America. The 50th anniversaries of hip-hop this year and of the National Black Political Convention last year, and the upcoming 60th anniversary of the March on Washington are all opportunities for us to reflect and renew our commitment to carrying on the legacy of our ancestors.
Though we continue the legacy born within us, this year has shown us that our fight is far from over. With its June 29 ruling saying race can’t be used in college admissions, a Supreme Court I view as rogue and corrupt effectively declared that the American Dream is dead while putting us on a path to re-segregate our educational system.
As we head to the 114th NAACP National Convention in Boston, home to the our organization’s first chartered branch, we do so with a determination to use the attacks on our progress as fuel to continue pushing forward. During our time together this week, we will celebrate our victories, reflect on our work, and turn our advocacy into action. We aim to showcase the Black excellence within our youth leaders in every form, including culture, science, and technology. We will continue laying out the path forward toward making student debt cancellation a reality and mobilizing our campus chapters and alumni associations to lobby colleges and universities to commit to embracing diversity no matter what.
It is up to young people to re-create the structures, tools, and tactics that will define our future. We are not only the leaders of tomorrow, we are the leaders of today. Together, we will right the wrongs of the past and ensure that every American has the opportunity to thrive.
Wisdom O. Cole is the national director of the Youth & College Division of the NAACP. Send comments to email@example.com.