By Barney Blakeney
Recently the question of the millennial generation’s participation in Black activism popped into my head. Trying to find an answer was elusive and required answers to other questions: what is the millennial generation, what is Black activism? In today’s digitally-driven access to data some answers came easily. For some others I had to go old school and ask somebody.
Wikipedia generally defined the millennial generation as those individuals born roughly between the 1980s and 1990s – those who today are in their mid-20s to late 30s. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines activism as “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action, especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.” With those definitions I asked several millennials their perspectives on Black activism.
Tamika Gadsden is a Charleston area organizer. In 2018, as the lead organizer with the Women’s March South Carolina affiliate chapter, Gadsden spearheaded a tribute rally honoring the legacy and life of Septima P. Clark. Gadsden is committed to fighting for racial and social justice and lifting up the voices of those in marginalized communities. With her partner, Brittany Mathis, Gadsden in May launched the voter outreach and education initiative Soul to Sol Salon Project, a bi-cultural outreach effort designed to equip beauty salons serving Black and Latinix communities with voter registration information and other resources.
The New Jersey native whose roots run deep in Charleston sea island soil said Black activism locally often has been hard to gauge. I asked if that difficulty stems from any lukewarm reception from older activists. She said much of her collaboration is with older activists. But the key to success in activism is a willingness to listen and to be informed, she feels, but candidly added she often is dismissed if not totally ignored. Misogyny is an issue. Some male leaders are unwilling to “pass the mic,” she said. And they equally are as unwilling to pass on leadership.
Treva Williams is lead organizer for the Charleston Area Justice Ministries (CAJM). Young Black activists are fearless and willing to take their activism to levels that make their older counterparts uncomfortable, she offered reflecting on the late Charleston activist Muhiyyidin D’baha also known as Moya Moye. Ironically killed last year at age 32 in a random attack, D’baha was coordinator of Charleston’s Black Lives Matter chapter and fearlessly and unrelentingly staged petitions for social justice and equality on every front utilizing all available venues including boardrooms and street protests.
Williams said millennials face the dark reality of tremendous college debt, unavailable affordable housing and growing marginalization. While they may look different than their peers of previous generations, their unrest is just as necessary in modern times.
Brandon Chapman graduated from The College of Charleston two years ago and is an associate organizer for CAJM. The powerlessness he felt after being stopped by police – just for being a young Black male – helped him realize that Black activism doesn’t stop at the ballot box. He said he’s inspired by the late Ella Baker, a behind-the-scenes organizer whose career spanned more than five decades. She worked alongside some of the most noted civil rights leaders of the 20th century, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King Jr. In the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) she mentored emerging activists such as Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Rosa Parks and Bob Moses.
“It’s a myth that young Blacks can simply go to college and everything will be okay,” Chapman said. With nearly $100,000 worth of college debt Chapman said he and many of his peers are angered by the disparities they see and are looking for ways to challenge them. “We sometimes may seem disrespectful to older people, but it’s just our passion about the things affecting our lives that fuels our actions,” he explained.
For Rose Stump, Black activism is necessary. She came to Charleston to work for CAJM as an organizer. At 25 she’s an experienced organizer who has worked with farmers in Florida and North Carolina. She values the opportunity to work alongside older activists. “The powerful work happens when people come together,” she said, and casts off deriding characterizations of millennial activists saying, “Negative things are said about every generation.”
Thirty-three-year-old California native Raynique Syas said her activism also is born of necessity. “I came here and asked why there is no affordable housing, healthcare or quality public education. I think there has to be enough people are asking the same questions and rattling cages,” she said.