Written by Miki Kusunose, Bus Volunteer
For many teenagers like me, the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor have felt monumental and oftentimes overwhelming. As people my age approach adulthood, the deep scars of society, the kleptocratic realities of this country, and the realization that the biases within ourselves are intrinsic to systemic racism, are emerging in the consciousness of my generation. In short, it is a lot to process.
Truth to be told, this reality is not new—we simply have reached the age to come to an understanding of its existence. Systemic racism set foot on this continent in 1619 when the first Black slaves arrived in Jamestown, continued in the Reconstruction era through the rise of Jim Crow, persisted when “separate but equal” became the norm through Plessy v. Ferguson, and seeped into the deepest roots of America as “White Only” signs plastered store windows. Even after the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s, America failed to acknowledge and uproot this systemic racism and the current condition of Black America serves as a clear testament to that truth. Black people are subject to racial profiling, unequal access to resources, astronomically higher incarceration rates, poorer education, and higher rates of poverty. Systemic racism has stained every inch of the fabric of American society. Again, it is a lot to process and difficult to come to terms with.
But I am hopeful and optimistic. The outrage by young people and the outpouring of support that I am seeing from those around me tells me that the current events will be a true catalyst for change. Nonetheless, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and not know what to do to help out with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Here are a few things that every teenager can do to enact change in our communities.
- Attend your local city council meetings: It is easy to get caught up in the national headlines when keeping up with the news. However, the most effective way to address systemic racism is by addressing it in your local community. As a teenage community member, your voice as a young person carries a powerful conviction especially in a local context. Voice your concerns through a Public Comment during a city council meeting. The Seattle City Council allows anyone to sign up for a Public Comment 2 hours prior to the council meeting. Seattle City Council’s meetings are now all held online. Public testimonies through Zoom are available for the Renton City Council meetings, and written requests can be sent in for Bellevue City Council. Make sure to check your city’s policies on citizen participation for city council meetings.
- Get involved with and/or donate to Bail Funds: Thousands of people are in pre-trial jail in which many of whom need bail assistance to leave. Moreover, many of these people have not even been convicted of a crime—yet, they are held in jail. Incarceration rates for Black people are six times higher compared to white people in Washington State and this leaves many Black people struggling to break loose out of a criminal justice system that criminalizes them. Use-of-Force rates are significantly higher on Black people and unsurprisingly, a disproportionately large number of police complaints are filed by Black people. Donations to the Northwest Bail Fund, for example, can support those in pre-trial jail in King and Snohomish county. Now more than ever, these people need the support to go back to their families and their lives. Bail Funds are an effective way to have an immediate impact on the local community.
- Keep your representatives accountable: Whether it be your district representative into the United States Congress, Washington State Legislature, or local community leaders, these representatives’ duty is to voice your concerns and demands on an institutional level. Do not hesitate from writing emails and letters to your local representatives. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray are the Senators representing Washington State. Pramila Jayapal represents Washington’s 7th Congressional District (Seattle, Shoreline), Adam Smith represents the 9th District (Bellevue, Renton), and Suzan DelBene represents the 1st District (Redmond, Bothell). I also urge you to reach out to Washington State legislatures in your local district: https://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/Home/GetMobileMapView?lat=0&lng=0. Find both your Congressional and Washington State Legislature Representatives in your local district using this website. Equally important is the executive office of King County, headed by Dow Constantine who serves 4 year terms: he will be up for reelection in 2021. The 2020 August Primaries are especially important knowing that the next Attorney General (currently Bob Ferguson) will be elected. The Office of the Attorney General is responsible for criminal justice, public safety, and economic justice amongst many other duties. With the current pressures to reform public safety in Seattle, keeping the Attorney General accountable will be critical to the success of the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Research, have conversations, and engage in introspective reflection: This monumental time offers us a critical time to research about systemic racism that is deeply rooted in American society. It is omnipresent in both the timeline of American history as well as today’s modern American society. Take the time to read books and publications to immerse yourself in how your life is interwoven in this society. A few books that I consistently come across regarding Black history are, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I can speak personally to Between the World and Me, and that Coates’s powerful writing, strong conviction, and clear message offered me a deep look into the life of Black man in America. This tumultuous time also makes for a great time to reflect upon yourself. Ask yourself, what privileges do I have because of the color of my skin? How do my actions feed into systemic racism? When do I unknowingly buy into implicit biases based on race? These are difficult, but critical questions to ask yourself as an American.
I hope the four things above can serve as a guideline to how teenagers like me can be involved in this fight for racial equality. Diving deep into your local community as well as yourself during these times can make for transformative conversations and institutional change which will be critical to the success of this movement.