Young people have always been leaders of change within the movement. Despite being thought of as the unengaged generation, there are millennials who are changing that perception as they attempt to change laws and policies.
Last year after the verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial, a group of Florida students called The Dream Defenders decided to hold a sit-in at the Florida capitol. The purpose of the meeting was to demand a meeting with Governor Rick Scott to discuss the protection of young men of color among other issues.
It was something that caught the attention of so many people, not because this was action around civil rights issues, but because these were young people who many had decried as being shiftless and unengaged. Yet, here were these young people who were organizing, strategizing and causing quite a stir, in addition to setting an example for other young people across the country.
Though they weren’t able to accomplish their intended goal, they were able to spark a conversation about young people and their role within the civil rights movement of today. Education in the State of New Jersey is in a state of crisis. Students in several cities – largely the poorest and most troubled cities in the state — have been walking out, demanding more from the government relating to their education, and calling for justice in the school system.
I had the opportunity to spend time with the students in my hometown of Camden, NJ as they rallied in front of Camden’s City Hall. It’s an awakening like nothing I’ve seen in the city before. Nearly 1,000 students walked out of their schools recently after teachers were laid off in an attempt to close traditional public schools and open a full charter education system. The students, parents, teachers and supporters turned out again to host a formal rally to announce their intent to meet with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Whether they meet with Christie or not, and regardless if he gives more funding to the school district, these young people have changed their circumstances by doing one thing – acting on their frustration. If there was ever a time that we needed action, it is now. There are far too many issues for us to contend to have people think they can solve them with complacency and complaining. None of us can make change without the support of those standing behind us. More than anything, today’s youth need a little bit of direction but little interference.
As we continue to face changes in policies and laws that will undoubtedly put the future of our rights in jeopardy if we don’t act, this type of awakening is just what we need to see and will make all the difference in the end.